The Wild Frontier
It was in September of 1971 that my friend Cindy and I lit out for Colorado. I should have been celebrating my graduation from the University of Kentucky, but instead I was turning my back on my third sophomore year. Cindy had finished her schooling at the appropriate pace though, and her parents had rewarded her by helping her buy a car-a dusky-blue 1967 Plymouth Valiant station wagon.
Inspired by too many Roy Rogers movies in our early youth, and by the lure of mind-altering possibilities in our late one, we merrily drove off into the sunset.
Well, actually, Cindy drove and I settled into the role I was to fill for nearly two years-navigator. I hadn't yet managed the art of steering and gearing simultaneously, since I was hampered by a depth-perception problem and a father who had convinced me that, if I ever got behind the wheel of a car, I was sure to crease the front of it in no time. So as Cindy drove, I scanned the map for likely stops and diners, and the horizon for possible drama and danger.
Our destination was Fort Collins, Colorado-actually, a little river canyon just north of there, where a friend had said we'd find a summer resort that rented its cabins cheaply for the winter, attracting contemplative counterculture types like us.
When we got there, the river, its rocky cliffs, the sky and the hovering mountains were just as our friend had said-beautiful beyond belief. The cabin we rented was nestled on the water's edge; Cindy slept in the back room, lulled by its song, while I slept in an alcove in the front room, in an ancient iron bedstead that creaked and whispered stories of years gone by.
There were rocking chairs and a porch, and in the cupboard we found a perfect China-blue teapot with a small white flower on its side. Every evening we made tea and sat on the porch to watch the light of the setting sun play color games along the canyon walls. And we talked about the failures of our past and our plans for a better, more spiritual, more enlightened and more meaningful future.
We were bored out of our minds in two weeks' time.
So one day we piled into the Valiant and took off. The road I chose ran up the canyon, not out to the flatlands and the main highway. It looked like a scenic way to cross the Rockies, and I, savvy navigator that I was, hardly noticed that it was marked on my map in broken lines.
It made no difference. When we got to the very official-looking sign that told us what the broken lines mean- "road closed to all vehicles except four-wheel drive" -it made no impression on us. Hey, the Valiant had four wheels and Cindy had more drive than anyone I've seen behind a steering wheel before or since. We forged on.
Soon, we were on a rutted path of red dirt that shot up precipitous slopes, then narrowed and led into the sharpest of switchbacks and hairpin turns. The road was coated with ice. There were moments when it seemed that we and the car were hanging on the edge of the mountain, perpendicular to the rest of the earth and to gravity itself. All that kept us from sliding straight to death were my hasty, continuous recitations of the Lord's Prayer and "Now I lay me down to sleep..." and Cindy's subtle use of the gears and her steely grip of the wheel.
At the most terrifying moments of our climb, Cindy had an endearing way of gazing out the side window and saying, "Wow, look at the purple mountain over there! Won't that be a good thing to be looking at as we die?"
Yes, it surely would have been, but no we didn't. After countless narrow turns and narrower escapes and what seemed like hours of pure adrenaline rush, we suddenly crested the Great Divide.
Confident that the worst was over, I stopped flooring the imaginary brake on my side, and Cindy said, "I sure could use a little something to eat or drink."
Of course, this being real life and not fiction, we rounded a curve that very moment and there stood a log cabin with a gas pump out front and a hand-lettered sign that said simply, "Store. Open."
Giggling hysterically, we tumbled from the car and pushed open the heavy door. Inside the room was dark, and although there were a few shelves of tinned goods off to one side, it looked as if we'd walked into someone's home instead of a grocery.
The someone was a stern-visaged old lady in hiking boots, denim, and flannel, with a smooth silver bun gathered formally at the back of her neck. We were still giggling, and she didn't look glad to see us, but she motioned us over to a couple of chairs next to a toasty black-iron stove. As we tried to settle down and in, she looked out the front window at the mud-splattered Valiant for a long time, then looked back at us with a new respect in her eyes.
"You drive over in that?" she asked.
"She did," I said, pointing to Cindy.
The old lady looked at her and smiled. "You want a cup of Russian tea," she said.
She gave us each a cupful of the slightly sweet, citrus-and-spicy brew she had simmering on the back of the stove, but it was Cindy that she talked to. She didn't have much use for me. I got the feeling that she'd done her own navigating for most of her life. And what a life!
She was nearing 80, or was over 80-she couldn't remember, quite. She had come there, to the Divide, as a young woman, with a husband looking for gold. She'd outlived him and one other husband, then outlived the urge to ever have another.
She didn't say much, but Spencer Tracy would have remarked that what she did say "was cherce." She gave us plain crackers and sharp cheese; and when Cindy proffered a $20 bill, she shrugged and waved it off. "I don't have any change," she said. "The tea's on me."
As we got up to go, Cindy, made brave by her drive, I suppose, turned to the old lady and said, "Don't you get lonely up here all by yourself?"
The old lady smiled. "They come," she said. "We have some tea and talk. There's lots to remember. There's lots to do."
As we climbed back into the car, she called out from the porch: "You come up from the east, didn't you? Well, it's scarier going down the other side-but it's grander."
And she was right. But that's another story.
My hair is now as gray as a Kentucky November, but I still don't have the patience to tuck it neatly into a bun. I have a house with a porch for a rocker and a sunny dining room for serving tea. And the other day, I even found a little black box of "Russian Tea." It was as delicate, but not as spicy, as I remember. Still, I think-given a little time, a little coriander, and a little zest of orange-I may get even that together.
In the meantime, I'm practicing my tea cakes.
A Taste of Ace will be held Friday, May 10, from 7 pm 9 pm at Victorian Square.
The evening benefits the medical/living expenses fund of Ronni Lundy, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last fall.
Lundy is the award-winning author of The Festive Table; Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken; and Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes from the Southern Table.
Ace's 1999 interview with Lundy by Rhonda Reeves appears online at www.aceweekly.com. Click on the Taste of Ace icon.
|l||Spring 2002: Dispatch from a survivor
It's been awhile and I know that silence on my part is so out of the ordinary this may have worried you. I do apologize, but things (good!) have been happening at a fairly rapid pace and decisions have been changing so I've been waiting until I knew some things for sure before passing them along.
I had Chemotherapy #7 out of the planned 8-treatment cycle on April 4 and although I am much tireder for much longer following each treatment than I was initially, it went pretty much okay.
The small "bad news" part of this story is that my peripheral neuropathy has been getting steadily worse. (Quick definition of PN: damage to nerve endings in extremities that can be brought on by more than 100 causes, most often diabetes but also, and in my case, a side effect of certain chemo-drugs, two of which I'm using.)
My PN currently causes my fingers to feel numb and tingly most of the time and my toes feel like they are wrapped in cotton and permanently asleep. It can, in extreme cases, numb your senses so I could have trouble buttoning clothes and other finger adept tasks including writing with a pen and typing; and it can spread to the legs or numb the feet enough to affect the ability to walk. It is often temporary when associated with chemo and frequently disappears over time, but this isn't guaranteed. It can also get worse after the chemo stops. Aware of all of this, the doctor and I have been monitoring it and considered stopping chemo after treatment #6; but when things seemed to be clearing up, I opted for one more round.
However, the reprise was short-lived and the neuropathy is back a little worse than before. I met with the doctor and was scheduled for chemo #8 Thursday, but he suggested we wait. He emphasized that it would be my decision and also told me that there is no actual body of statistical evidence that suggests that 8 treatments really will have more impact than the standard 6, or in my case 7. It's just the protocol of the test I agreed to be in and a fairly standard recommendation for women at my advanced stage of ovarian cancer, if they can tolerate it. The neuropathy suggests I've reached the end of my tolerance, however, and at this point I don't intend to do the 8th treatment.
I am being administered doses of Taxol and Carboplatin, the gold standard for OC.
All of this is basically good information for me. The doctor is pleased with my reaction to the drugs so far, the decrease in tumor size and my general health and well-being.
As for more big joys in my life, my dear, wonderful old friend and wild-girlhood travelling companion, Cindy Clark (now Sheehan) is back in my life after almost 20 years.
I had to make a list for group therapy of stuff I WANTED to do before I moved on to the next level of consciousness, and one of them was talk to her again.
So that night, I called her, something I'd not done for a dozen years. It was such a joyful thing!
She came down the first chance she could get away from her job at the post office and we had a Hallmark Movie of the Week moment of laughing and crying in the street when she pulled up; then began planning a road trip.
I think we're going to cruise the Parkway in June, when she has vacation time. Cindy had to drive all of those years in the Rockies because I couldn't (didn't learn until Ken had the patience and fearlessness to teach me in my mid-20s) so my plan now is to drive her up and down the Appalachians so she can enjoy the view while I worry about keeping us on the road.
I am already way ahead of the curve for women with my stage of OC. Large numbers simply don't respond to chemo or respond half-heartedly. My doc says my great initial response (thanks in no small part, I believe, to the love and support pitched in my direction from the likes of you all) not only is beneficial in the moment, but also indicates that I will have good response to other chemo treatments down the line when recurrence occurs, as it virtually inevitably does. Of course, I'm pulling to break the curve and hold that recurrence at bay for several years and, who knows, maybe there will be even better treatment then!
To that end, I'm doing my best to stay healthy, happy and low-stress. Thanks to all of you, that's been much easier to do than I'd anticipated.
Life is good! [Daughter] Meghan and Todd have planted an organic garden right outside my office window and it's gorgeous! I have a handful of Larry Park's transplants on the southside of the house and I talk to him when I water and weed and I imagine he has a big laugh about my feeble efforts, but is making the plants grow anyway.
The asparagus seedlings are up and healthy and will bear edible stalks in three years and you can bet your booties I intend to be around to eat them.
Chef Graham Waller from Emmett's Restaurant
will be serving:
Chilled Seafood Salad with Fresh Cilantro and Lime
Ouita Michel from the Holly Hill Inn will be serving:
Crawfish ceviche, homemade tortillas,guacamole, and pico de gallo.
Lucie Slone from a la lucie's will be serving:
A variety of patés
Brian Kindel and Mohammed Mouktafi and Clay Burke of Nadine's will be serving:
Blue corn tacos with lime ceviche with caviar.
Pacific Pearl's menu is to be determined.
Jonathan at Gratz Park is preparing meatballs using hemp-fed beef,
Radisson's Café On The Park will be serving:
Assorted Cheeses, Grilled vegetables with Hummus, and Phyllo cups with Cajun Chicken salad
Friday, May 10, 7pm at Victorian Square
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