I've been working at putting some of my battle with cancer into a book. I decided to post this part of today's writing.
This illness hit me particularly hard because I have always been healthy as a horse. More than that, I was raised to be self-sufficient and I took those lessons to heart. If it could be done, I believed that I could do it.
Anybody remember the 1939 Chevy? As I thought, only a few of you knew without the photo to jog old memories, or inform young minds!
When I was a senior in high school, my dad bought me an old car, a ’39 Chevy much like this one only black and more beat up. What I wouldn’t give to have that thing now. Even then it was old enough to be more than just any old rattletrap. I was secretly rather proud of her. One of her eccentricities was that the transmission wouldn’t shift quite properly. Running, that is rolling, it worked fine. But if the car came to a stop while in third gear, it was stuck there. For a competent stick shift driver, this doesn’t present major problems in most circumstances. It was fairly easy to ride the clutch and manage to get the car rolling and slip it into neutral. Under certain circumstances, however, this manuever was not possible, for example when I pulled into a parking slot facing the brick wall of the local A & W Root Beer drive-in and forgot to pop ‘er into neutral. (If this was Greek to you, ask somebody who enjoys driving a stick shift!)
With the forward maneuver blocked by a brick wall, I had two choices. I could get out the jack, jack up the rear tire and rev the motor to release the transmission, or I could get out my trusty Phillips screwdriver, open the transmission case and change the gears by hand. I usually opted for number two. I could get ‘er running with little fuss and feathers, just a few minutes under the hood.
My dad had an interesting hierarchy of “girls” work and “boys” work. As a girl, I had to demonstrate that I could change a tire—and in the case of the old Chevy, fix the transmission—before he would let me drive alone. But I couldn’t do anything that required crawling under the car, like changing the oil. That was “boys” work.
Dad wouldn’t teach me basic carpentry skills, because wielding a hammer qualifies as “boys” work and is unseemly for a girl to do, but I could fix most electrical appliances. We didn’t believe in throwing anything away; repair was the order of the day. As a result, irons, toasters, coffee pots and other small electricals usually sported one or more bandaids of black electrical tape. I could fix them all, and did multiple times.
My husband didn’t share this urge to fix things. We’d been married about a year when I came home to a missing toaster. Imagine my chagrin when he said he had thrown it in the garbage. I lost my chance at demonstrating my skill since the garbage man beat me home, but soon after our iron proudly sported a black plastic bandaid! Fixed by me!
I did farm work too, but only those tasks deemed appropriate for girls. I was not allowed to drive the tractor with a disk or plow attached, only a wagon. During haying, I drove the tractor and/or the truck with huge loads of hay, but never bucked bales (To the uninformed: bucking bales is lifting them in and out of the wagon or barn, moving them around using a hay hook--picture Captain Hook's prosthesis with a handle attached.) That was fine with me since I hated actually being in contact with hay, and bales of hay are heavy, usually 80 to 100 pounds each. On the other hand if I wanted to drive the pickup (before I had my car) to a church or school function, I’d have to empty the feed from the back – those sacks were also 50 to 100 pounds each.
My sense of self-sufficiency followed me into adulthood and middle age. Even moving around the globe and across the nation didn’t shake it more than temporarily. The idea that “whatever life dished out, I could take or even fix,” remained firmly a part of my psyche.
Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
(Post continued in April 3 post)