A Big Year


A new year starting is as good a time as any for self-reflection. But really, wasn’t Jan. 1, 2020, just another day? Like any day? Can’t we self-reflect anytime we want? Or should. Shouldn’t we?

I often review my days, especially when there is a quiet place to watch a beautiful sunset. Sunsets are among my most profound weaknesses. They seem to always trigger reflection. Was I the best I could be today? Was I the best I could be last year? I’ve never answered those questions in the affirmative. I screw up. I lose my temper. Some days I truly do become a curmudgeon. It happens. But I have few regrets, and, yet, maybe I should.

I started 2019 on these pages reflecting on and updating the 45 B-Curious columns I had written for this fine magazine since 2015 (it’s now been 56 columns). The last update from 2018 concerned our great niece, Lauren Beck, and her online journal, “Lauren’s Brain Tumor Journey.”

“The treatments are shrinking the tumor,” I wrote, “but in late November (2018), an MRI showed a new, smaller lesion near her cerebellum. Lauren remains in great spirits and entered a clinical trial at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia in mid-December (2018). We’re confident that 2019 will be Lauren’s best year ever.”

It was not.

That “smaller lesion” multiplied into numerous other tumors throughout her brain and spine. By summer, Lauren went into hospice, and before the summer ended, so did the lovely, bright girl’s “Brain Tumor Journey.” She died peacefully at home on the morning of Sept. 17, 2019, a couple of months before what would have been her 15th birthday.

Even as Lauren was getting worse, our good friend Jim Rawls, 79, died in the early summer after heart surgery; his close friend Jo Ellen O’Hara, the former longtime food editor for The Birmingham News, relocated from her house of 75 years on Diaper Row to the assisted living section at Fairhaven Retirement Center where she’s enjoying a new phase of her life. Named one of two Alabama’s food legends last year by Southern Living magazine, Jo Ellen loves visitors. And we still have our adventures, like those I discussed in my November 2015 B-Curious column “Driving Miss O’Hara.”

Miss O’Hara, now 82, is still going strong, cheering for her Crimson Tide football team every Saturday in the fall, and she will always be one of our dearest friends.

Last year was a particularly hard one for the pups at our house. We lost four of our oldest dogs – Ralph (15Ч years old, Pug), who appears in my column photo (far right), Lillian (14Ч years old, Pug), Ernie (11 years old, Pekingese, our first rescue), and Daisy (who knows how old, but at least 13, Pekingese). We did gain a new Pug, a 1-year-old rescue we named Nelly Bly, and she is running us ragged. Far too much puppy juice for our ages to handle. But Nelly is staying. Her best friend is our largest dog, Frank, an 85-pound Shlab (Shar Pei, Labrador mix), and Nelly, all of 15 pounds of her, runs even him ragged.

As I reflect on the new year, it occurs to me how fast the years go by now. I remember as a schoolkid looking across summer and no school, and it seemed like forever. I remember how long it took for Christmas to get here. Now, the days and years are blurring by. Will it ever slow down again, or does it just suddenly stop?

I’m at the age my mother was when she died, and that was 23 years ago. I miss her every day, but I can’t believe it’s been more than 8,400 days since I last heard her voice. My family does have at least one huge challenge in 2020. My wife, Veronica, is being evaluated early this year for a liver transplant. She’ll also have a heart procedure Feb. 10, shortly after our 40th wedding anniversary on Feb. 2.

I’ve written about Veronica in this column before. I definitely married up. She’s a strong woman, who in 1986 stopped breathing one night during an allergic reaction to a heart medication she was taking. I did the CPR thing, she came back, spent days in the intensive care unit of a now-closed hospital in Birmingham, then was sent to UAB for an electrophysiology study on her once-again beating heart.

At that time, doctors said she may have liver damage from the allergic reaction to the medicine. She’s a determined, kind woman who is doing everything the medical experts are telling her to do (she hasn’t even had a sip of Pinot Grigio in more than a year, and has given up her beloved oysters on the halfshell and shrimp po boys). If she does have a liver transplant, I’m confident she’ll endure it well. I’ve seen her survive more than a few serious medical crises.

Whatever happens, I’ll be right there with her, just as she always has been right there with me.

Yeah, 2020 is going to be a big year. Maybe in some ways, a scary year. But we either get through it, or we don’t. I’m the curious, getting-through-it type.

Happy new year. May it be your best yet.

2 Responses to “A Big Year”

  1. Sue Cronkite says:

    You’re right. Veronica is a strong person. Pray she’ll get the liver transplant and have a long life. Your columns are great. Keep up the good work.

  2. Ramona says:

    Give Mrs. Veronica a (((BIG HUG))) from me. My friend and co-worker from AK received his liver transplant early last year and he has just passed his first anniversary. So, I know someone with a heart full of love for people and fur babies, as Veronica has, will do well. She, you, and all the fur babies are in my prayers. I so enjoy your work, so please continue.

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