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Seven weary months had passed since Beth’s injury. My favorite time of year, Christmas, was a blur. Ben came home from college and together our family of five visited grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and cousins on the Lake Erie shore.
When my Grandma Henning passed away, my parents moved from Lorain to the family homestead in Vermilion. Built by my great-grandfather, the old farmhouse never failed to invoke broad chords of memory along with tinges of sadness for my grandma’s absence.
As a child, I was there every Sunday with my brother and sister and cousins, and parents and aunts and uncles. It was the place where I watched Grandma make sweet kuchen and grape jam (with the skins) and every kind of deliciousness. The place where I blew out birthday candles and found a four leaf clover that I pressed in my diary.
The farmhouse also was a place that was inaccessible in every possible way, with the stone driveway, entry steps, and tiny bathroom that didn’t fit a small wheelchair. Beth didn’t mind. Ben and Maria handled the steps with the wheelchair. At the house in Lorain where my in-laws lived, also inaccessible, John’s oldest sister Jean greeted us at the door. She liked Beth’s wheelchair and wanted one of her own. Jean, born with Down syndrome, counted down the days to every family birthday and holiday. She knew that her January birthday was before John’s in February, so every Christmas, he teased her that his birthday was next.
When we arrived back in Tiffin, Timber welcomed us home. I had photographs printed at a local store from the holidays. My smile in some of the photos contradicted my feelings, but not my goal.
I focused on not giving the people I loved more to worry about, especially after I accomplished that spectacularly well with the accident.
One of Beth’s presents was a molded piece of plastic that sat on the table in front of her and held playing cards in a vertical position. John and I played bridge with Ben and Beth using new bigger cards and the plastic piece. By the end of the evening, she put the plastic to the side and experimented. When she held the cards in her right hand with the tenodesis grip, she raised up a specific card with her lips. Then, she used her one moving finger to set the card on the table or adjust her grip.
As Beth’s best friends arrived for New Year’s Eve at our house, we made a mess in the kitchen with my grandma’s brownie recipe. Beth christened her new fondue set with chocolate and an elaborate spread that included brownies, marshmallows, pretzels, and fresh fruit. The girls camped out in sleeping bags and watched the new Grinch movie, played with Timber, and dipped treats in chocolate. I listened to their easy, carefree laughter.
For me, the New Year loomed with brewing threats, with emergencies and tragedies a heartbeat away.
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