July, 1978 + Wellington, Maine
Finally, about after eleven months of hospital life I was home. Home was that beautiful homestead of which I've already written so much. A great deal had changed: the house was finished, more or less, that wonderful log structure from which I had fallen, and a well had been drilled almost one hundred feet through the tough Maine underground. From this well clean, clear, and crisply cold water flowed. The place had been ramped.
The grounds were wilder, less manicured. The hayfield lay untended; grass grew about knee high. Soon this lovely expanse, wild and free, would give way to shrubs, then seedlings, and then trees. This was our beloved field where we had beheld and marveled at the majesty of Maine's nighttime sky.
Much had remained the same, our lawn was deeply, opulently green and mowed, although not quite up to Linda's exacting standards. Our log home looked as welcoming as ever. Our vegetable and flower gardens were for the most part unplanted.
Years later I would return to a desolate reminder of a far better time. In this time to come, I simply sat in the front seat of a friend's car and gave myself to weeping, then crying, convulsively. I saw chest high weeds, overgrown wild grass, gardens in complete disarray, no flowers, no lawn, no warmth, and no joy. This was our homestead where we had dared to dream a very big dream, indeed. We had failed, so sadly failed, and left behind a chaotic memorial of what could have been.
What I did find there were friends. They were close and loving Wellingtonians who had been solidly with us from day one, visiting, encouraging, and supporting. There was plenty of laughter, and no pity, separation, or anything that kept our lives apart. These were true friends. They had gathered to welcome us back to the homestead and the community we had missed and longed for during so many interminable days and weeks.
Smiling faces were everywhere. I heaved a tremenduous sigh of relief. Undiluted happiness brought tears of joy that ran down my cheeks. I had been transported several hundred miles for a few days less than one year. I had changed in ways I would not fully understand for years, maybe decades. Some bedrock things remained as they were: our family, my love of Wellington, our home, our friends, and Maine itself.
We hoped to settle back in and resume our country ways, as we were able. I had felt continuous worry over that. How were we to live? Would we become bored and irritable? Could Linda take on such a huge load? Who would do my care? How would we get through winter and mud season? Was it all just too big, too much? Suppose so, then what?
All that notwithstanding, the first and most important thing at the moment was getting out of the car and into my chair to properly greet and hug and kiss my friends. I wanted to feel the sacred ground beneath me, and go inside to inspect out onetime dream home, newly furbished to accommodate our lives to be.
I had to do a Red-like transfer from passenger seat to wheelchair with assistance from guys who had moved houses. I was not totally confident, however. If there is the least possibility of something going wrong, believe me, I will find it and worry. "I hope we don't break a bone or put him on the ground", said one anxious crew member.
The transfer was easy beyond measure.
I was at last on our beloved thirty-five acres of Yankee hinterland. At the risk of overstatement, this return had much of the flavor of a soldier returning home injured after some time in combat. I felt very fortunate as I recalled my hospital brothers. Red was alone without loving support and probably headed into a dead end life. Johnny was in some institution, hidden away in seclusion, not to be heard from again. Al was well on his way to heavy alcoholism when I last saw him. The list goes on. Changing gears, Gary got married to a great lady and had a family, Bob started a car sales business and thrived, and Sam became a wheelchair athlete and competed around the country and world.
I was, as I say, in my by-now accustomed manual chair in deep, thick, and prospering lawn. I could no more push through it alone than navigate my way through a full-grown Kansas wheat field. Friends gathered round me hugging, weeping, and welcoming all at once. Almost immediately Michael, one of our community philosophers grabbed the handles of my chair and said, "You must want to look around". With that and without more, he abruptly pushed my chair through about two feet of luxurious turf. My left front tire found a soft spot and sank five or six inches, which was well beyond the range of stable balance.
Shall I say more, this snippet being the Tip Over section? Within fifteen minutes of my return from the most traumatic experience of my age, within five minutes of landing back on home soil, and within one minute of my first eye-level look at Shangri-La, I was literally face to face with our good Yankee ground. Maine and I were close again. Michael didn't seem overly concerned, laughing as was his style. Several others chuckled as if to say, "Now doesn't that beat all".
I wondered if this was a sign of things to come. Would my days be spent unproductively inside because i was trapped by my inability to get out and around? Was much, most, or all of Maine and our homestead off limits?
Back to ground zero. I saw little cause for humor and was piqued at Michael for a short while. Such a welcome I didn't need. Several of the more level-headed in the group thought the best thing to do would be to pick me up. That done, it sure felt good to be home.