“There is nothing more stubborn than a Cuthbert.” my mother once told me. My grandmother begs to differ saying, “We are not stubborn! We are strong-willed.” However, those two words are synonyms in nature, so here we are so stubborn that we refuse to admit how stubborn we are.
Summer of 2013, my father and I made the drive to Oregon. This was nothing unordinary as we most likely knew the route better than Google Maps by then. With the absence of signs, I learned to identify region by topography (this is what happens when you are a forestry major’s daughter). I knew we were near Shasta by the audience of Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine), southern Oregon by the presence of Arbutus menziesii (Pacific Madrone), Douglas County by wondrous firs (mostly Pseudotsuga menziesii), etc.
The morning after the trip, I went to see my grandmother in a tired haze. She had the signature blue eyes of the family, plum lipstick, and her gold Virgin Mary necklace, which you will hardly see her without. As normal as it may have appeared, something was off. She was wobbly, and the intricacies of her movements were not proper. I took the guest room key from my dad, locked myself in, and started bawling. It was just wrong, and I melted letting my emotions run amok like kindergarteners during recess. Something was wrong, I tell you.
In Oregon, the medical system revolves around the primary care, efficacious or otherwise. My grandmother’s primary care simply wanted to write it off as age, but we knew that was not the case. My father and I were not going to be told this is how the system works, and the medical system hoped we would give up. However, when given a problem, we will find a way around it. Maybe that is why we have so many engineers in the family... We went through an armada of doctors, appointment after appointment, and finally found one that saw what we did. Two days later, she was in for a neck surgery in Springfield.
The day she was in surgery, I went up river near the self-proclaimed town of Rainbow where I spent the day with my cousins. We rode around on the minibikes and sat talking with the rushing of the McKenzie. The water’s white noise with the occasional cast of a fishing rod from a McKenzie Boat overcame any silence that may be had. If only I could have fully enjoyed it as I obsessively checked the surgery status on my phone, walking out to the main road to get cell service. Four hours they said. In reality, time passed that mark lasting six or eight.
We drove to PeaceHealth around ten at night. The driveway would deceive one into thinking we were driving to the mansion of a lumber baron, and the architecture resembled a five-star ski resort. I ended up watching the fire in the lodge’s stone fireplace dance the night away until past midnight on the only day I have ever seen my father up so late. Hours ticked away with the resort becoming more empty by the minute. The surgeon articulated if my grandmother had been another day without the surgery, she would have been paralyzed or worse.
On the first day of outpatient rehab, my grandmother drove her Subaru, a car common as ducks in Eugene. The doctors still were grim about how much physical ability she would be able to gain back due to the seriousness of the surgery. My grandmother proclaimed to the nurses, “ I will walk here by the time of my last appointment.” “Okay Anita,” the nurses politely grumbled.
Low and behold, my grandmother strolled in having walked from the her apartment to the Rehab center, about half a mile, cane in hand weeks later. The nurses looked at her wide-eyed, shocked, looking like owls wearing scrubs. The nurses initially dismissed my grandmother’s proclamation thinking of it being impossible, and yet they saw “unlikely” turn to reality in that moment. My grandmother maintains an exercise routine that surpasses most whippersnappers with 90 minutes of cycling and two hours of walking per day, rain or shine, as per the Oregonian way.
She still thinks she is Mario Andretti. Remember this is Oregon, a state where slow is key. Every Sunday, she travels from Eugene to Mckenzie Bridge for church, a little over an hour at a conservative pace.
When we arrived at church, one of the older couples approached us asking, “Anita were you driving?”
My grandmother replied triumphantly, “No Donnie was.”
They rather humorously stated, “ We were placing bets on if Anita was driving because you were behind us for longer than usual.”
Like any race car driver, she prefers to be first taking any opportunity to overtake, where my father rather cautiously passes in the dedicated lanes. With that, all of us chuckled, but in the back of his head, my dad was thinking Mom in the tone that an annoyed child would employ to condemn an action. She is, and forever will be the Andretti of the Subaru Outback.
Years after, at our family cabin, I drove the Subaru for the first time. Right as I was about to turn onto a public road for the first time, something came to me as the indicator blinked leaving the comfort of private property. I wouldn’t have been here today if it wasn’t for all of this tumultuous experience. I wouldn’t be here, right now, driving to meet my grandmother at the Eugene Hotel. I wouldn’t have this sense of belonging: home. I would not be who I have come to accept. Today would not be today. I made it maybe a few miles before I pulled off at Christmas Treasures, panicking as a lumber truck crept closer and closer, intimidating me from behind.
Stubborn, a word the English language denounces to a life suspended in a dark cloud. Granted, the Cuthberts may have strong opinions that we hold closely and refuse to be dismissed unheard. Go ahead, add Cuthbert as a synonym to stubborn or strong-willed Merriam Webster. I suppose we have come to deserve it, although we wear it proudly. Being “strong willed” is a way of life some wish to villainize, but does it need to be? If it was not for my dad and my strong will, my grandmother would be paralyzed or worse. If it wasn't for her stubbornness, she would not be as healthy as she is currently. Call us the Wicked Witches of the West and we will prove those naysayers wrong for we can transform into Glinda the Goods. Stubborn. Without this pervasive trait that consumes the entire bloodline, today would not be today, and I rather like today.