Bill loved to throw huge parties as evidenced by the gathering he hosted in Fowler to celebrate our engagement. We decided to have a get-together to celebrate Bill’s homecoming and our anniversary. It was scheduled for the Saturday after he came home.
Because this was a spur of the moment decision, there wasn’t time to invite family and friends from far and wide so we came up with a list of about ten people including Dad, Grandma, my aunt and uncle, John and Diane, and a few other friends. I spoke to the manager of a local market that delivered our groceries and also did catering. He quoted me a reasonable price for feeding ten people. The menu would consist of barbecued beef sandwiches, baked beans, and potato salad, and it would be served outdoors. It was a relief not to have to worry about food preparation, especially since I wasn’t much of a cook. All I had to do was take care of Bill and entertain our guests.
The big day got off to a rocky start, and I wondered why in the world we’d decided to have a party on this day of all days. First of all, we woke up to rain, and it didn’t look like it would let up anytime soon. “So much for eating outside,” I said to Bill, as I got ready to take a shower.
“Maybe it’ll clear up,” said Bill, ever the optimist. I didn’t think it would, and I didn’t relish the prospect of cramming ten people around our kitchen table.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I soon found a leak in the closet. John came when I called and found another leak in the kitchen. We put out buckets, and he promised to see about getting the roof fixed. A year later when I was finally able to apply for a mortgage to buy the house, extra funds for the replacement of the roof were included.
The transfers from the bed to the wheelchair were going pretty smoothly, but we were still having trouble dressing, and it would be another month before Laura finally helped us figure out the easiest way to put on his shirt. In the meantime, it took us half an hour to get him dressed and ready for the day.
In the kitchen, Bill insisted on having oatmeal for breakfast. This was one of many dishes I would learn to cook over the next few months. When I was single, I heated instant oatmeal in the microwave, but Bill would have none of that. It had to be cooked the old-fashioned way.
Following his instructions, I poured a generous amount of oatmeal into a saucepan and added enough milk to cover it. “How long do I cook it?” I asked, after I’d placed the pan on the stove and turned the heat to medium.
“I don’t know, till it’s done.”
When Bill did the cooking, he must have had a sixth sense that told him when food was cooked, I realized, as I stirred the pan’s contents. A few minutes later when it seemed to be done, he said, “Ooh, I gotta pee. Oh it’s too late I wet my pants.”
With a sigh of resignation, I turned off the stove and took Bill into the bathroom. It took another fifteen minutes to remove his soiled jeans and underwear and replace them with clean ones. After I settled him back at the kitchen table and returned to the stove, I discovered that the oatmeal had congealed to the consistency of hardened cement.
I added more milk, turned on the heat, stirred vigorously, and served it up a few minutes later. It didn’t taste very good, even with added sugar, but we were too hungry to care. We ate in silence. Finally, I said, “Honey, maybe you should have married a woman who can cook.”
“Come here, woman.” This was what he said when he wanted to hold me, and I wasn’t within reach. I got up and walked around to his right side, and after we embraced, he said, “You’ll learn, sweetie.”
After breakfast, Bill said he needed to pee again. “Why don’t you just give me the urinal, and I’ll unzip my fly and do it that way.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it that way without soiling his jeans so it was another trip to the bathroom for more clean clothes.
That afternoon, I planned to attend a local writers’ group meeting but was unsure about leaving Bill alone. Knowing I needed a break, he told me he would be fine for a couple of hours and not to worry. When I was ready to leave, he was sitting in his recliner, listening to a talking book. I gave him the urinal in case he had to go while I was gone. I figured this would be better for him than trying to hold it until I got back, even if it meant another wet pair of jeans.
At the meeting, we talked about our annual Christmas party which was usually held at the home of one of our members. I remembered how much Bill had enjoyed the party the previous year. Since it was usually held in the evening or on a Saturday afternoon when our paratransit service wasn’t running, there would be no way to get him to the party so I said, “Why don’t we have the party at our house this year?” After I explained the situation with Bill, everyone agreed.
As the meeting wore on, my thoughts drifted back to Bill. I knew there was nothing to worry me. He was comfortably ensconced in his recliner with a talking book to keep him occupied. The phone was right there so if he felt lonely, he could call one of his friends scattered across the country. Thank goodness we had unlimited long distance. In case of a real emergency, he wore a lifeline necklace with a button he could push to get help quickly. Still, I couldn’t help feeling guilty for leaving him alone and defenseless. I finally left the meeting early, saying I had to get ready for a party we were having, and this was partly true.
It was only about a ten or fifteen minute walk home from the senior center where the meeting was held. When I got home, I rushed in the door and was relieved to find Bill still sitting in his recliner and glad to see me. After we embraced, he asked, “How was the meeting?”
“Great,” I answered. “We’ll be having our Christmas party here.”
“Good,” he said.
“I knew that would make you happy,” I said, as I kissed him.
“Yeah, now I wet my pants again. I don’t think I can use the urinal like this.”
This time, I took him in the bedroom since it was closer to the recliner. I laid him on the bed and changed his pants a third time. Because I put on his last clean pair of pants, I tossed a load of his clothes in the washer and hoped he wouldn’t wet his pants again.
An hour later, guests started arriving, and I found myself relaxing and enjoying myself, despite the stress of being a caregiver. One friend brought us each an anniversary gift, a soft, red lap robe. “A perfect gift for a day like today,” I said, as I huddled under mine while John got the furnace going.
It had quit raining, but the yard was cold and wet so we would have to eat inside after all. Fortunately, only half the people we invited showed up so we didn’t have as many people to cram around the kitchen table. Bill had a folding card table we could have used if necessary.
When the market manager and his wife arrived to cater our meal, they said it would be no problem. They could barbecue the beef outside and serve everything indoors. An hour later, dinner was ready.
We all sat at the kitchen table, laughing, chatting, and enjoying our meal. Someone brought a cake, and we had that for dessert with some left over for Bill and me to devour in coming days. I invited the manager and his wife to eat with us, but they declined. After serving us all we could eat, they packed up the leftovers and put them in the refrigerator before leaving.
A couple of hours later, the party finally broke up, to my relief. I could tell Bill was getting tired, and so was I. It had been a long, harrowing day. After the last guest departed, we embraced, and I asked, “Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “It was a good party. Thank you, honey.” With that, he kissed me and said, “Let’s go to bed.”