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April 10, 2011   

Sweet Sue

 

Tending to her horses and barn chores every morning by 5am.

Tending to her horses and barn chores every morning by 5am.

Cheering on her favorite team, and taking Wesley and her favorite guy for a walk.

Cheering on her favorite team, and taking Wesley and dad for a walk.

 
As you may already know, I had been kicking around the old home place since the third of February. When I left to gallivant around North Africa and Europe for a month, it was Sue that I counted on to look after my dog, Wesley. And given everything she’s already doing to care for others, I knew this was asking a lot. But I also knew she was happy to.

Once upon a time, Sue was the other woman—an unfit title to be sure. Growing up, my family’s house was always interesting, but rarely filled with love. Even so, when my dad sat my sister and I down at the kitchen table in 1984, I remember us feeling so grateful and relieved that he’d found her.

Over the years, Sue has become caretaker, homemaker, financial planner, cowgirl, mother, friend and teacher to so many. She asks for nothing, but doesn’t lack for much either. Sue is thoughtful, patient, sensitive, genuine, gracious, positive, quick to laugh, and brave. If you ask me, she has an unfair amount of each. She is a stoic model to the group of selfish-leaning men that surround her. Myself included.

Five years ago my father was found to have an invisible cancer, which was promptly debated and then treated in Seattle. The after effects of that treatment have altered his and Sue’s life greatly. He’s a walking petri dish, though an outcome far better than the alternative. Instead, he now has eyes made of sandpaper and skin that does strange things. There’s a welcome mat for blood clots and infection, and a pharmacy of drugs organized and administered several times a day. Caring for him is an occupation and one that Sue performs with grace.

When not attending to others, Sue will find peace in the mighty fine sewing room she pieced together in an unused corner of the basement—quite useful in the making of seat covers for my truck. When not sewing, she’s taking piano lessons, adding a new melody to a house of guitars. Gordon Lightfoot and country-western tear-jerkers are her favorites. She joins good friends in golfing, horseback riding, and when spring comes, cheering on the Rochester Red Wings—season tickets, just above the dugout down the first base line. She knows all the players, and has the kit and autographs to prove it. And yes, she will even talk a little trash, but does it in a way far too endearing to offend.

Over the last several weeks, Sue’s job description expanded further, with no raise or corporate benefits to show for it. Not only did she care for Wesley in my absence, and me when I was present, but dad went and added a broken arm to his medical chart and now requires his dinner cut and pants buttoned. One of her dear horses is now crooked, and amidst all the chores and ailments, her best buddy passed away. Riley was a big, beautiful Irish Setter—the perfect antidote for Sue when she lost her previous dog to a fire that brought the house and many memories to the ground.

Every morning, despite darkness, rain or harsh winter, Sue and Riley would wake just before five to trudge out to the barn to care for the horses. I got the sense that Riley offered that little extra sanity and love whenever Sue needed it most. On top of keeping everything and everyone else around her together, she cared for Riley when he finally succumbed to twelve good years. No vet bill was too big and no decision too light. In some small way, maybe it was good that Wes was there.

My father has been a research photographer and professor for as long as I’ve been alive—an interesting guy, carved from the same logical mold as his father. He’s now at a crossroads and I wish he would have accumulated more confidence in his own ability to navigate a path through it. Though he’s not really a philosophical guy and seemingly oblivious at times to the work that goes on around him, I got to hand it to him for finding the best possible woman there is. With her, he has every reason to feel optimistic.

Sue and my dad have been together for 30 or 40 years now, far before I knew anything of it. They go on walks together, swim together, sail together, watch Jeopardy together, and enjoy cheap food—together. But most importantly, they still hold hands. Though dad is not without his charms, when it comes to all the good going on there in Honeoye Falls, I blame Sue.

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