Help Me!

If you read my blog on a regular basis then you know that I don’t often use it as a platform for anything in particular.  Most of the stories I write are either based on my own life experiences or my take on life in general.

As a journalist, mom, wife, and daughter of two eccentric parents… there’s no shortage of material.  For example… last Sunday my dad woke me up from an afternoon nap to ask me what our next door neighbor (of 40 years) last name was.  I haven’t lived with my parents since 1995, but I decided to play along with their little trivia game anyway since I was up.  I figured they were probably arguing over it, and needed someone to settle the score.  I wish!

As it turns out, the two of them were standing in front of an open casket trying to figure out if the man lying there was, in fact, their across the street neighbor.  Mortified, I quickly said “BRINKLEY… Mr. Brinkley”.  After a few moments of silence, I could hear my mom muttering in the background, “Well… that explains it”.  Apparently, she had read the obituary wrong.  This was Mr. BINKLEY.  As if that weren’t bad enough, they had already called a couple of friends who were also en route to the funeral home to help fill up the guest book.

I might have found the whole thing amusing had this not been the second time it’s happened.  Two years ago they thought it would be nice to go to the funeral of their trash man’s brother… or so they thought.  We learned a valuable lesson that day.  Though Threalkill IS a unique last name, they are not all related.  I’m having them committed the next time this happens.  It’s not normal.

Anyway, this week I’m departing from my usual material to talk about something serious… a disease that has drastically altered the course of my father’s life.  I should probably give you a little perspective on who he was before the disease in order for this to really make sense.

Growing up, my dad was the picture of good health.  Everyone referred to him as the “suntan king”.  Though he generally did have a good tan, the nickname had nothing to do with that.  He earned it because he worked for Hawaiian Tropic.  Not a lot of people know this, but the real beauty of working for a tanning company isn’t the bathing suit models.  It’s the fact that you only have to work about five months out of the year.  My dad always dedicated the other seven to his array of hobbies, which were fairly extensive and intense.

When I was born, it was horseback riding.  Then he went through a karate phase. Soon after that, it was running.   He’s one of the untold billions who bought James Fixx’ Complete Book of Running.   Sometime around my ninth birthday, Forrest Gump stopped after winning a sailboat in some contest.  It was at that moment, that he decided he was going to learn how to windsurf… an odd choice since his parents never taught him how to swim, and we don’t exactly live off the coast of Nantucket.

After about two weeks, he got sick of relying on Mother Nature to get around, and started looking for a boat with a motor attached.  In all, we spent eight summers on Old Hickory Lake, with him as the captain and our life jacket wearing French Poodle as the first mate.  In fact, my dad became such an avid yachtsman that he sometimes went to Florida to help people bring their boats back by water.

Sometimes, he would even force his love of boating on other people… like his young daughter.  The summer I turned 15 he woke me up every morning to the sound of a bull horn and forced me learn how to dock our 42’ foot cabin cruiser… by myself.  As if that weren’t nerve racking enough, he’d radio the entire dock so they could all run down and watch me.  Nothing like honing your skills in front of an audience!

Often there were many activities overlapping at one time.  One fall, I remember helping him assemble bullets from scratch so he could skeet shoot out in the back yard.  He dragged my mom all over the country competing in antique car shows.  The whole family took up snow skiing to eat up those pesky winter months when he had nothing else to do.

Are you getting the picture? He was a wild man.  The guy never sat still!  Even during those critical five months a year when my dad was “working” he would hit the gym every morning for aerobics before going to the office.  He was the only man in there, which may be what motivated him to go.

Life was essentially one thrill after the next. I can’t lie.  It was a heck of a way to grow up, but in 1988, shortly after his 50th birthday, the carousel ride stopped.  My father developed a crick in his neck that wouldn’t go away. After a few simple tests, the Doctor delivered the devastating news that my father had rheumatoid arthritis and would likely be cripple in less than ten years.

The three of us were in denial.  We had always been so blessed, and it was difficult to process such terrible news when he looked absolutely fine! Soon after his doctor’s visit, he began a regimen of drugs that nearly masked the disease altogether, furthering our denial.  My freshman year in college, on a trip to Vail, Colorado it became fairly clear things were not what they seemed.  My dad, who used to drag us out of bed before the sun came up to be first on the lift, was suddenly tired and in pain.  For once, he didn’t complain when my mom and I wanted to ski a half day, and we stopped often that trip so he could rest.

By my senior year, my dad could barely make it up the steps to my third floor apartment, and from there… things deteriorated fast.  A couple of months before my wedding in 1998, he broke down and bought a wheelchair. He walked me down the aisle, but from there on out, he relied heavily on his chair.  The doctor was right. It was almost ten years exactly.

If you asked him, he would tell you that it isn’t his hobbies he misses most. It’s the little things… like picking up my daughter, cutting his own food, or being able to start the car without some elaborate device.   We all take our health for granted… me included.  On Sunday, May 3rd at 1:00, I’m participating in the Nashville Arthritis Walk at Lipscomb University to help find a cure for this dreaded disease.  I hope you’ll join me there or at least consider making a donation to help find a cure.

Below is a link to my personal fundraising page.  Thanks, in advance, for your help… and I promise next week to return you to your regularly scheduled blog.


4 Responses

  1. We really enjoy the blog, your are a gifted writer.
    My father has minor arthritis issues.
    God bless your family!

  2. Thanks for donating Mitchell! I’ve almost met my goal. 🙂


  3. Hope you receive many donations and a cure or at least major relief is on the way for this debilitating disease.
    Good luck and be careful on your walk.

  4. Hey Jennifer you are such a great writer, but I have to say I love you parents they are some of my fav to see out rather at church or at Jennie’s eating…
    I guess you remember I worked for them a little while at the salon in Madison we had so much fun..
    I know they are so proud of you and you are of them for keeping your life full of surprises….
    Good luck with your walk…

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