In the Spring Break period of 2012, Larry Lloyd opened his heart and his wallet, and took all of whom we in our family affectionately know as the ‘Sookies” to his second home in California.
Those of us who remained in British Columbia were amazed at his unexpected generosity, and delighted that he made the trip happen. Larry is known to be a traveler—he’s been all over the world—but invariably he goes alone, mostly to distant and unusual places. So when he extended his welcoming hand and wallet to seven family members to join him on the flight south, it deserved, and got, much more than a mere huh? from the rest of us.
Larry purchased his home in Gustine, a couple of road hours east of San Francisco, when the U.S. housing market was deep in the dumps a few years back. The banks were foreclosing all over the place, and, watching the papers and the web, Larry presumably saw opportunity and bought a house. Nice neighbourhood, lots of bedrooms and bathrooms—and a pool in the front yard. It’s a place that he has often visited, again mostly alone.
Leaving Sooke, in the last stages of winter to head for something like this, was an amazing gift for the collective Sookies. And again, we heaped praise on Larry for his largesse. It was brilliant, and a treat for the clan. Not only would they be warmer for a week, but their break would be seasoned with a side trip to San Francisco, and a Sunday of wild rides at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, in Vallejo. Whoopee! What more could a bunch of kids want?
The Sookies had flown south from Seattle, and returned the same way. Many Canadians find that it is very economical to fly to other cities in the United States from U.S. airports near the Canadian border. In this part of the country, drive to Bellingham or Seattle in Washington State, park, and fly! For a lot less than flying from Vancouver or Victoria on Canadian aircraft. With Larry’s big entourage, it really made sense.
So having arrived back at Seattle, Larry, wife Lorna and the six other members of their clan, drove north, stopping at our home in Tsawwassen to say hello to Joyce and me on the way to catch a ferry back to Vancouver Island. It was a lovely gesture.
Let me pause for a moment. While I hope you have found all of this scene-setting stuff more than interesting, there is more to the story, and I’ll get into that in due course.
For those of you who may be wondering who the Sookies actually are, permit me introductions. Larry you have already met. Of a certain age, he is the husband of Lorna, who is the daughter of Duncan and his wife Kay—who is also a Sookie by default. Kay is resident at Ayre Manor in Sooke, a fine spot for those who can no longer run, jump, and do other things that younger folk do. Duncan and Kay have been estranged for years, but remain on good terms. It drives Duncan’s partner Joyce crazy that Duncan and Kay have yet to be divorced. Lorna is the real mother, grandmother and den mother for the Sooke family kids of two generations. Her own ongoing largesse in grandmothering the kids is legendary. She is a lady with a large heart, who keeps on giving her everything to the kids, who quite obviously adore her as their “Nana”.
Lorna’s daughter is Robyn, another loving mother of note. Robyn produced children at an early age, and has weathered the ups and downs of life very well. She appears at this time to have settled into a degree of comfort that gives her more breaks than she has had along the way. Married for a while to a man who quickly proved to be a bounder, she now has a relationship with a young man called Jason. Not to confuse you, but Robyn once had a brother called Jason. He died far too soon of ongoing complications resulting from an industrial accident. I’m quite sure that Robyn was not intentionally looking for another Jason. It just happened. Jason was included in the southbound Spring Break entourage. (Another quick aside is that Lorna has another daughter. Aviva lives with her family in a suburb in the north end of London. She had been adopted to another family as an infant, and lived much of life in Israel. Still with me?)
Robyn has three children. The oldest is Autumn, a gorgeous 15-year-old. She has a close friend called Chris who yes, also went to California. Next in line is Dawson, 11, an amazing guy who suffers with a big smile the rigors of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Like all of the Sookies, he is a loving, gentle young man, who has a heart as big as those of Robyn and Lorna. Last, but certainly not least, is Annika, now eight. Some years ago, cancer was detected in Annie’s kidneys. One was removed, and she survived, again with a big Sookie smile. So now you know who went to California. And one more time, thank you Larry!
Surely that has to be the longest introduction ever? I hope you’re still with me.
When the Sookies stopped by to visit on their way home from Seattle, they came in two cars, which had been left near the airport. Two cars were necessary to carry all eight, their luggage, and the stuff they bought in shopping forays in California. Thankfully there were no pets. Oscar the dog had remained in Sooke.
Not knowing exactly when they might arrive from Seattle—there was a window of several hours—Joyce and I didn’t prepare much for the visit. Our guess was that there would be hugs, smiles, a recap of their California adventure—and they would be on their way to catch the next available ferry. It would have been a long day. And that was what happened, even if the visit extended into something longer than we had guessed.
I should note that several months before the Sookies returned from their trip, I suffered a stroke. A large stroke, I’m told. One that whacked—wrong word, but it will do—a large part of the right hemisphere of my brain. Nobody really knew how the stroke would affect me, or how I might subsequently function. In retrospect, I know that I came very close to being blinded. Not from the outside, but from the inside. Veerrry scary. But that didn’t happen, nor did almost anything else. For a while I couldn’t type as I am now doing, I lost some balance, inexplicable bits of memory—but nothing much else. Friends jokingly called me a miracle man, and I will accept that with good grace.
Anyway, the two cars arrived at our front door, and as expected the Sookies tumbled out with hugs, kisses, and thoughtful gifts and tales from California. That’s the way they are. Tons of love and thoughtful expressions that grab at the heart.
I don’t know what it is about the kids, but I’ve rarely met any quite like them. Maybe it’s because they’ve been through a lot, but they all come with inquiring faces, an attitude that immediately involves you, that somehow makes you want to answer their questions, give a little of yourself, ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Help is too strong a word, but hopefully you’ll get the drift of what I’m talking about?
Annie’s expression when they all arrived was all of the above and more. And believe me, having been through all of the cancer stuff in times past, when Annie looks at you, her face can be nothing more than a giant question mark that demands attention. Perhaps she had been prompted along the way by ‘Nana’, but Annie’s questions that evening were all about—of all things—death! Somewhere, I suspect, Annie had heard that during a heart attack or perhaps the stroke, I had died, or at very least, come mighty close to dying. She was right, of course. I vividly recalled February, 1985, when a myocardial infarction—heart attack—had sent me into a place I had never been before, the mystery world of ‘beyond’. As far as Annie was concerned, I had indeed died, and the time was obviously right for her to get the details as to what it was like. Unlike the regular “why is the sky blue grandpa?” questions, this one was different, and as I said earlier, when a Sookie kid asks a question it’s very easy to look into their inquiring eyes and answer it.
Right out of left field. “Did you die grampa?”
“Yes Annie,” I said. “Well, I think I did. But I didn’t stay dead, because I don’t think it was quite time for me to die.”
“What was it like?”
“It was quite wonderful Annie. Somehow I lifted from my hospital bed and started going up into a big pipe that was encrusted with sparkling diamonds. And the further up I went, the brighter it all got. Maybe that was heaven?”
“Could you see the bed?”
“Yes. I could see that it was my bed, and I was in it. And around the bed were the people who had come to see me. Looking down at me in bed. And from high up, in the tube, I looked down at them.”
Her eyes had glazed over, but the inquiring expression remained.
“Were they dead?”
“No, they were alive. Except for two people who I knew were dead. My sister Barb, and my grandfather.”
“Did anyone talk to you?”
“No. Nobody talked. I just kept floating up in the bright light, looking at the people around my bed.”
“Then what happened?”
“I thought, quite suddenly, that my journey upward should end, that I should return to my bed and join these people who had come to see me. I wasn’t ready to keep going up, even if it was a wonderful journey.”
“Dying is quite O.K. Annie, but only when it’s really time.”
She seemed poised for another question, and I held both her hands.
“Know what I think would be really sad?”
“What, Annie. What would be sad?”
“To die without your family there to say goodbye.”
“Yep,” I said, “would be very, very sad.”
The Sookies, in their two cars, caught the nine o’clock ferry to the Island. They were home, safe and sound, by midnight.