Thankful for Family

(Note: This post appears one week later than planned.)

By 8:00 pm, we were all ready to go out for our first dinner in Dallas. Jonathan gave us a few options before we finally settled on a brisket restaurant. This was exciting for me, because I like to try signature dishes whenever I travel. We had to park a couple of blocks from the restaurant. Dad stayed behind with me while everyone else walked ahead at a normal pace. To be honest, I was a little frustrated by them moving so far ahead that they disappeared from sight. But I quickly channeled that feeling into determination. I thought about how hard it had been going places when I had barely been able to walk, then I forged ahead, determined not to stumble or tire. This was one more challenge I would make look easy.

When I finally got inside, Jonathan informed me that they were out of the ghost pepper mac n’ cheese. That was only a side dish, but it was one of the things I had been anticipating. Jonathan had talked it up so much that I wanted to taste it as badly as anything. I already knew what brisket was supposed to taste like. Pepper mac n’ cheese just sounded exotic.

Dad wanted to try the bleu cheese potato salad instead, so I got some of that too. We had to place our brisket order by the pound. Not wanting to gain weight during my vacation, I ordered a half pound. This way, I felt justified asking for a fat cut as opposed to lean. I regularly go to the doctor; I take my blood pressure twice a week; I work out a minimum of three times a week; and I knew that I had already lost eighteen pounds in the last ten months. So I try not to deny myself too often so it doesn’t start to feel like a diet.

The brisket was juicy and well-seasoned. It’s served in meat packing paper. We all sat down around a big wooden table. The restaurant is a converted barn, spacious yet cozy. I watched Parker play while Ivory, Sharon, Daddy, Candice, and Jonathan talked. For the first time in years, my silence had nothing to do with being tired or how difficult it was to speak. I enjoyed watching Dad surrounded by family. It felt unbelievably satisfying that I could do my part in making this weekend happen for him.

Candice and Jonathan gave me the room at the end of the house that had its own restroom. When I was placed in this room two years ago, I had fallen off of this bed. But that was back before I was lifting weights. Now I had more body control, so I could balance on the side of the high bed without having both feet flat on the floor. So when I got up, I was able to dress by myself in their house for the first time.

I was the first one into the living room. Jonathan came in and made coffee. Dad came in before long, and Jonathan ordered breakfast via delivery app. We ate and talked about what we were going to do that day. Before long, we heard Parker over the child monitor. While Jonathan went to go get her up, Dad and I talked about my improving financial situation. It was important to me for him to be at ease with where I was.

Parker ran into the room ahead of Jonathan. He asked her to say Hello to everyone. Then she ran straight for her grandfather. Dad and Parker have a beautiful bond. He claps and talks with her, tosses her up in the air. She is delighted every second he is around. Parker is a happy toddler, full of joy and intelligence. This was the first time she was old enough to remember me and say my name. This is an important time for her developmentally. It’s a perfect time for me to be visiting more often and becoming more active.

Not using my cane in the house gave me more opportunity to practice balancing, walking laterally, and maneuvering around people. Sharon and Ivory came over at noon and Candice came home from work, so the house was now abuzz with activity. The kitchen and the dining room were now full, and Parker was going from person to person. All of the people and activity gave me new chances to interact and obstacles to negotiate. During the early stages of my stroke recovery, this would have caused sensory overload, leading me to sit down on the couch to self-isolate. But it was stimulating now that I had progressed so far. I welcomed the challenges.

It was soon time for a late lunch. Jonathan wanted to take us to a Jamaican restaurant near downtown. When we got there, he quipped that when he’d first eaten there, he could tell by the fact that it was in a rough area that the food would be outstanding. So I walked across the lot full of anticipation about what the meal would be like. Jonathan recommended the jerk chicken as “very unique”, so that’s what I ordered as well.

The jerk chicken was amazing. It was almost as hot as I’d expected, but it also came with a heavy, sweet glaze. The mixture of hot and sweet is my favorite. I had ordered the large size, not realizing that the medium portion would have sufficed, so I was able to ignore most of the side items and concentrate solely on the meat. This was the only time all trip when I didn’t concern myself with portion control. Indulging myself one time was not about to wreck my weight loss plans after I had been diligent and come so far. I sat forward and savored the chicken because it wouldn’t have been nearly as hot had I microwaved it later.

Since we were in the area, Candice and Jonathan wanted to show Sharon where they got married. We drove down to the Bishop Arts District. Jonathan pointed out that the district had originally been about a block long. In the decade since, it had really mushroomed in size. He said that a lot of the growth was due to gentrification. “Back in the day, you couldn’t pay people to live here!”

Jonathan parked near the gallery where they had been married. I was in the vehicle with Sharon and Ivory. We had to keep driving for a couple of blocks before we found parking, so I had to cross the street, then walk a block. When we reached Candice and Jonathan, they informed us that we were first going into a gourmet pie shop.

When we got inside, we found that they had sold out of several flavors. Jonathan and Candice went through the list of what they had. I told them that I didn’t have a preference, but I wanted to pay for one. They were more expensive than I had anticipated. But I was undeterred. At the time of the stroke, the family had rallied around me. They had pulled strings to make travel and life easier. Beginning with this vacation, I vowed that I would do something for the family every time we got together. Today it was paying for the pie; next time it might be paying for dinner. But whatever the case, I want to spend the rest of my life showing my family what they mean to me.

Next we headed to Dealey Plaza to see where JFK was assassinated. I don’t know what I had expected, but I was taken aback that the site was a sloped hill beside the entrance to a busy parkway. There was no on-street parking available, and no one wanted to pay to park in the lot. I told Jonathan that it looked like more walking than I felt like doing anyway. He told me that he would drive along the parkway slowly so I could take pictures.

As we wheeled around the bend, Jonathan warned me that even at this decreased rate of speed, we would pass the site quickly. So I set my phone camera to video. If I took continuous footage, I could screenshot what I needed later. True enough, I had to capture the street signs in front of us, then quickly swivel to get images of the grassy knoll. It all went by so quickly that wasn’t sure about the images I did get. I knew we couldn’t swing around for a second pass, so I spent most of the ride home replaying the video and capturing still images with screenshot. I didn’t have a perfect shot, but the real value was in spending the afternoon with family.

When I woke up the next morning, it was Thanksgiving. I woke up at 6:00am out of habit. Knowing that everyone else would still be asleep and not wanting to wake them up, I stayed in bed and listened to videos on my phone. I managed to doze off, and when I woke again, it was after 10:00. I dressed at bedside, going more slowly than I normally would because of the high bed. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, and I finally went out to the living room around 10:30.

Everyone was up by now. Jonathan gave me breakfast; Dad and Parker were playing; Candice was in the kitchen; the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on. Before long, Ivory and Sharon came over from their hotel. So the only ones we were waiting for were Candice’s parents.

They finally arrived and the table was set. We gathered around to let Candice’s father say grace. Before he did, we went around the table so everyone could say what he or she was thankful for. When my turn came, I said that I was thankful for all of the love and support everyone in the room had provided since my stroke. People often see videos of me working out or read my blog posts and remark about how amazing my drive is. It is actually a simple task when I have so many people behind me. If they weren’t all there, I would never have started getting up in the morning back in 2015.

The food was good, but I ate relatively light. Then I parked myself on the living room couch. Game after NFL game came and went. I go to speak with each of Candice’s parents several times. I had forgotten how much I liked them. They asked me about how rehab was going, and I secretly vowed to have better use of my left arm when I saw them again.

Candice’s parents left before dark. Sharon and Ivory didn’t leave until late. I went to my bedroom after 11:00. I plugged in my phone, folded my clothes for the next morning, and packed everything else in my bag. Not yet tired, I turned on the TV and watched documentaries until around 2:00am.

I woke up the next morning, washed up, and got dressed. I had many hours to spare before my flight. We ate breakfast one last time, then we watched TV until it was time for me to go. I called for a Lyft about three and a half hours before my flight time because I always like to leave an immense amount of time for traffic jams or accidents on the way to DFW. When my driver arrived, Dad and Jonathan walked me to the car, where we hugged and said our goodbyes.

On the way to the airport, the driver asked me if it was okay for her to stop and use the restroom. I told her that it was okay, as I had more than enough time to spare. I asked her to stop at a McDonald’s because I knew what to order. When I got to the airport, it was still over two hours until my flight boarded. Since I had opted for an electronic boarding pass, I was whisked through security and made it to my gate with over an hour to spare

It was so relaxing to be flying without a care in the world – economically, logistically, and physically. After I landed in Minnesota again, I would keep striving to make sure that my life would continue to fall into place. I wanted to keep making it look effortless.

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