Columns

Sometimes the Simplest Prayers Mean Most

We eagerly scanned the swarms of blue-robed students filing into the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening. The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” swelled, and then we spotted our baby boy – not much of a baby anymore.

As Sam received his diploma and was recognized as an honors student who’s already earned 87 credits through the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University, another chapter in our parenting lives closed.

Our fourth and final son graduated from high school.

It was an occasion I couldn’t even imagine 18 years ago when he struggled for every breath in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at now-Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

On a golden September day, Sam, our grand finale, had entered the world 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.

He also had a hole in his diaphragm.

Within hours of his birth we were told our baby had 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. Only Sam’s right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Milestones like a commencement ceremony remind us of how close we came to losing this child.

Late Friday night following the celebration, while the rest of the household slept, Derek and I quietly recalled Sam’s desperate first days.

He’d been flown by helicopter from Holy Family Hospital to Sacred Heart Medical Center an hour after his birth. Having just given birth I was forced to stay behind while Derek drove downtown.

“When I walked into the NICU, they had Sam restrained on a table,” he recalled. “His back was arched, his face red. He was screaming his head off. They told me he was a fighter, but that I needed to leave the room for a minute. They said they were going to sedate him, that his blood pressure was dangerously high. When they let me back in, Sam was silent and still. So very still.”

And 18 years later, the tears fell as he remembered his helplessness in the face of his son’s need.

My own memories of that day still haunt.

Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to Sam’s 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 a voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But that morning I could find no words. So I reached two fingers under the maze of wires, rested them on his laboring chest and whispered, please. When he exhaled I whispered thank you.

In the weeks that followed those words became a ritual.

Even as he grew healthy and strong, with no lingering complications, each breath simply seemed miraculous to me. Life is a gift, but how casually we treat it, until we’re forced to confront its fragility.

More nights than I can count, I’d slip into Sam’s room, lay my hand on his chest and whisper please and thank you as he breathed. Over the years that prayer grew to encompass much more than his physical health.

Like his dad, Sam’s going to continue his education at EWU. He plans to become a high school English teacher and will live at home for a while, so our nest won’t be empty anytime soon.

Following the commencement ceremony, we posed for photos. Sam now towers above me, and when I wrap my arms around him, my head rests near his heart.

Once again I found myself whispering please when he inhaled, thank you when he exhaled.

It’s a prayer that’s served me well.

Sam's graduation

Advertisements
War Bonds

She found love in the right place

When Janet Hegdahl, 16, found out her family was moving from Portland to Spokane in the fall of 1955, she didn’t jump for joy.

“I’d just gotten a job at the library,” she recalled.

She’d also discovered boys.

“I was really interested in boys, a little too interested,” Janet said. “I was looking for boyfriends in all the wrong places.”

Her unhappiness about the move melted away the first Sunday her family attended Trinity United Presbyterian Church. That’s when she saw Jack Arkills singing in the choir and thought church just might be the right place to meet a guy.

Jack noticed her as well and made a beeline for her as soon as the service ended. He was the youth director and Sunday School superintendent, and he wanted to invite her to the youth meeting that evening.

“The Italians have what they call a thunderbolt,” Jack said. “It’s when you see someone, and it’s instant recognition.”

He smiled at Janet.

“It was instant for me,” he said.

She felt the same way.

They both attended Lewis and Clark High School and saw each other between classes and after school. On one of their first dates, they saw the movie “High Society,” and when Bing Crosby crooned “True Love” to Grace Kelly, it became their song.

From their Riverview Retirement Community apartment in Spokane, Jack sang, “I give to you and you give to me, true love, true love …”

Jack already had a connection to Bing Crosby – he’d caddied for Crosby at Indian Canyon in the late ’40s.

“Bing was a big tipper,” he recalled.

In May 1957, Jack dashed into the downtown library where Janet was working. It was the day of the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, and he was scheduled to march with his National Guard unit.

It was also Janet’s 18th birthday.

“I had a ring in my pocket,” Jack said.

He proposed.

She said yes.

And off he ran to march in the parade.

Jack had graduated from high school and was working for the Great Northern Railroad.

“I wanted to go to Whitworth and be a minister, but pretty soon I was making more than my friends who were teachers,” he said.

Janet had received a scholarship to Eastern Washington University, so they married March 21, 1958, during spring break.

She sewed her tea-length lace wedding gown, and they said their wedding was the last one held at Trinity United Presbyterian, which soon closed its doors.

They settled in an apartment in Browne’s Addition, and almost a year after their wedding, their son, Chris, was born.

“We had a 2-week-old on our first anniversary,” Janet said, smiling.

Thirteen months later, son Scott arrived and Janet’s college education was put on hold.

Daughter, Amy, completed the family in 1962, and they settled into a house in the Garland District.

The family made First Presbyterian their church and it quickly became the center of their lives. Janet became the church librarian, a position she still holds, 55 years later, and Jack joined the choir, and yes, he still sings in it.

Their lives took a drastic turn in 1966 when Jack was severely injured in a train derailment. He was on top of the train to tie a handbrake and got knocked off during the derailment.

“I landed on my back on the track,” he said.

He broke his arm and had six fractures in his sacrum. For two long weeks, he had no sensation in his legs.

“They said I’d never walk again.”

Janet, 25, didn’t know how to drive, but a neighbor taught her during her frequent trips to the hospital.

With three children, a mortgage and her husband’s recuperation uncertain, Janet returned to work at Spokane Public Library. She ended up working at all three Shadle branch locations, as well as the Indian Trail branch.

“I’ve always been addicted to reading and to studying,” she said.

Indeed. She started night school, picking up a class here and there, until 25 years after she began her college career, she graduated from EWU.

Meanwhile, Jack was able to return to work on the railroad. Not only was he able to walk, he started to run. And run. And run some more. Eventually, he ran five marathons.

The family moved to the South Hill in 1979, and when the kids flew the nest, Jack and Janet built their dream house – a passive solar home on Moran Prairie.

In 1987, Jack was diagnosed with polymyostis, a rare inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness. He retired from the railroad in 1991, though the disease eventually went into remission.

He’s always been the head cook in the family.

Janet laughed.

“I’d put something on and go off and read and wouldn’t you know it? It burned,” she said.

She retired from the library in 2004. Her career spanned the years from handwritten check out cards, to bar codes. From card catalogs to digital catalogs, and she relished every minute.

For many years, the couple have been members of Friendship Force International, a nonprofit organization and hospitality service with the mission of improving intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence via homestays.

The Arkills have traveled across the globe, including stops in Australia, France, Germany and Tasmania.

“We love to travel,” Janet said. “We’re both extroverts, so we love to host people here, too.”

Jack survived a bout of esophageal cancer, and 14 years ago they moved to Riverview, where they continue to be active and involved.

Janet marvels that the move to Spokane which she so despaired of, ended up giving her the love of her life, and she sees the hand of the Divine at work.

“The Lord led us together and He’s kept us together,” she said.

Looking at Jack, she smiled.

“We’re best friends.”

As for Jack, the thunderbolt that hit him more than 60 years ago, hasn’t worn off.

“So many couples say they fall out of love,” he said. “I don’t get it. I guess I never fell out of love.”

War Bonds

This Young Love Didn’t Grow Old

25591901_1630383190333635_5262889521772883972_n[1].jpg

When a California girl with pierced ears met a black sheep boy in tiny Reardan, Washington, sparks flew. Sixty-eight years later, the fire still burns for Betty and Larry Plummer.

“She was a loner and so was I,” recalled Larry.

Though he said he missed more days of school than he attended, he did manage to escort Betty to the junior-senior prom.

“He was panting at the door to take me,” Betty said. “I was one of the first freshmen to go.”

Larry didn’t have enough credits to graduate, and found work in a nearby sawmill. He was sure of just one thing – he wanted to marry Betty.

“I only had one girlfriend. I couldn’t afford any others,” he joked.

At 17 and 18, they knew finding someone to marry them would be difficult, so they decided to elope to Reno.

They made it to Winnemucca, Nevada, where they stopped for gas.

“A guy at the service station told us to wake up the town clerk, so we did,” Larry said. “He gave us a marriage license for $2, and went with us to the justice of the peace. I gave him a $5 tip. The whole trip cost us about $42.”

He only earned $1 an hour at the sawmill.

The clerk asked them how old they were. Several times. That’s when Larry realized they were still too young to marry in Nevada. So they lied about their ages, and on Sept. 4, 1949, they tied the knot.

For their 60th anniversary, their children sent them on a surprise trip to Reno – with a stop in Winnemucca, of course.

In 1949, when the teens returned home, Betty’s mother told her, “Well, you made your bed, you lay in it.”

Their first home had no running water and was small enough to fit in their present Spokane Valley living room.

Larry was in the Naval Reserves, and they’d been married just over a year when he was called up. It was November 1950, and Betty traveled to San Diego to see him before he was sent overseas.

“I stayed at the Harvard Hotel,” she recalled. “I couldn’t afford to eat at the hotel, so I turned the electric iron upside down in a drawer and made soup on it.”

After her husband left for Korea, she returned home and stayed with her mom.

Following his discharge in September 1952, the couple moved to Spokane, where Larry worked at St. Luke’s Hospital as a house attendant in the psych ward.

One evening, as he made his rounds, he saw a box near the nurse’s dorm. He bent over, opened it and discovered a baby inside.

The newspapers dubbed her “Baby X.”

“You should have brought her home,” said Betty, as Larry told the story.

“I thought about it,” he admitted. “But we had our first baby on the way.”

Baby X was adopted by a local family, and many years later, she found the Plummers, and visited their home to thank Larry for rescuing her.

They welcomed their own baby girl, Rhonda, in 1955, followed by Rebecca in 1957. Daughter Ruth completed the family in 1958, and also got her father in the newspaper, again.

By this time, Larry was working the graveyard shift at Eastern State Hospital. Betty called to tell him the baby was on the way. He rushed home, but didn’t make it in time to get her to the hospital.

“Her water broke, and I delivered the baby on the front lawn,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been present at a birth.

“One time I got on the elevator with a pregnant woman at St. Luke’s,” he recalled. “There were two of us when I got on – three of us when I got off.”

Larry worked several jobs while attending Eastern Washington University. The boy, who didn’t get a high school diploma, earned an accounting degree from the university.

“It took me six years to finish,” he said.

After graduating, he worked for the IRS for seven years, managed a medical clinic for eight, and then worked for Spokane Public Schools for 17 years.

Meanwhile, in addition to raising their three daughters, for many years Betty was a foster mom to newborns.

“I kept them until they got adopted,” she said. “One baby stayed for three months. Then they came and got him at Christmas. That’s when we stopped.”

When she mentioned that she’d like to go to beauty school, Larry came home and told her he’d enrolled her.

Betty did hair for awhile, but then took a job in housekeeping at Providence Sacred Heart, where she worked for 18 years, before retiring as a supervisor in 1998.

It wasn’t all work in the Plummer household. Larry bought a 1957 school bus and retrofitted it as a camper – complete with kitchen and bath. They loaded up the girls and took off for Montana, Colorado and even Disneyland.

“Buying that bus was the best thing I ever did,” he said.

As they talked about their life together, Betty frequently stopped to kiss Larry’s head, or rub his shoulder. She recalled how over the years, he’d walk in the door after working a graveyard shift and ask, “Baby, what can I do for you?”

When she worked at Providence Sacred Heart, he’d stop at downtown store to buy her a gardenia – her favorite flower.

And he kept busy, even after retiring from the school district. For 15 years he worked at the Coeur d’Alene Casino as a ticket seller, finally retiring at 83.

He smiled at Betty.

“The last 68 years have been the happiest,” he said.

She nodded; puzzled that so many marriages don’t last as long.

“Nobody works at it,” she said. “Something goes wrong and people look for someone else.”

She shrugged.

“We just assumed we’d be here together and here we are,” said Betty, 85. “He’s the best man that ever was. I think we’d do it again.”

Larry, 86, agreed, with one caveat.

“I might not have waited so long,” he said.

25550522_1630383277000293_2225425647765710929_n[1]