Unexpected, but unfortunately not a surprise

If I believe my mom's message, left at 5:23 this morning, the situation is dire. Grandma checked Grandpa into the hospital last night. He was confused, shaking uncontrollably, and having trouble catching his breath. The message said something about a sodium deficiency and pneumonia, but the overall diagnosis was pretty vague. As for the prognosis, her tone of voice suggests things are grim. Then again, I've received messages like this at least half a dozen times. My grandfather's health has been going downhill for at least the past twenty five years, so much so that the family was long ago forced to come to grips with Tuffy's mortality.

That's right - Tuffy. Carl Herschel "Tuffy" Cunningham. How fucking cool is that? What kind of badass must you be to earn a nickname like Tuffy? He was an oil field roughneck when they drilled Oklahoma, a freelance ambulance driver for one or two lawless weeks or months, depending upon who's telling the story, a long-haul trucker for as long as I can remember until his late-fifties, and a wise-ass doorman at his son's beer joints until he just couldn't physically do that anymore, which was a couple of years back. He's as wide as he is tall, with granite arms, and smiling, grandfatherly eyes set deep into his otherwise imposing, world-hardened face. He smoked like a chimney until his mid-fifties, when emphysema got the best of him. He's taken oxygen treatments four times a day ever since. He's had an aortic aneurysm repaired, twice, and had experimental surgery to place stints in his carotid artery, all in the last ten years. Due to complications created by his severely impaired lung capacity, the the odds of him waking up from any surgery are always strongly against him. He has already defied the linemakers a half dozen times, though on every occasion I have believed my mother, and fully accepted that even the best run of longshot wins must come to an end.

When the call comes, I either pack a bag and head to Oklahoma City, or I chastise myself for thinking that whatever I'm doing at the time is more important than being with my grandpa. More often than not, it's been the latter. For one reason or another, I just couldn't get away. I'd cross my fingers and sob my regrets, knowing that I was never going to live down the guilt and shame of my decision. And I never felt relief when he pulled through; instead, I felt an even stronger since of guilt and shame over my failure to take advantage of the second, third, fourth chances I'd been given to spend time with him before...the next time. And the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. Guilt and shame are paralysing forces.

This time, I am in Denton when the call comes, less than three hours from Oklahoma City. I've fulfilled my judging commitment at the tournament, Jenny and Loren can handle the coaching duties, and even the rookies are more or less self-sufficient. They'll survive for a couple of days while I head up to Oklahoma. I'm not saying I believe the situation is as dire as Mom's making it out to be, but I can finally do what I should've done every other time, whatever the prognosis.

An ice storm is blowing in this afternoon, threatening to destroy the interstate between Ardmore and Norman; so, as soon as my cellphone has a little juice, I'm hitting the road for OKC.


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