Cancer: Road Picnic
It has been thirteen years, this month, since my husband lost his battle with cancer. The battle lasted only nine months. The loss, for our family, continues.
Harvey was the only man I ever loved. As the years went by our love was tossed and beaten like one of his old trucks. In the midst of all our trials and turmoil, the one thing that was always able to bring us back together was our road picnics.
We always took an old car. When I say old, I mean rust, dents, torn seats …
“Wait! What’s that smell?” This was always me talking. A search would ensue until the offending item would be found. “Oh Harvey! It’s a package of shrimp shoved under the seat. How long has that been there?”
“Don’t throw that out. I’m saving that for fishing.”
It was all okay though. We always started early, allowing time to either fumigate or choose another vehicle and there were always plenty of old vehicles to choose from. Harvey was a nut about old cars and trucks. For him these represented all that was good about his youth. For me they represented a time for us to be together without fighting or competing.
We would dress comfortably and tossed some blankets and pillows in the car. We took only a few dishes; the fare wouldn’t require much. We would pick up food at some little mom and pop store where the cheeses were fresh, the meat came off a slab, and we could usually find some homemade jerky, baked goods and let’s not forget the homemade root beer.
The picnic usually took place in the car. We would eat as we drove through the countryside; past farms and fields full of wildflowers. If we found a good spot we would sit on a blanket in front of the car or in the bed of the truck. It was nothing to lie down and take a nap in each other’s arms, letting the day glide past.
Times were not always happy for Harvey and me. We went through a bitter split and lived apart for a number of years, but we never divorced. Then the day came that he was diagnosed with cancer. In the early days of his diagnosis nothing changed between us, but as time went on and his illness worsened, we drew a little closer.
Each day it became more evident that he was losing his battle with cancer. He began asking me to take him places. Church was difficult. One Sunday evening, I drove him to a little country church he loved to visit. It had been a number of months since he was last there and I knew that he had changed. The once vibrant man with thick brown hair was now a feeble soul whose hair, lost from chemo, was coming back white. I heard the whispers as people asked who he was. Someone whispered, “Is that Harvey?” All I could do was turn my face away from him so he wouldn’t see me cry.
After so many months of chemotherapy and being sick all the time, Harvey actually had what he considered a good day. It was spring and the bluebonnets, along with a grand display of so many other wildflowers were lush and beautiful. “MaryJane,” he said. “I sure want to go see the bluebonnets. Let’s take a road picnic.”
I don’t think we had been on a road picnic in ten, maybe fifteen years. I wasn’t going to refuse him now. We loaded up in his old truck and went looking for one of the mom and pop stores we used to visit. Most were closed, but we found one. We got our meat and cheese and homemade bread and sweets. They didn’t have homemade root beer, so we bought A & W. We also got a couple of pounds of homemade jerky. What a feast.
We drove for miles until Harvey saw a spot with a roadside park. The bluebonnets in the field close by were perfect. The air was scented with their fine bouquet. We spread our blanket on top of the table and lay down together. There we spent the day enjoying the flowers and our royal fare of salami and hard cheese with homemade bread. Although he didn’t eat much, Harvey smiled for most of the day. That smile was so healing for me. I think the picnic worked its own healing on him.
Harvey died in July of that year. With the exception of the incident at the church, I never cried. It’s been thirteen years, and today, with the writing of this piece I am unable to control my tears. I still love you, Harvey.