For Better, for Worse, and Everything in Between

For Better, for Worse, and Everything in Between
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June 7 was my 46th wedding anniversary. My parents reached their 50th anniversary 17 years ago. It is mind-boggling that my husband, Randy, and I are already old enough to ponder our own golden celebration.

I have mentioned Randy in almost every column, if not all of them.

It seems a fitting time to do more.

Randy and Helen, young and oblivious to the real world. (Photo by Paul Derden)

Good friends in high school in Fort Worth, Texas, Randy and I married shortly after I turned 20. He was 23. We graduated from college, worked various jobs, and returned to school for teacher certification. As I fulfilled the last of my own course requirements, Randy was offered a plum coaching job in Columbia, South Carolina. Because my parents were mulling a move closer to my brother’s family (and their first grandbaby!) in Tennessee, it was an easy decision for me. If Randy bemoaned leaving his own parents behind, he never let on.

Our years in Columbia included several memorable highlights. Randy, head coach of both football and baseball at a nearby private school, brought home dual state championships in his year there. My colleagues and myriad experiences at a self-contained school for students with orthopedic and multi-handicapping conditions were invaluable then, and even more so a few years later. The births of our children, Matthew and Katie, and my folks’ move to our neighborhood were the proverbial cherries on top.

Before Matthew started kindergarten, my parents moved to Lenoir, North Carolina. So did we.

***

Randy’s middle name should be “Never Dull,” as that aptly describes these past 46 years. A turning point for our extended family came when he discovered a lodge and cabins for sale on the Blue Ridge Parkway, about an hour from Lenoir. Randy thought that my father, a retired elementary school principal, and my mother, a retired piano teacher, would make perfect innkeepers.

My folks jumped at the challenge. In relatively short order, Randy and I moved our family to the mountains as well, just a few miles from the lodge we were helping to rejuvenate.

We were setting ourselves up for a challenge or two of our own.

***

Our transition to an old farmhouse in late December 1995 was eventful. I detected a thyroid nodule the night before the move. Our arrival was commemorated by a newsworthy blizzard and a couple of crazed flying squirrels in the house. For several months, I adjusted to unfamiliar rural life during the week without Randy. He stayed at our former house, teaching, coaching, and preparing the house to sell.

Randy never complained about his exhausting schedule: teaching/coaching/prepping the old house during the week, driving an hour up the mountain every Friday afternoon to address additional chaos on the “new” (really old) farmhouse, then heading back down the mountain on Sunday afternoon for a repeat. 

At the completion of the school year, Randy joined us permanently. When a head football coaching position opened up in an adjoining county with a considerably shorter commute, he accepted the grueling task of rebuilding another football program.

And we hopped aboard the roller coaster.

***

Football season at Randy’s new assignment coincided with some substantial upheaval in the school and a curveball whopper at home: a surprise pregnancy. Randy’s generally easygoing temperament and forge-ahead determination propelled him until Jeffrey’s arrival in mid-May. The end of the school year — and his job — followed mere weeks later.

Seizing the opportunity for a change of pace, Randy started a new carpet dry-cleaning business. It was on the brink of taking off when Jeffrey was diagnosed at two months with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

Randy and Jeffrey. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

On the evening of Jeffrey’s diagnosis and bleak prognosis (the mother of all whammies), Randy somehow pulled himself together and called my parents and his mother. Back home in our new routine, he cooked, cleaned, tended to many of Matthew’s and Katie’s needs, and promoted his new business. My responsibilities — the primary ones, anyway — were Jeffrey, Matthew, and Katie. And scrounging for optimism.

It didn’t take long to realize that when I absolutely needed some kind of relief, I didn’t have to say anything. Randy instinctively provided it. 

In a true test of emotional fortitude, Randy was summoned to clean the carpet of the funeral home we had chosen for when Jeffrey’s “time” came. As if that weren’t excruciating enough, he took the initiative to call the director to make the official arrangements.

There should be a medal for that.

***

For better, for worse, and for everything in between, it’s hard to fathom even simple times without such a solid partner. No telling what the future holds, but with a little angel intervention, Randy and I will do our best to tackle it.

Till death do us part … hopefully, though, not until we’ve polished off a whole lot more ice cream.

Helen and Randy, delirious over ice cream. (Photo by Katie Fischer)

***

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

Helen partners with Randy, her ‘retired’ husband of 46 years, in assorted endeavors: rental cabin, carpet dry-cleaning business, and bees – lots of bees! – and all that goes with them, namely honey and beeswax products. Her favorite role is ‘MomMom’ to Clara and James. Originally from Texas, Helen taught kindergarteners with orthopedic and multiple disabilities after a move to Columbia, South Carolina. A few years later, Helen, Randy, and their children, Matthew and Katie, moved close to the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. In the spring of 1997, they welcomed baby Jeffrey, a big surprise harboring an even bigger one – spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Helen’s teaching expertise was called into action until their precious little guy snagged his wings at 5-1/2 months. She wrote The Jeffrey Journey about their special assignment and is delighted to continue sharing in her column, “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.”
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Helen partners with Randy, her ‘retired’ husband of 46 years, in assorted endeavors: rental cabin, carpet dry-cleaning business, and bees – lots of bees! – and all that goes with them, namely honey and beeswax products. Her favorite role is ‘MomMom’ to Clara and James. Originally from Texas, Helen taught kindergarteners with orthopedic and multiple disabilities after a move to Columbia, South Carolina. A few years later, Helen, Randy, and their children, Matthew and Katie, moved close to the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. In the spring of 1997, they welcomed baby Jeffrey, a big surprise harboring an even bigger one – spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Helen’s teaching expertise was called into action until their precious little guy snagged his wings at 5-1/2 months. She wrote The Jeffrey Journey about their special assignment and is delighted to continue sharing in her column, “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.”
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