Tonawanda News

January 3, 2013

HAYNES: Lessons learned in a hard year

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Two Saturdays ago, I awoke bright and early at 6 a.m. to drop about $75 on a rental car and what would amount to about the same in gas to drive 61/2 hours to Yardley, Pa., and back by the following Sunday evening.

There were several times before and during this trip I questioned my sanity in going to all that trouble for a mere 24 hours in this teeny tiny little town just outside of Trenton, N.J.

While there, I watched a dress rehearsal for a reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware River, saw a truly spectacular Christ-mas light show and ate at Friendly’s ... twice.

But I didn’t drive all that way for a couple of ice cream sundaes. 

I went because my grandmother from Texas — the one I call Mamaw — was there visiting her childhood home in Yardley, Pa. The trip was an unexpected one for her. Her sister, twin brother and his wife were planning to go and she was a last-minute addition to the crew ... an effort on their behalf to perhaps get her away from some of the difficulty of being at home these days. 

You see, two weeks earlier, one day after Thanksgiving in fact, Mamaw’s husband, my step-grandfather of 20 years, passed away in his sleep. John was 87 and had had some heart problems in the past, but it was still unexpected and added to an already difficult year for my family and my grandmother in particular.

Burying a second husband came just five months after the death of her youngest son, my uncle, and about 10 months after the death of my great-grandmother, Memaw. 

This was a sobering year for me. For everyone in the Couch-Eggleston-Oehlschlaeger mash-up I call my family. 

It was a year that made me realize $150 dollars and 13 hours in a car are nothing compared to spending a special, if brief, moment with my grandmother, listening to stories of how she used to swim in the dangerous Delaware River; how she would sled down the hill in her backyard, over a bridge spanning the Delaware Canal and into a neighbor’s yard to catch the school bus; how she and her siblings used to huddle over the grate in the floor connecting to the furnace in the basement to get dressed on cold mornings.

I got to see that river, that bridge, that house and put live images to the stories I’ve heard time and again.

I knew this opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up after taking another similar — yet oh, so different — road trip in May when I was visiting my Texas home. I tagged along with my mom and Uncle Chris for the four-hour trek to Houston from Dallas for my uncle’s cancer treatment. 

The trip down there was hard. My uncle — only about a month before his death — slept most of the way and was in a great deal of pain toward the end. We spent most of the next day carting him around for various tests, treatments and exams at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. 

My uncle was an anomaly in that he tended to feel better after his chemotherapy treatments, with less pain and more energy. On the way home from Houston, we stopped and toured Rice University, where Mamaw’s first husband — Papaw — studied and played football. We also stopped along Highway 45 in Huntsville to check out the giant statue of Sam Houston (one-time president of the Republic of Texas, and U.S. senator and governor once the state joined the United States).

Uncle Chris felt energized enough to get out and walk around at both stops and for a little while he was his old self, joking and laughing with me and my mom. I count my blessings every day that we had those moments together, because they were the last I would really get to see him.

So, was the money and time spent hauling myself out to Yardley, Pa., just to freeze my rear off at a drizzly reenactment and spend an hour at an old house worth it? Heck yeah! And I’d do it all over again. 

If you had asked me that same question one year ago, I’m not sure my answer would have been the same. 

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.