"You're going to love this poignant story of family,
romance and unconditional love."
~Karla, a reader
Copyright 2014 by Jo Huddleston
Callie had not wanted to see her son. Not in that place. The Gateway House. Residency rehabilitation, the judge called it. Family weekend visits.
Returning home and leaving Art behind tore away jagged chunks of Callie's heart. Miles sped by in silence. Callie could hardly breathe past the lump of grief in her throat. How long must Art stay there? The judge said that would be up to Art. He could turn his life around anytime he chose.
Callie's husband, Arthur, and their teenage daughter, Jennifer, tried to carry on a conversation that would coax Callie out of her remorse. That didn't work. Her son remained in that place and the car took them farther from him with each turn of the tires. Despair crouched in a corner of Callie's heart over the recent life-threatening health diagnosis from her neurologist. A diagnosis she and Arthur had not revealed to their children.
Jennifer regarded her mother with caution. "Mother, are you hungry? We could stop for a bite to eat and not have to fix a meal when we get home."
Callie shook her head. She had no energy for more.
"Daddy, how about you? I'm starving."
"Jennifer, teenagers stay hungry—right? But, yeah, I could go for a hamburger about now. Help me look for a place we can stop."
The next town's one traffic light hung near a drive-in food place. "Daddy, there's a place! Stop, please." She pointed. "Look at the cars parked in front. Their food must be good."
Arthur pulled the car to a stop near the building. "Hamburger with everything, Jennifer? French fries?"
"Yes and yes, Daddy."
"Callie, have you changed your mind? Want to eat somethin'?"
She looked at him with eyes empty of emotion then shook her head again.
"Okay, then, I'll be back with food."
Jennifer clapped from the backseat. "Way to go, Daddy."
~ ~ ~
On returning from their all-day trip, the three entered the silent house. Too silent for Callie. Soon, Jennifer talked on the telephone and Arthur turned on the television to catch the remainder of the seven o'clock news.
Callie walked to their bedroom. Sitting on the side of the bed, still wrapped in the web of her feelings, she slipped off her shoes. She looked up as Arthur entered the room.
"Callie, honey, can I do anythin' for you?"
"No, thank you."
"Callie, I know these trips to see Art pull you down." He sat beside her on the bed then hugged her shoulders. "You have to find a way to get through this. I know you're tryin' but we've got to be as cheerful around Jennifer as possible. One of our kids disappointed us. That don't make it right to ignore the other one or to bring her down with our own behavior."
"I know you're right, Arthur. I'll be okay by tomorrow. Making the trip to the Gateway place sours the whole day for me. Do you think I acted happy enough around Art while we were there?"
"Yeah, you did. You were upbeat with him. He even returned a smile or two. Each time we see Art, I notice some improvement in his general attitude. I believe he's really relatin' to his counselor, Amy. Maybe she can get him to see that he needs to stop drinkin' and learn to accept authority, as we all do. The sooner he does, the sooner he'll return home. "
"Arthur, I'll be better tomorrow. I promise—you know I always keep my promises. Seeing family and friends in the morning at church will help me."
"Are you worried about your health problems?"
"No, Arthur, I'm not worried. You know I'm not one to worry. I have concerns but, as you've said, this brain disease is out of our control. Of course, it's always there in my mind, but God has us all in His hands. He'll take care of me and help me work through everything. Did you see me have any tremors today?"
"No, I didn't notice any jerkin'. Did you have some?"
"Some. Not much. I don't think Jennifer nor Art noticed. As the doctor said, my symptoms will get worse then somewhere down the road we'll have to tell both the children."
"Yeah, they'll have to know sooner or later. They'll be sad, Callie."
"I agree. But I think my mind-set will help them from staying sad."
"Callie, you're bein' wonderful about your health problems. You really are. I'm not sure I'd be as calm as you are about all of this."
"I pray the disease will be progress slowly so I can stay with y'all longer." Callie smiled and pressed a kiss on his lips. "Thank you for standing by me."
"What kind of husband would I be if I didn't stay right alongside you through all you'll deal with? Don't ever question my love for you. You just ask me and I'll do anythin' you want from me."
"I hope you can stay strong as I get weaker, like the doctor said I would. I know I can depend on you."
~ ~ ~
After church the next morning, Jim gathered all the family for lunch at the Blanchard Hotel dining room. Of course, Terry attended. If he hadn't been there, neither would Emmajean.
Jim greeted the dining room manager. Every Sunday at lunch, the manager had arranged several tables together to accommodate the Callaway family and friends. Conversations passed along the length of their seating arrangement. Jim sat at one end of the tables, Caroline on his right. On his left was his daughter, Lynn, and on her left was James, the son of Jim and Caroline. They had come down together from Knoxville for the weekend.
And on down the tables were Jim's best friend, Arthur, and Callie, Jim's sister-in-law from his marriage to his deceased wife, Louisa. On the other side of the table Jim's baby sister Emmajean sat beside her boyfriend, Terry. You couldn't miss Emmajean in a crowd—flashing auburn hair, freckles across her nose, and six feet tall.
Then Jim's other sister, Shirley Ann, and Henry Frank sat across from Arthur. The four teenagers—all girls—anchored the far end of the table. The only one missing—Art. He stayed at that Gateway House because he'd been drinking and the police shared the information with Social Services. That's when Judge Franklin ordered him to go to the Gateway House for rehabilitation.
When their food arrived, they joined hands while Jim said a blessing. "God, thank you for allowing us to be together once again and thank you for this food. Amen." As he looked up Jim noticed Arthur holding onto Callie's hand a little longer. They sure had some tough times ahead of them—first Art's problems and then Callie's health issues. Callie seemed to take everything in stride. But Jim couldn't know about their private times and didn't question them.
Shirley Ann leaned forward to look around the others toward Caroline and Jim. "How are the newlyweds doin' these days? Any fights or complaints yet?"
Jim nodded toward Caroline to answer. "No fights yet and no complaints from me. You'd have to ask your brother to get his opinion."
Jim smiled at his bride. "No complaints from me—none at all."
Shirley Ann had one more question. "Do y'all have the weddin' pictures back yet?"
Caroline turned toward Shirley Ann. "Yes, we just got them Friday. Sorry, I should have brought them with us today. Y'all will just have to come to the house to take a look at them."
Jim agreed with his wife. "Why don't y'all come to the house Wednesday for supper and we'll all look at wedding pictures? Everybody bring a dish."
Emmajean spoke up. "Caroline and I will bake a ham and fix the dessert. Okay, Caroline?"
"Sure, if you'll tell me how to do that."
Jim patted Caroline's hand. "You're getting good at this cooking thing."
Caroline smiled at Emmajean. "I have a good teacher."
Jim looked down the table at his sister. "Shirley Ann, do you have to work at the hospital Wednesday night?
"No, Wednesday night is fine."
~ ~ ~
Callie took a sip of sweet tea. It barely went down without coming back up. Her first bite of food stopped at the top of her throat. She coughed to get it back up and grabbed her cloth napkin to press against her mouth. Callie cleared her throat before she fell into a coughing spasm. Coughing didn't help. She grabbed Arthur's hand.
Arthur turned toward Callie and met fear in her eyes. "What is it?"
Callie shook her head. She didn't answer him.
Callie pushed her chair back as she stood, Arthur standing beside her. Callie took Arthur's hand and started toward the ladies' room. She began to cough more, still holding the white napkin at her mouth.
Shirley Ann and Callie exchanged glances. Shirley Ann hurried from her chair and went into the ladies' room with Callie. After Callie got rid of the food in her mouth she whispered to Shirley Ann, "My throat is closing up on me."
"Can you speak out loud?" Shirley Ann slipped into nurse's mode.
Callie tried to speak again, but couldn't do more than whisper. "Callie, I can't breathe."
"Callie, you can breathe through your nose. Go on, do it, now . . . . That's good. Your throat muscles must be tightenin' up on you. Remember to breathe through your nose. We need to get you to the hospital so a doctor can take a look." Shirley Ann led Callie out of the room to find Arthur standing outside the door. She handed Callie over to Arthur.
"She needs to go to the hospital. I'll ride with you." She rushed to her chair to grab her pocketbook.
"Henry Frank, I'm goin' to the hospital with them. When y'all finish eatin', come on over there."
As she passed Jim she leaned close to him. "Callie's throat is closin' up on her. I'll let you know when the doctor has told Arthur anythin'."
~ ~ ~
"Okay, y'all." He glanced toward the youngsters at the other end of the table. "Callie choked a little on her food and they're taking her to the hospital so a doctor can take a look. Let's pray silently for Callie and the doctor." The adults at one end of the table joined hands as did the youngsters at their end of the table.
When Jim heard crying, he looked up. Jennifer. Jim squeezed Caroline's and Lynn's hands, left his chair, and went to Jennifer. When he reached her, Jim squatted next to her chair, and put his arms around her shoulders. She latched onto him without hesitation. "Now, settle down if you can, Jennifer. Your mother and daddy went to the hospital so a doctor can check on your mother. It's probably no more than choking so don't fall apart. I know you're upset, but let's just wait till we hear more from them."
Jim looked up the long table. "Y'all go on eating. Shirley Ann will call if we need to know anything."
When they all finished eating and talked a while longer, Henry Frank and his girls left first, heading to the hospital. The others left, going their separate ways. Except for Emmajean, who lived in Jim's house with him and Caroline. Emmajean had said two grown women couldn't stay in the same house and keep peace, so she would move to an apartment. Caroline wouldn't hear of that, which surprised and pleased Jim.
~ ~ ~
Arthur drove to the Emergency Room entrance. Shirley Ann took Callie inside while Arthur parked the car then rushed in after them. Because she worked there, Shirley Ann got nurses to get Callie back to an examination room without the normal hassle. Another nurse led them to a curtained-off cubicle, had Callie lie on a bed, and took Callie's vital signs. Callie continued to cough and sputter.
With a weaker whisper Callie told Arthur her problem. She pulled him down close to her face. "Arthur, my throat is closing. I can't swallow. Could this be the brain disease?"
Arthur took Callie's hand. "I don't know, Callie. We'll mention that to the doctor."
After a doctor checked the nurse's notations, he turned toward Callie. "Now, what seems to be the problem here?"
Callie looked toward Arthur, who answered for her. "Doctor, she says her throat is closin' up on her."
Shirley Ann knew the doctor. "Dr. Wilson, we were eatin' when Callie had trouble swallowin' her drink. Then solid food would not start down her esophagus. She said she couldn't breathe. I told her to breathe through her nose."
Dr. Wilson took a thorough look inside Callie's mouth and examined her throat. He looked at Arthur. "Has this ever happened to your wife before?"
"No, sir. Doctor, I ought to tell you something. A few weeks ago a neurologist in Birmingham diagnosed my wife with OPCA. I think you say it this way . . . ." Arthur bungled the disease's name: Olivopontocerebellar atrophy. "It's a rare, progressive brain disease, with no cure and really no medicine she can take. She's lost her handwritin' and balance in her legs. She has some muscle spasms along, even durin' the night."
The doctor turned toward the nurse and spoke. The nurse left the room.
"Hmmm." He looked at his clipboard. "Thank you, Mr. Gray. We'll give her an injection of a tranquilizer. This will help her throat muscles to relax. We'll let her stay right here for a while to try to calm down. I'll be back to check on her."
Arthur still held Callie's hand when he felt her squeeze it. He leaned down to hear her whisper. "Where's Jennifer?"
"We left her at the Blanchard. Jim will take Jennifer home with them."
The nurse they'd seen earlier returned, asked Callie to roll to her side, and gave her the injection. "That may make you sleepy. If it does, give into it and sleep." She pulled up the two sidebars of the bed. "Try to relax."
~ ~ ~
When Jim answered the telephone, it was Arthur. "Bones, what's going on? What's wrong with Callie? How is she?"
"Jim, at lunch her first bite of food wouldn't go down her throat. Dr. Wilson checked her out at the hospital and couldn't really see anythin'. He gave her a shot to relax her. Callie and I wonder if it could be caused by her brain disease. You know, like her muscle spasms, this could be somethin' with the muscles in her throat. We plan to call the doctor in Birmingham tomorrow to ask him."
"Are y'all still at the hospital?"
"We're home. Callie's sleepin' right now. The nurse said the shot would make her drowsy and that I should make sure she rested."
"Want me to bring Jennifer home?"
"Would you, Jim? I can't afford to leave Callie alone."
"Of course you can't. We'll have her home in a little while. She got upset after you and Callie left The Blanchard at lunch. She's okay now, just worried about her mother."
"Thanks for takin' Jennifer home with you. I appreciate you helpin' us out. See you after while. Bye."
"We'll be right over. Bye."
Jim returned to the living room and related Arthur's conversation to Caroline. "Want to ride with me to take Jennifer home?"
"Sure. I'll get her from the television room and we'll be ready to go."
At Arthur's house, Jennifer rushed in, wanting to see her mother. Arthur assured her that her mother was okay, just asleep. After Jennifer went to her own room, Arthur, Jim, and Caroline sat at the breakfast table in the kitchen.
Jim could see the anxiety on Arthur's face. "Bones, is there anything we can do to help you?"
Caroline smiled at Jim's using the nickname when he spoke to Arthur. A nickname begun when they were in high school, before he'd met Caroline. But she'd heard the explanation of the nickname: Back then Arthur had been lanky and uncoordinated. Jim had told him he looked like a bunch of bones walking around.
"No, Jim, I guess not. I hope Callie's throat will be back to normal when she wakes up."
"You're telephoning the Birmingham doctor tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Callie wants to talk to him. That thing with her throat really scared her. Looks like we may have to tell Jennifer about her mother's brain disease sooner than we'd planned."
Caroline spoke up. "Arthur, any time you need for us to look after Jennifer, we will. She's never any trouble when she comes to the house."
"Thanks, Caroline. As this disease progresses we may have to take you up on that."
Jim stood. "Well, if we can't help you with anything, I guess we'll go back home." Caroline rose to start toward the backdoor. "Bones, you know you can call us any time—day or night."
"Yeah. What would I do without y'all?"
~ ~ ~
After Caroline and Jim left, Arthur went to check on Callie. She lay still. Arthur turned then tiptoed away from the bed. Before he got to the door, he heard Callie.
"Arthur, I'm not asleep. Please come back and stay with me." She patted the bed next to her.
"Callie, I didn't mean to wake you. I'm sorry."
"You didn't wake me."
"Does your throat feel better?"
"Yes. I thought I couldn't breathe if my throat closed. I would never have thought to breathe through my nose. Arthur, I'd still like to call Dr. Markum tomorrow. I'd feel better if you could be here when I telephone him. Do you think you could take a break in the morning and come home for a while?"
Arthur smiled at Callie. "Remember, I own the hardware store. Sure, I can come home. About ten o'clock?"
"Yes, thank you. I'm sorry I'm such a bother."
"Callie, I don't want to hear you say that again. You're not a bother. We'll both get through this."