Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Hello Invisible Readers! I am on a flight to New Jersey and I have some time to kill. Actually, that is probably not a very good use of the word “kill” considering why I am on this plane.
You all know that I have been traveling for the last month or so. Three days ago, I began to unravel the 500+ emails in my inbox. Buried in there was an email from an old Army buddy of my mine, Ginny. Ginny and I met on day two of basic training, October 6, 1976. Yes, I remember the date. We hit it off immediately and we told everyone in the platoon that we were “cousins.” The other 38 women in our WAC platoon believed our story and Ginny and I have been “cousins” since that day.
Ginny and I went through basic training together at Ft McClellan, Alabama. Our next stop was Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I was training to be a clerk typist and Ginny was training to be a wheeled vehicle mechanic. We were young, innocent and full of that spirit of adventure that young people have who leave home at the age of 18 to join the Army to see the world.
Ginny and I were sent to Germany for our first tour of duty. I was stationed in Hanau and she was in Gelnhausen. In Germany, where the trains really do run on time, Gelnhausen was not that far away and we saw each other often.
It was after Germany that the miles between us got the better of us. I reenlisted and went to Fort Leonard Wood. Ginny reenlisted and went to Fort Polk. Our friendship was a strong one and the miles between us did not weaken the bonds of our friendship. Before computers and internet there were landline telephone calls and (honest!) handwritten letters often enough that we were always current in each other’s lives.
I chose to be a career soldier. Ginny chose the civilian life after serving for nine years. Ginny eventually made her way back to the Jersey Shore. When we were young, she used to tell me stories about “going down the shore” with her family so living there after she was discharged was an obvious choice for her.
My travels and temporary duties occasionally took me to New Jersey so over the years I was able to visit with Ginny. Ginny’s life went through some major challenges after she was discharged, but that is her story to tell and not mine. Through it all we remained close friends. Our friendship survived the miles, the troubles, and the tribulations and to this day, we still call each other “Cuz”.
Several years ago, Ginny was in a motorcycle accident. She was thrown from her bike and her head hit the curb. I shutter to think what would have happened to her had she not been wearing a helmet. Even with the helmet on, her accident was a life-altering event. Ginny ended up in the hospital and in rehab for months. She had to learn how to walk, talk, write, you name it, and Ginny had to learn to do it. She had to start all over from scratch. When she woke up, she had no memory of anything. Her family was strangers to her. Oddly enough, she remembered me, her “Cuz”. Through it all, Ginny’s family was there to support her. However, her biggest support came from her oldest sister, Debby.
Debby is the kind of sister I think we all want. I know Ginny counted on her for tremendous support after her accident. Debby was there for Ginny day and night, through the good times, the bad times, the temper tantrums, the smiles, the setbacks and the small victories. When Ginny wanted to fly to Chicago to see me back in 2002 so that we could attend Chicago Pride together, I remember that Debby was reluctant to let Ginny travel not just alone, but send her off to spend time with someone the family had never met. Ginny and I had been friends for 30+ years at that point and they had heard stories about me, but we have never met face to face. Debby called me and put me through the third degree over the phone. I was not offended by any of our conversation. I understood her reluctance. She was a big sister concerned about and protective of her younger sister who had beaten unbelievable odds. I had to respect that. In the end, I won Debby’s approval (I think), although knowing Ginny she would have gotten on that plane to Chicago with or without Debby’s approval. Nevertheless, I believe having Debby’s approval made it much easier for Ginny to travel.
Therefore, as I was sorting through my emails, which is what I started to explain in the first place, there was an email from Ginny. Her beloved sister, Debby, is battling lung cancer. Tomorrow, October 18th, there is a benefit for Debby to raise money to help pay her bills and support her family through these trying times. I know how expensive it can get. I watched my own father go broke while he cared for my mother for 13 months until she passed away from a brain tumor. The same tumor that killed Teddy Kenny killed my mother. My family did not have the resources available to us the Kennedy’s have and I know Ginny’s family does not have them either.
To support my friend, Ginny, to show her how much her friendship still means to me after all these years, to let her know that I still love my “Cuz”, my partner, Terri, and I are on a plane as I write this blog. We are going to the benefit for her sister, Debby. The Friends of Debby Roehm Benefit. I want to help in any way that I can.
Ginny does not know we are on the way. I called one of her sisters, Karen, to let her know that we would be there. Karen told me she would make sure that Ginny would be home. Ginny is at home waiting for a “donation” to be delivered to her house some time around noon today. That is why I cannot post this until after I surprise her. I cannot chance she will see it online somewhere.
After I completed the last sentence, there just was not time to work on this blog while we were in Jersey. It’s Monday, just after noon and Terri and I are already home. Now it is time for the rest of the story.
Ginny’s sister, Karen, did her part. In fact, she told the rest of the sisters that I was on my way and all morning long Ginny was receiving cryptic messages on her cell phone from her sisters wanting to know if her “delivery” had arrived yet.
For our part, the flight arrived on time although picking up the rental car proved to be a real fiasco. I thought I would save time by using a kiosk. Oh no. That did not save anytime at all. The kiosk would not accept my return ticket number. I do not use credit cards. I pay cash for everything via my debit card. When you use a debit card to pay for a rental car, the rental car companies want to see a round trip itinerary. I knew this. I had forgotten this. Shame on me. Got that worked out and FINALLY! On the road to see my “Cuz”!
It was a short ride to Ginny’s house in Jersey from the Philly airport. No more than forty minutes tops and I was getting more excited by the minute. I was worried because I knew Ginny probably had a lot to do and I did not want to hold her up from completing any last minute errands she had to get done.
Finally, we pulled into her driveway in Riverside, New Jersey. Terri and I sat in the car for a minute or so and waited for Ginny’s dogs to come to her front door. Once they started barking, then we got out of the car. I wanted them to make a LOT of noise. The look on Ginny’s face when she came to the door and saw me standing there was priceless. It was the effect I had hoped for. My “Cuz” was definitely surprised.
Ginny was stunned that we had traveled all that way for her. I told her it was important to me to do this because I know how much Debby means to her. I know how much Debby has done for Ginny over the years. I know how badly Ginny wants this benefit to be successful. And that, I told Ginny, was why Terri and I were at her doorstep. We were there to show support for the woman who took such good care of my “Cuz“ after her motorcycle accident.
Ginny’s sisters, all in on my surprise, told Ginny to take the day off. A very kind gesture on their part since there was much to do before the benefit on Sunday. I felt guilty because my intent was not to pull Ginny away from anything she had to do. Terri and I were there to help in any way that we could.
I admit I was not very good company on Saturday. Terri and I did not get a lot of sleep on Friday night. Our flight left at 7:45 on Saturday morning so we had to be at the airport at the butt crack of dawn. Getting me through security with my titanium knee is never quick, simple or easy. Oh, and going through security I lost my favorite Eddie Bauer pocket knife because I’d forgotten I had it in my backpack. It was still in there from my fishing trip the weekend prior. Oh well. I was more than willing to sacrifice my knife for Ginny and Debby. It can easily be replaced.
Ginny, Terri and I went out to lunch at the most wonderful local diner and then we headed back to Ginny’s for a short nap. That was some nap. I could hardly keep my eyes open the rest of the night. Ginny and Terri watched some kind of marathon. It was one of those criminal investigation shows. I could not stay awake long enough to decipher which one it was. At some point, I vaguely remember Terri telling me it was time to go to bed and off we went.
Sunday morning. The day of the Benefit for the Friends of Debby Roehm. At least the rain had stopped. It was still too cold for my now thinned out Florida blood. You would never know that I grew up in Chicago. Ginny got up and cooked an enormous breakfast for Terri and me. Lord O’ Mighty, I have not eaten that much food in months. I am paying for that this morning but that is another blog entirely and it is actually service connected. ;-)
Time to leave. Terri helped Ginny organize the myriad of envelopes she had containing the different kind of raffle tickets that were being sold. The sisters worked hard to generate donations and their hard work paid off. My favorite item, and the one I bought the most raffle tickets for was a beautiful silver and diamond bracelet donated by Bellagio Jewelers. The most popular item by far was a four pack of Flyers tickets. These were Philly Fans. Go figure.
The benefit for Debby was held at the Willow Brook Country Club (http://www.willowbrookcountryclub.com) in Moorestown, NJ. They generously donated the space for this benefit. A big thanks to them for that. When we arrived, friends and family members were busy working to get everything set up. I was blown away by all the donations the family received for the “Chinese Raffle.” Businesses in the area really came through and stepped up to the plate. I wish I had thought to grab one of each of their business cards. I would have liked to personally thank them all. I am not talking about small items, Invisible Reader. I am talking big-ticket items. Things like a 15” LCD computer monitor, Ryder cordless tools, gas grills, just to name a few. One donation really touched my heart. This particular donation was sent in by a little girl who raised money for Debby by selling lemonade. You hear about things like that and see stories like that on the news from time to time but until it touches you personally … well, as Forest Gump said, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Each person paid a $25 donation to get in the door. Once in the door, the money still flowed. People were quick to buy sheets of tickets for the “Chinese Raffle.” The cost was $20 for twenty-five tickets. No one batted an eye at the cost. They just pulled out their wallets and donated. It was the same way with the 50/50 raffle. 50/50 raffle tickets were $10 for an arms length. People pulled out their wallets and donated. In addition, don’t forget, they were still buying chances for the diamond bracelet and the hockey tickets! Those tickets where $5 each.
There was so much food to be eaten that if anyone went home hungry it was their own darn fault. There were hot dogs and burgers on the grill. There were, of course, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, and there were massive boxes of pretzels the likes of which this Chicagoan has never seen before. In addition, let us not forget my personal favorite, the sweet table.
I finally met Ginny’s family. Since 1976, I have been hearing stories about her family. I feel like I know them. After thirty-three years of friendship, it was wonderful to finally put faces to all those names. I had seen pictures, of course. GI’s have pictures of their families posted everywhere. At least we did back in the old days before computers and thumb drives. We had them in frames and hung up in our rooms, taped to the back of our doors, anywhere there was an inch of space, we glued up pictures of our families back in the States. Nevertheless, yesterday I got to meet them all and for me it was like old home week.
The highlight of my day was meeting the guest of honor, Debby. All this work, all this sharing, all this generosity, all this love was about one person. Debby. I said in the beginning of this blog that I had spoken to Debby once before when Ginny came to visit me in Chicago. I was finally going to meet Debby. Ginny introduced us and Debby gave me a big bear hug as if she had known me all my life. She thanked me for coming and I told her it was an honor to be a part of her benefit. Wild horses could not have kept me away. I reminded her of the time we talked on the phone and she remembered that call. I told her that I know how much Ginny loves her. I told her I know how important it is to Ginny to be able to help her big sis, the one she loves and respects so dearly. Debby and I were in tears. Debby said to me, “You win the award for being the first person to make me cry this afternoon.” We only spoke for a few moments. Guests were beginning to arrive and they all wanted a moment of Debby’s time. I could understand why. In that brief moment that we shared, I understood why Ginny loved her so much. One look in Debby’s eyes and you can see unconditional love and compassion for her family. That may sound corny to you, Invisible Reader, but I have always trusted my intuition. Always. It has not failed me yet.
The benefit was scheduled to run from 2:00 to 6:00. Unfortunately, I had a 7:00 a.m. appointment at the VA Hospital this morning that I could not reschedule. The latest flight that we could get out of Philly was 6:00 p.m., so Terri and I were not able to stay until the end. Let me tell you this. When we said our goodbyes and left at 3:30, people were still pouring in. The room capacity was 125 and I am positive we exceeded that limit by 1:15. Donations for the “Chinese Raffle” were still coming in at 3:30 when we left. To say the outpouring of love and support for this family and their sister blew me away, is an understatement.
It broke my heart to have to leave when we did, but sometimes you do what you must. We said our goodbyes and left for the airport. As I write this, I am still in awe of all that I saw and experienced yesterday. I heard Karen, who was selling the tickets at the door, asking people how they heard about the benefit. Apparently, total strangers to the family were showing up. One man told Karen he overheard someone talking about it. He showed up because it was a good cause. Folks, there are still good people in this world. I saw them yesterday.
I do not know how much money was raised, Invisible Reader. I have not called Ginny today. I got a text message from her late last night after I got home thanking me for flying up there and being there for her. I do not know if I won that diamond bracelet. I do not know if I won the 50/50 raffle. I won something more important. I met Debby. I met the family I have been hearing about since October 6, 1976. I was able to show support for my “Cuz“.
If you would like to donate, Invisible Reader, you are welcome to do so and your donations would be greatly appreciated. I know from my mothers own battle with cancer that whatever money was raised yesterday will be just a drop in the bucket towards paying the medical bills that have accrued and will continue to amass. You can read Debby’s story at http://www.friendsofdebbyroehm.webs.com. There you will also find a donation form to download. If everyone who reads this sends in just five or ten dollars that would add up to a buttload of money. I know times are tough, Invisible Reader. Nevertheless, do you think you can spare a few bucks for the sister of a Veteran?
This is longer than my usual blogs, I realize that. If you have stuck with me this far, Invisible Reader, I send you sincere thanks from the heart. I have posted some pictures of the benefit on my Facebook page. The link is:
Until the next time ….