A true story about cancer

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 17, 2002

Sports Editor

The sad part about life is there’s nowhere to run when the bad things start to happen.

To illustrate, let me tell you this story.

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There was this man, see. But throughout this story I’ll refer to him as a boy, because he was the type of man that never wanted to grow up. The momma’s child. He had a Peter Pan complex that was out of this world. He existed for the weekend party, the occasional college course and a Sunday afternoon matinee. And maybe a small part of him still prefers that fantasy land of no worries and little responsibility.

(Case in point: he saw Spider-Man the other day and thought it rocked.)

Well one day this boy was coming home. He had been to the big city, shopping, some 40 miles away from his hometown. He had exited the interstate and was driving back to his house when something just touched him strong enough to make him stop.

The boy remembered his mother. Months earlier, she had come into his room after visiting her own mother in the big city hospital. His grandmother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The boy was tapping away at the keyboard of his computer, perhaps writing, (he liked to do that), or playing a video game. His mother had asked him something, probably if he had "eaten" yet. Mothers always seem to worry about whether or not their children are getting enough food.

He had turned and asked her if she was going to be okay.

"No baby," she had said. "I don’t think I’m going to be okay for a long time."

The boy’s grandmother had been in his hometown hospital for almost a week now. Things had turned bad.

How bad the boy didn’t know.

So while coming back from the big city that night, the boy had decided to stop at the hospital to see his grandmother.

She had died a few minutes earlier. The boy got there just in time to see his aunt and his mother closing his grandmother’s eyes.

What did he remember about this woman who had been a part of his life for some 20-plus years?

That she had never been too busy to give out hugs. That she made sure each grandchild had a gift from her at Christmas. That she cooked real Southern fried chicken in a deep-dish frying pan for Sunday dinner, and cut her own grass with a riding lawn mower. That she collected cats and kittens like most people collect coins.

Her husband had left her some eight years earlier, going to sleep one night and never waking up. From that day forward, the boy’s grandmother would share her morning cups of coffee

on the front porch swing with the Lord.

The boy’s aunts and uncles kept her happy and kept her loved. The occasional grandchild would stop by for breakfast. And there were the holidays. Christmas, with its shower of gifts and night time fireworks. Thanksgiving, a table of food, including the chicken and dumplin’s that the boy’s sister loved so well.

And Easter. Great-grandchildren, like bunnies, hopping around her yard, rummaging through the bushes for plastic eggs.

She’d even managed a trip to the beach with her three daughters before her death. She

beguiled them all with her skill at dominoes. At the boy’s home, there’s a photograph of her standing alone in a parking lot. Behind her is a white beach and a blue ocean. She’s wearing a dress and carrying her purse, as if she were about to walk into a church just outside the picture frame.

The boy imagines his grandmother somewhere else now. She’s sitting on a porch, having her cup of coffee as morning breaks over a group of clouds and Heaven goes on forever. There’s an old man beside her, having a cup himself.

"One day," they say together, thinking of a time when there will be more plates around the table, more Easter egg hunts and a thousand Christmas trees that never grow old. More laughter. More love. More children and grandchildren then they know what to do with.

"Well," says the boy’s grandfather, touching his grandmother’s hand, "you better warm up those dominoes."

– For my grandmother, Ivis Blackburn, who lost her battle with cancer in 1998.