Saturday, August 13, 2016

The blow strikes

Back in early July I reported that my sister-in-law Karen had entered hospice. Her brain cancer from two years before had come back, this time as a diffusion through the brain rather than a localized tumor. By the time symptoms were clear it was too late for chemo. This news was another blow to us, still grieving the death of my father and my brother Tim.

She died this morning. Thankfully, in the last month she had a string of visitors saying goodbye, her mother, younger daughter, her older daughter with husband and infant son, then both parents and both sisters together.

Back in May of 1979, three weeks before I began my career in the auto industry, I went with brother Dan to the airport when he flew to Seattle to begin work in the airplane industry. I was amused that a part of his luggage that day was his bicycle.

Though I didn't qualify for official vacation that first year I arranged for a long weekend at Labor Day and flew to Seattle. I was amused that a young woman named Karen tagged along with us most of the visit. One day we went off to a park that featured a train and a waterfall (perhaps Snoqualmie Falls?). We rode the train, then took some sort of transport to get near the bottom of the falls. Perhaps that was supplied by a nearby hydro plant. Dan, Karen, and I scrambled over the rocks beside the river below the falls. I slipped and whacked my shin on a rock. It turned a bright purple. We went to Karen's parent's house who helped me wrap the leg in ice and to share supper.

Dan came back to Michigan for Christmas that year and Karen came too. In our subtle (NOT!) way we said that over the Christmas holiday we planned to have a family portrait taken. Was Karen family? So for Christmas Dan gave Karen a diamond ring. And she was included in the portrait. I'm sure Karen had already been involved in the purchase of the ring, though I suspect they planned to present the ring other than during the day's messy gift exchanges.

Dan and Karen were married in Seattle at the end of May of 1980. This was three weeks after Mt. St. Helens blew its top. I flew to Seattle with my grandmother. My parents and sisters and a cousin took a week to get there, camping along the way (I think they encountered snow in Idaho).

After the wedding reception the getaway vehicle wasn't a car, but a tandem bicycle. It made it difficult to give chase because they could shift to the sidewalk and head the wrong way down one way streets. Karen had hidden the bike under the choir loft.

I think Grandma had a different companion for the flight home. The cousin joined a bike tour down the Washington coast. I replaced the cousin for the drive home, this time through the Canadian Rockies. We stopped at Lake Louise, said to be a beautiful spot. But with a low cloud cover there wasn't much to see. Only later did we see photos showing the towering peaks around the lake.

I saw Dan and Karen every few years after that.

In 1985 I had a conference in San Francisco. After that I followed agreed plans, starting with a visit to the new aquarium in Monterey. It was that evening Dan called to say his first daughter had been born. From Monterey I drove north, intending to drive along the coast north of San Francisco. I gave up on that after a day of slow driving. By Friday night I was in Seattle, holding the newborn and trying not to cause Dan and Karen any extra work (I probably didn't succeed).

In 1986 we stayed at a B&B in North Vancouver and attended the Vancouver World's Fair. We had several great days there, though didn't see much of Vancouver itself. Attending the fair with a 1-year-old allowed me to practice patience. Even so, she was a delight.

I think it was 1992 when Dan was asked to visit suppliers across Europe for 7 weeks. Karen went with him. The two daughters, age 3 and 7, stayed the summer with my parents and sister in Michigan. I took several individual vacation days that summer to spend time with the girls (and help Mom and sis).

In 1996 Dan and family took a three-year assignment near London. Of course, I went to visit, which I did in 1997. When that was over they took a three-year assignment near Paris. I didn't visit them there because in 2001 I joined them for a trip across Northern Ireland.

When the Paris assignment ended in 2002 the older daughter did not want to return to an American high school for her senior year. She moved in with a friend and stayed behind.

In both houses they owned in the Seattle area both Dan and Karen did extensive renovations, doing most of the work themselves. Perhaps both of them were engineers needing a project. When I visited in 2008 with Mom and Dad, before and after a cruise to Alaska, the carport was being turned into a garage, the roof was being replaced, and the kitchen remodeled with a skylight added, all a part of one interdependent project.

During one visit, I think after the kitchen was done, Karen served a meal of salmon, sweet potato, and carrots. How interesting! A meal where all the foods were orange! Years later I heard Karen say she had also served a meal of fish, cauliflower, and potato, in which all the foods were white and I didn't notice.

I think it was in 2012 Dan and Karen accepted an assignment in Malaysia. I wanted to visit, but Karen warned me Dan's schedule was so unpredictable and his territory (Australia to South Korea) so large there was a very good chance I would get to their apartment in Malaysia and find they were thousands of miles away. It was here in 2014 that Karen had her first bout with brain cancer. The care she got in Singapore was excellent.

If Dan was going somewhere then Karen was going too, if possible. She carefully researched each new destination for recommended lodging, restaurants, and places to visit. Some places she would see on her own while Dan worked, others they visited together. In four years they saw a great deal of Southeast Asia and the area around it. She was quite the avid traveler.

Dan and Karen moved to Munich in March for another assignment. They had wanted to get back to Europe since leaving Paris in 2002. They had big plans for seeing the continent together. Now he will travel alone. Though I'm used to it (done it all my adult life), he is not.

These were not all the times I saw Dan and Karen. There were other trips to Seattle and time together when they visited their older daughter, living in Kentucky. There was also a lovely time together when we gathered at a fabulous B&B in the little town where Dad and I were born in the days leading up to New Year 2014. By this time Dan had a grandson (he now has two). How did he get to be that old? That's a joke between us – he's almost exactly 18 months older.

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