Monday, March 8, 2010

The Way We Were

When Sue and I were married, back in October of 1980, I was an undergraduate student at California State University Fresno.  My job, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and every holiday, from 3:30 to midnight, was as an "environmental engineer" -- i.e. housekeeper/janitor -- at Saint Agnes Hospital.  The job was perfect for a student because it did not interfere with going to school.  However, Sue hated my job because it left her alone every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, and every holiday from 3 to midnight.

They call it Saint Agnes Medical Center now, and it's more than twice as large now than it was back in the day.  Now, almost 30 years later, Sue's hell bent on getting even.  She's been over there every night from 3 to midmight for two weeks.

We met at a high Sierra Christian camp about three years before we got married.  I was on staff as a maintenance "man" and Sue was hired as a cook.  Maintenance back then meant everything from fixing things to cleaning toilets, and included washing dishes three and sometimes four times a day.  That set the tone for our marriage, as Sue has spent thirty years dirtying up the kitchen (she's a really good cook, by the way) and I have spent 30 years traipsing behind cleaning it up.  Our youngest daughter likes to say that my favorite thing to do is run the dishwasher.  Darn right.  Leave no dirty dish behind! 

We've have had involvement with the camp, Camp Keola, in some capacity for all the time we've known each other, and our Lakeview Cottages which we co-purchased with a group of friends is right next door to Camp Keola, on the southwest shore of Huntington Lake.  So Huntington Lake is, quite frankly, our favorite place in the world.  In a sense, it is our place in the world.

Each summer for as long as I can recall, Valley Childrens' Hospital runs a camp at Camp Keola for kids with cancer.  They call it Camp Sunshine Dreams.  The camp is run by the doctors, nurses and staff of Valley Childrens' Hospital, as well as involved family members and volunteers.  It is an annual week of high-energy fun and encouragement for kids in a tough situation.  Through years of peripheral involvement with Camp Sunshine Dreams I learned one unequivocal truth: cancer's tough on the body, but it doesn't kill the spirit.  If anything, it kindles the spirit. (Click the Camp Sunshine Dreams link and look at some of the slide shows if you're not convinced, or if you just want to be inspired.)

The Camp Sunshine Dreams organizers have a nice campfire tradition.  Every year on the last night of camp they have a special campfire where everyone puts down a wish or a hope or a prayer on a piece of paper, and wraps it up and puts it into the fire.  The prayers are sent heavenward with the heat and smoke and flames, and, mixed all together with each other, form a powerful elixir of life and love and hope.

Life is very real for the Sunshine Dreams kids, and so is death.  Every now and then they lose one of their kindred.  And then, by symbolism, or sometimes by ashes of the deceased, they introduce the decedent to the campfire of dreams, to the elixir of life and love and hope.  And when the fire has died down and cooled, they stir up the ashes and take home a jar of the ashes, and next year, when the campfire of hope is rekindled, they start with the ashes from the previous year. 

And that campfire of dreams is a metaphor for how we should live.  We have our hopes and our dreams and our prayers, and we offer them in community, sharing each others' hopes and dreams and prayers; and we live life to the fullest; and we don't forget our fallen fellow travelers; we take them with us and their spirit is and always will be a part of who we are.


  1. I remember those courting days. You were scrawny, tan, and invincible, (like we all were in "those" days) and Sue was sweet, patient, a great cook, and tolerant of your little sis. Those were the days when you spent many a night wooing her with your singing, your gee-tar and your off (beat) sense of humor.

    Who would of thunk that doing the dishes could be so much fun? Even I enjoyed watching you show off in the kitchen for her.

    I remember a talk with mom where I pondered, "What does she see in him?" I mean, what could anyone see in my brother? You were a goofball most of the time in my eyes (werewolf mask). Sue was very clever, and extremely smitten, and again, VERY patient to have put up with you back then. You must have helped her hone her patience for her future classroom duties.

    She tolerated you youthful pranks (Mark P.'s wedding and the squirt guns); the name of your dog at the Fresno house; and still, she married you.

    I remember the wedding. Poor mom and dad. How mom or Sue put up with you I may never comprehend, but I'll probably be put to the test when one of my four boys tries my patience in the same way as you did theirs. The wedding reception is a blur, as Eric found it his duty to refill Jimmy's and my glasses many a time, till we both passed out on your wavy, water bed. I think he didn't want little kids hanging around for the festivities.

    You're no longer scrawny, tan, nor invincible, but Sue is still sweet, patient, and a great cook to boot. However, you're still my big brother and I'm thinking of you many times each day and praying for you, Sue and the girls.

    Much love, Dorris and family

  2. Well, whodathunkit? A guy that writes so beautifully and is obviously such a loving husband... who used to be like THAT?! 'Course coming from a younger sister, the description may be slightly slanted. ;) It does, however, sound like you were a heckuva fun guy. :)

    Ahh, memories! Keep remembering, and enjoy rehashing all those times with Sue. Even make a few new ones along the way. And if a few tears come, they're okay, too.

    God bless you.......

  3. George, the truth gets out! Those dish washing boys can really get under a cooks skin.
    I defend the cook! She up before dawn, begins to cook a meal for over 100, then finds the favorite spoon,fork or pot, is not where it is suppose to be. Time is precious and cooks don't have time to hunt for misplaced items. Oh will those dish washers ever learn. And then there are some smart aleck who will deliberately hang a favorite spoon or tool from the rafter in the kitchen. Yes, a sense of humor is needed by all cooks, and Sue had her share.

    Just remember dishwashers, be good! You are cooks best friend, she will treat you with a cookie or a late night snack, and for George a hug.

  4. Thirty-plus years of memories to share... stories you can still tell each other and perhaps have a small digital recorder to capture them for the children to hear on another day and time - it is hard to stop traveling together. I know. Blessings to you all on this difficult journey.