Columns

Bleak bad times can reveal sparkling gems of goodness

I wish whoever keeps asking “what next?” about 2020 would stop it.

Last week the “what next” was thick, choking, hazardous smoke. Each morning, I checked the Spokane air quality before getting out of bed. As the smoke cleared ever so slowly, I’d grimly brush the dusting of ash from my car before heading out.

How bad was it? Well, I actually had to work out at the gym for the first time since it re-opened post-shutdown. Hazardous air is not conducive to long strolls through the neighborhood.

But Saturday morning I woke up to find my husband had opened our living room and kitchen windows. Rain and cooler temperatures cleared the sooty skies. I’ve never before been so giddy about being “moderate,” and cheered as the air quality neared “good.”

Standing on the deck I gulped in the fresh air with my morning coffee and wondered why it so often takes the bad to make us appreciate the good.

This year has certainly given us plenty of opportunities.

During the long weeks of shutdown when just about every place that makes life enjoyable was shuttered, we had to discover new ways to find joy.

Instead of the warm fellowship of Sunday morning church, we cuddled on the couch in our pajamas and streamed the service on Facebook.

In lieu of romantic dinners at upscale bistros, date night morphed into driving to our favorite spot together to pick up food to go.

Weekly meals with our adult sons became regular Sunday Suppers complete with dessert, as we drew our family closer during this worrisome time.

As things slowly opened up, the Sunday Supper tradition became a fixture, and I love having a designated day to spend with my sons.

We haven’t attended in-person church yet, because seating is limited, and we are well aware that for many older folks, Sunday service is as crucial to their emotional and mental health as it is to their spiritual life. We’ll join them when we can all attend.

Date night is on again, though we usually pick a spot that offers outdoor dining. We enjoy eating al fresco in the summer anyway, and it feels amazing to be eating at a venue, instead of taking home Styrofoam boxes.

Yes, sometimes it takes the bad to help us appreciate the good.

That thought sits with me today as we celebrate our youngest son’s 21st birthday. There’s nothing bad about Sam, but his entrance to the world proved incredibly frightening.

On a golden Sept. 24, our grand finale arrived weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders, and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

Having given birth to his three older brothers without complication, I assumed we’d be taking our new arrival home the next day. Instead, it was three long weeks.

Within hours of his birth we were told Sam had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Our newborn was given a 50% chance of survival.

He was airlifted from Holy Family to Sacred Heart and placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to his bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

When he was 3 days old, he underwent surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. And then we watched and we waited, struggling to care for our sons at home, dealing with the unbearable ache of leaving Sam in the hospital night after night.

But at 21 days, he finally came home, healthy and whole in every way, with a pretty impressive scar on his midsection.

Twenty-one years later, he’s our last fledgling in the nest, and having already earned his undergraduate degree, this week he started the quest for his master’s.

He’s filled our home with so much joy; it’s hard to comprehend how close we came to losing him. Those horrible days when his life hung in the balance have made me forever grateful for his presence in our family, and maybe a bit more prone to appreciate the sparkling gems of goodness the bleakness of bad times can reveal.

Sam and Cindy Hval, 2019

Columns

There’s only one way to rock when you’re number three

Some women might chafe at being their husband’s third choice.

Not me.

When Derek read Sammy Hagar was coming to Northern Quest this summer, he quickly snapped up two tickets. My husband is a fan of all things Van Halen, and Hagar famously fronted for the band during David Lee Roth’s extended absence. The fact that former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony now tours with Hagar just sweetened the deal for Derek.

I’m not a Van Halen fan, and I only vaguely remember the Red Rocker’s solo career. As for Montrose and Chickenfoot?

I shook my head when Derek insisted I must have heard of Hagar’s other bands.

You see, while my husband was rocking out to Blue Oyster Cult, The Cars and Van Halen, I got my groove on with Bon Jovi, Blondie, Billy Joel, and way too much Air Supply.

I wasn’t worried about brushing up on my rock ’n’ roll ignorance because Derek planned to attend the concert with his brother, who at 13 months his junior, enjoys the same high school musical memories as Derek.

Alas, Darrol, an emergency room physician in Pullman, had to work the night of the concert.

No worries, because one of Derek’s good friends frequently goes to concerts with him, and also happens to own a signed Sammy Hagar guitar.

I knew they’d have a great time.

Then his friend found out about a family wedding he had to attend.

Derek looked at me doubtfully.

“Zach would go with me,” he said.

Our third son inherited his father’s love of Van Halen.

“But if you go with me, I’ll spring for a couple’s massage at the Spa,” Derek continued. “And dinner.”

I grinned.

“You had me at spa.”

So, Saturday afternoon we slipped into the hot tub at La Rive at Northern Quest, and sipped some wine, while we waited for the attendants to call us for our massages.

“I like Sammy Hagar better already,” I said.

Imagine my surprise when I liked him even more once he took the stage!

Some tunes like “I Can’t Drive 55,” and “Right Now” were familiar due to radio play back in the day, but others like “Why Can’t This Be Love,” and “Mas Tequila” were fun new songs to me.

Derek was thrilled with the set list, and even more pleased that Hagar’s voice has held up so well.

“He sounds way better than David Lee Roth did in Tacoma,” Derek said.

He’d taken two of our sons to see Van Halen several years ago when they played in Tacoma, and while they had a great time, Derek said Roth’s vocals sounded strained and the band played louder to cover the weakness.

Hagar didn’t need any such help Saturday night. And in my opinion the Red Rocker is hotter at 71, than he ever was at 31. His moplike head of curls has been tamed just a bit and he’s trim, fit, tanned, and has moves better than Jagger’s.

“Must be all that tequila,” Derek mused.

Hagar founded a tequila company in the ’90s and sold it several years ago.

Whatever the reason, Hagar still has the pipes to hit all the right notes. But even better, on Saturday it was apparent to his thousands of fans at Northern Quest that Hagar truly loves what he’s doing.

His appreciation of the venue and the crowd seemed sincere. When it came time for his encore, he didn’t bother to leave the stage.

Instead, he stayed and gave the audience more of what they wanted.

Turns out I was one of those fans screaming for more.

If Hagar’s right that “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” then being your husband’s third choice is sure a fun way to do it.

Columns

Fans Keep on Lovin’ REO Speedwagon

He stood like a lonely Statue of Liberty, holding his lighter aloft, its flame flickering in the darkness. An actual cigarette lighter, not a pale imitation cellphone flashlight.

You should have seen by the look in my eyes, baby

There was something missin’

He swayed. Silent. Stoic.

You should have known by the tone in my voice, maybe

But you didn’t listen

The Thursday night crowd at Northern Quest Resort and Casino had already come unglued as REO Speedwagon unleashed “In Your Letter “ and “Keep Pushin’,” but something tells me the fan with the lighter had been waiting for “Keep on Loving You.”

Like any iconic rock band, REO Speedwagon knew fans had come to hear their hits and to bask in the memories that their music brings. And Lighter Guy, lost in his own world, was as my kids say, feeling “all the feels.”

And I’m gonna keep on lovin’ you

’Cause it’s the only thing I want to do

I don’t want to sleep, I just want to keep on lovin’ you

By the time the chorus rolled around, most of the sold-out crowd, including Derek and I, stood with Lighter Guy, belting out the lyrics.

When my husband saw REO Speedwagon was coming to Northern Quest, he quickly scooped up tickets. After all, the band was at its zenith when Derek graduated from high school in 1981. There’s nothing like a blast of music from the past to make you feel young again.

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With evangelistic zeal, lead singer Kevin Cronin whipped the middle-aged crowd into a frenzy – especially the super fan across the aisle from us. She whooped. She hollered. She pogo-jumped up and down and her air guitar skills were impressive.

“Rock ’n’ roll will keep you young forever!” Cronin hollered.

“Or else it kills you,” Derek said, shouting in my ear.

That was the last thing I actually heard him say for quite a while. It was the first time I’d wished for earplugs at a concert since Def Leppard played the Spokane Arena in 2017. Everything sounded like I was underwater no matter how many times I tried to pop my ears.

About four songs into the evening, things began to sound clearer.

“I think my ears are adjusting,” I said.

“What?” Derek replied. “I can’t hear you. They are really loud!”

Despite the decibel level, the band sounded great, but it was the crowd that truly made the show. In addition to Lighter Guy and Air Guitar Lady, Baseball Cap Gal, in front of us, was a hoot to watch.

With her curly hair pulled through the back of her ball cap, she looked to be having the time of her life. She rocked. She bounced. She shook her gray-streaked ponytail like the teenager she used to be. And she knew the lyrics to every single song, even “Tough Guys.”

We didn’t mind her exuberance a bit, as she was a tad on the short side.

“Oh, hey, I didn’t realize she was standing up,” said Derek.

However, one fan’s enthusiasm kept getting the better of her. She doggedly danced down the aisle to the front of the stage, only to be repeatedly danced back by a long-suffering, very patient member of the security team.

At one point she found Air Guitar Lady and they linked arms, attempting to lead her to worship at the altar of their rock gods.

A woman behind us leaned forward.

“That’s not going to end well,” she said.

Sure enough, moments later, Air Guitar Lady was back in her row, while Mosh Pit Hopeful was escorted to the nether regions.

You have to admire a band that inspires that kind of devotion decades after their last chart-topping hit.

REO Speedwagon still delivers a fantastic, high-energy show. “Ride the Storm Out” shook the room, and the crowd eagerly offered vocal assistance on “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take it on the Run.”

Keep in mind these guys aren’t exactly teenagers. Kevin Cronin is 67, bassist Bruce Hall is 65, and founding member, keyboardist Neal Doughty is 72, yet they blazed through their entire set list, plus encores, without a break.

Who knows? Maybe rock ’n’ roll really does keep you young forever.

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