Every day, it’s a-gettin’ closer,
Goin’ faster than a roller coaster.
Buddy Holly could have been describing my life since I last wrote. Much has happened, including more than the usual travel for work. But that was just the beginning.
This past September my boss had me to go to Germany for a retreat for American service members. It was the second year in a row I was able to do this, and both times I took my wife, Joy. This year we were to be in Bavaria, and I planned the dream trip for her. Joy has wanted to go to Switzerland to see the alpine valleys pictured in the favorite book of her childhood, “Heidi.” And she wanted to see the sights in and around Salzburg, Austria, associated with her favorite movie, “The Sound of Music.”
So that’s what we did. We had a day of hiking above Maienfeld, Switzerland, following the path Heidi and her aunt took up the hill to her grandfather’s cabin. We then went to Sonthofen, Germany, for the retreat, with a side trip to see the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. We concluded the trip with three days in Salzburg, where we stayed in Villa Trapp, the home of Baron Georg von Trapp and his second wife, Maria before they fled Hitler’s Reich. We took the cable car up to the Untersberg, 6470 feet above Salzburg. We hiked up into the hills above the town of Werfen to the meadow where, in the movie, “The Sound of Music,” Julie Andrews led the children in singing, “Do, Re, Mi.”
We know we are getting older. We had our hiking boots and our trekking poles, and we took a CamelBak of water and a pack with socks and snacks. Most importantly, we took our time—but we did it. And instead of the expected rain, we enjoyed mostly beautiful weather, and Joy’s dreams were fulfilled. And I sat patiently enjoying the views instead of looking at my watch and wanting to rush to the next place.
We returned home to our old routines. September passed, and October. In early November I went to Arkansas to present some overdue medals to a veteran. I came home the afternoon of the first Sunday of the month, ate supper, and collapsed on the couch to watch an old James Bond movie.
And then it happened.
As James Bond’s Aston Martin careened around some European marketplace, crashing into stalls and carts, I heard a crash behind me. And a cry for help.
Joy had survived the Alps, only to slip and fall in the kitchen. And she was laying there in pain, unable to get up. Our cats came from throughout the house and pawed at her. I did a quick assessment as I was taught by the Army in my Combat Lifesaver Course—and called 9-11.
The ER confirmed what I suspected: a broken hip. Socks on her feet and a ceramic tile kitchen floor were a poor combination. She had surgery the next morning, followed by ten days in the hospital, and three months (thus far) of thrice-weekly outpatient PT. “She’s only 61,” they said. “Young for this,” they said. “Did she use a cane before the fall?” “No,” said I, “She was hiking in the Alps a few weeks before.”
My traveling came to a halt for the last two months of November. After the first of the year, I was able to return to the road, as Joy progressed from walker to cane, and to her routine of volunteering for kids programs at church.
“For better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” Those were the vows we took nearly 38 years ago. We didn’t expect the opposites to be jammed up so close together.
But through it all, she stayed her serene and joyful self. I couldn’t have done it. I tried to play chaplain to her in the hospital (“How does that make you feel?), but she told me to cut the crap and hand her the water. She didn’t need the chaplain in me. She just needed by her the one with whom she had shared alpine beauty, who was there in a time of crisis, and who would go a couple of months cooking all her meals and washing all her clothes and bringing her the occasional pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.