An Anxious Ride
The blazing afternoon sun sucked what little moisture was left out of the air. The blast of highway wind did the same to my skin. I knew if my puckered lips straightened, they would crack and bleed. My dry throat ached for a drink, but I didn’t care. I had four hundred miles to go before I wanted to stop for anything. Only common sense held me back as I straddled my motorcycle which was capable of so much more speed than I had ever dared to try.
I thought of Frederick, who a few generations earlier, was also traveling in the hot summer weather. He was on a train. It was the fastest mode of transportation available in 1914. I imagine back in 1914, he got a telegram that started his journey.
For me, it was a phone call. A few hours earlier, I had been sitting in church with my family. When my cell phone buzzed in silent mode, I thought it would be another problem at my work. I looked down at the display expecting to see “DEF”, the work abbreviation. Instead “LAURIE” flashed at me. This can’t be good. My dad was back in the hospital. I bolted from the meeting so I could answer the phone.
“Mom wanted me to call and let you know what was going on.” With that, my sister started right into the report. The news was not encouraging. In Dad’s condition, any infection or virus could be life threatening. After the call, pieces of the report still rang in my head.
“Throat swelling up… A new lump… hard to breath… he can’t talk… they will do an x-ray looking for pneumonia.”
Now my Beautiful Wife was standing next to me and I tried to relay the information. As she asked, “Don’t you think you should go?” I was already trying to figure out the logistics. I had brought my company pickup truck home that weekend. But I couldn’t take it to Idaho. My work was a hundred miles in the wrong direction. I decided to take the truck back to work trade for my motorcycle. By comparison, I was lucky. I was only a half a day away.
I thought again of Frederick. Living in Chicago, for him it was a three days journey to Southeastern Idaho. He must have left almost immediately when he heard that his father, John Everett, had suddenly taken ill. The frequent stops the steam locomotive must have made to take on water, fuel, and passengers would have been frustrating for Frederick. Since his siblings knew when he would arrive, it is likely he had left several telegrams informing them of his progress along the way.
As I rolled from side to side, taking the hilly curves a little faster than usual, I added it up in my head. “It would be about 6:00pm when I arrived at Rexburg.” I wondered if there were any more updates. There was no cell service through these hills. When I stopped for gas, I checked my phone for missed calls. Nothing. That was good I think. I didn’t take the time to make any of my own calls.
Back on the road, my mind raced from one thought to another. I thought of my dad. He’d had set backs like this before. He had always pleasantly surprised family and the medical people alike at his resilience. However, in the two days since he’d been admitted to the hospital, new developments and complications seems to combine against him. It was now starting to sound like the worst case scenario.
Then another image came back into my mind. I thought of my Great-Great Grandpa, John Everett. In 1914, he was 93 years old. The summer heat of the day gave way to night time. John saw the reflection of the setting sun on his bedroom wall for the last time. He was on his death bed, and he knew it. He had been sick for three days. Seven of his eight living children were at his bedside with him. The only one missing was Frederick, a doctor who lived and worked in Chicago. He was traveling back home as fast as the steam locomotive would carry him. John Everett had lived a full life. In 1835, at the age of 14, he left his Prussian home as he became a cabin boy on a sailing ship. At age 28, sailor John Everett claimed to have visited every major sea port in the world except the American West Coast. This was the year he gave up the sea for another love. The love of his life was Hellen Tanser. They pioneered west by ox team and covered wagon. Now the sailor was a farmer. John and Hellen had ten children and raised eight of them. Hellen had died in 1900, fourteen years earlier. So with seven of his children at his bedside, John had only one thing left in this life to wait for. He knew that he had asked before, but time had lost it’s relevance to him. So he asked again. “Where is Frederick?” “Papa, Frederick is still coming. He just hasn’t arrived yet. He’s coming as fast as he can.”
The thought sent me spurring my motorcycle like Pony Express rider, as I leaned a little more forward and twisted the throttle a little bit more. Rexburg was close now. I slowed as I took the exit and started up Main Street. Madison Memorial Hospital is up on a hill on the other end of Main.
As I impatiently waited for a red light to change, I thought again of John Everett’s final words. It was now between midnight and 2:00 am. John asked one last time, “Is Frederick here yet?” “No Papa, he’s not. But he will be here tonight.” John let the unwelcomed answer settle for a moment and then he said, “Well it is too bad.” After that, John Everett lost consciousness and soon past from this life.
I now had tears in my eyes when the light finally changed to green and sent me the final few blocks to the hospital. I was kicking myself now, “Why didn’t I leave earlier, when I first heard Dad was in the hospital?”
When I arrived, I found Dad gravely ill, but alive and surrounded by family. I spent the night with him, as well as the next day. His condition continued to worsen for a time and I was very thankful that I had made it when I did.
Numerous doctors, nurses and other medical people have admitted since that they thought we were going to lose Dad that time. But he pulled through and is doing very well these six months later. Maybe it’s a throw back to his egg farm days but Dad is now known as “A Tough Old Bird”.
I’ve been back to visit my parents once since that time, and I look forward to all my visits back home. In fact, I’ll be headed back this weekend for another short visit. I thank modern communication, modern transportation, modern medicine, and the God who gave them all to us that I can still visit with my parents as I do. I am truly blessed that my outcome that day was vastly different than Frederick Everett’s was almost a hundred years ago.