by Kevin Burton
It was years after the fact when he told the story, but the anger was still there in his voice.
Apparently someone in obstetrics at the Minot Air Force Base suggested that my father could, or maybe should, allow my newborn sister Patricia to die.
This was before she had a name and before she would shorten it to Pat.
There were so many problems. My sister has my same vision problems but was also born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down.
“I told them ‘no’” my father said, still angry and disbelieving.
After dad’s decision my sister then was taken to Bismarck, to another hospital, for a series of operations, her first, but by no means her last.
And here is where I wish dad were still around to tell the rest of the story.
But the point is, Pat has had to fight hard practically from her first breath, to get what others take for granted. I have told the stories of some of my struggles on Page 7. Her road has been quite a bit harder.
She doesn’t seem to catch the breaks that my brother and I do.
But 55 years on from her first day in Minot, little sis had the day of her life. And her 55th birthday was a total afterthought.
Pat’s 55th birthday was also her wedding day.
The dining room at the nursing home where she lives was converted briefly to a chapel. Everything was done up in yellow, Pat’s favorite color and blue, the favorite color of the groom, James Collier.
The ceremony was short and to the point, relaxed, not formal.
I am ashamed to admit I never considered that Pat would ever get married. I never said it couldn’t happen, I just never thought about it.
With James and Pat living in a nursing home, the wedding was atypical. Now I realize the concept of a “typical wedding” is stupid, lazy thinking.
Each wedding is unique and has the fingerprints of the bride and groom. It need not, indeed can not, be compared to anything or anybody else.
The newlyweds do not get their own room at the nursing home. For that reason I had some real trouble coming up with wedding presents for them. Why? Because my first thoughts were of what makes a good gift for a married couple, a typical married couple.
Between my kind of narrow thinking and the chaos imposed by Covid 19, it occurs to me that the word “typical” is much less useful than it used to be.
When I heard about the wedding my first thought was “Why?” And my narrow thinking kind of stayed there throughout a summer packed with personal high drama and high honors.
It took wedding day, being there in that room. Pat looking positively beatific. The music going. The yellow and blue. Then all those memories.
Lord have mercy, the memories did it. All the slights and heartaches she has weathered. The condescension. In that unforgettable moment, it all vanished.
My “why” turned to “why not?”
Now my father was a caveman. He was an old-school guy who was hurt deeply by the death of his father and thereafter choked down and buried any normal emotions he would encounter in life.
But as we sat there weeping for joy for little sis, my mother, brother, wife and myself, my thoughts went to my late father.
Had he lived to see his little girl’s wedding day he would have wept along with the rest of us.
And by the way, I learned later in conversation with my wife, that Pat never ruled out finding a special someone and perhaps getting married.
Shame on that doctor in North Dakota for not being able to see that broken baby body and forecast future joy. Shame on me as well.
But this isn’t a story about shame. It’s a story about the value and potential of a human life. Made in the image of God we are and therefore endued with great value.
It’s a story about love that grows where people don’t expect it, find it hard to quantify or appreciate. “We did it baby,” James said to his bride, his wife, my little sis.