Summer vacations: A mixed bag of road trips and other journeys

From a troubled van to a troubling diagnosis, and what lies ahead

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by Helen Baldwin |

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When I was growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, our family vacations were precious getaways. Time and money constraints kept us primarily in Texas, but there was plenty to do.

During one summer trip to south Texas, we walked across the border to Mexico on a dreadfully sweltering August day. Flies floating in the lemonade and greasy hanging meat peppered with flies at the roadside stands quickly satisfied our curiosity, and we retreated in relatively short order.

After Randy, my husband, and I married, vacations were scarce due to lack of funds and the desire to catch up around the house if we had a chance.

By the time our first baby, Matthew, was born, we were living in Columbia, South Carolina. Randy and I were both teachers, so at Christmas break, we drove to Fort Worth to show off our little guy to family and friends.

We drove back to Texas the following Christmas break after learning Randy’s father had had a stroke and flew back at the end of summer for his funeral.

And that was the end of our trips for five years.

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The van that kept our big trip from being boring

Having moved to Lenoir, North Carolina, we were making plans to drive our used conversion van to Denver for a nephew’s high school graduation. It was the summer Matthew turned 7 and our daughter, Katie, turned 4.

Randy’s grandparents, who couldn’t attend the graduation, asked if we could stop by and visit them on our way to Colorado. We hastily revised our driving plans to include the impromptu trip (to California!), opting for a southern route to first visit friends near Los Angeles.

Mere hours after we set out, the driver’s side mirror broke off. Thank goodness an ample amount of electrical tape held it in place, but we might ought to have considered it an omen.

The van’s air conditioning went out as we broached the Arizona desert; a mechanic strategically located on the other side of the desert mercifully got it running again.

We visited our friends outside LA before venturing north to the kinfolk near San Francisco. Miraculously, we weren’t flattened on Interstate 5 in 5 o’clock Friday traffic, where pushing the van 80+ mph was our only hope for survival. As our frazzled selves reached San Pablo after what resembled a death wish on Interstate 5, our van, likewise frazzled, broke down completely.

With the van repaired during our stay with Randy’s kin, we began the trek to Denver. Alas, as we snaked down a snowy, foggy mountain in Nevada at dusk, the alternator petered out. Thanks to angel intervention, we were able to follow the taillights of a small truck ahead of us until we coasted into a service station in Ely. Fittingly, the first alternator was defective, forcing us to turn around for a second replacement.

It was my turn to drive when we resumed our journey. I kept such close tabs on the slushy road and alternator light that I missed a turn somewhere. In the wee hours of the morning, as the other three travelers slept, I was privy to the stunning outlines of massive boulders under the full moon … in Wyoming.

We were supposed to be in Utah. Oops.

We eventually did make it to Denver, and in time for the graduation, even. Despite a great adventure in the books, though, home couldn’t have looked better.

The mother of all journeys: our SMA assignment

The California-on-the-way-to-Colorado trip was our last big one. The demands of Randy’s high school football coaching stints hogged entire summers.

And then came the summer of 1997. We experienced the mother of all journeys when our baby, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with SMA. There were some memorable trips in our brief assignment: to Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the diagnosis and also to various appointments and follow-ups. The blur of summer morphed into the blur of fall, when we added a fateful, last-ditch consultation with a pulmonologist, inadvertently hastening Jeffrey’s decline.

A month later, Jeffrey snagged his wings. In a grieving stupor, Randy and I took Matthew and Katie to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The multifarious neon signs and arcades were excessively stimulating, but watching Matthew and Katie enjoying themselves softened the buzz significantly.

Enjoying vacations vicariously

Beekeeping, our rental cabin duties, and more keep us hopping during summer. We prefer visits to Katie and our son-in-law, Paul, in Charleston, South Carolina, during cooler weather, anyway. It’s a perfect getaway.

Meanwhile, Matthew’s family just returned from a fun-filled vacation primarily on the North Carolina coast. They had a blast!

And Halsey Blocher, who has SMA and leads my group of BioNews columnists, wrote about her family’s recent vacation to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. She raved about the accessibility of activities and friendliness of those they met.

Hearing about their vacations makes me feel like I’ve had one, which is the closest I’ll get for a while.

Still, it’s summertime!

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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