by Sue Piper
Mine weren’t the only raised eyebrows when my friend Kate Packard arrived for my birthday festivities at Beacon Rock with her mother, Dorothy Packard, in tow.
Kate and her partner, John Anderson, live with her mom, who is 89 and has memory difficulties. Kate and John are wonderful, inclusive and loving caregivers, so I wasn’t surprised to see the three of them show up for the pre-hike lunch. But soon it was apparent Dorothy didn’t feel very well, huddling drowsily by the picnic shelter’s stone fireplace, slumped in her chair and not interested in food.
Kate explained that they’d called 911 that morning after her mom had, apparently, passed out. The attending EMTs said if she didn’t want to go to the hospital, Dorothy should at least see a doctor within 24 hours. It sounded to me like she’d had a stroke.
Amazingly, Kate and John decided to join the day’s outing instead of staying home with Dorothy curled up under a quilt and drinking tea. Still, I was touched that they had driven all that way just for the picnic. I knew there was no way they could stay for the rest of the celebration, with a hike up Beacon Rock, elev. 848 feet, and dinner later at Skamania Lodge. Obviously, they wouldn’t be doing even the hike portion, since they, surely, wouldn’t leave Dorothy behind, alone in the car.
Imagine the shock when Kate and Dorothy started getting ready for the hike! That’s when the muttering and eyebrow-raising among the rest of us began.
“What is Kate thinking?” I asked.
“Can you believe it?” someone asked. We were stunned. Concerned, I spoke directly to Dorothy, gently suggesting she didn’t need to go on the hike if she didn’t feel like it.
Looking at Kate, she said, “I’ll go if she’s going.” And her daughter was determined.
“If she gets tired,” Kate assured the group, “we’ll come back.”
Still skeptical, we all proceeded across the road to the base of Beacon Rock. Starting as tight clusters, we soon strung out as we made our way upwards along the switchbacking trail. Passing John, Kate and Dorothy, I assumed they’d soon be turning back and I wouldn’t see them again until we connected sometime back in Longview.
But an hour later, I was amazed — and impressed — on my way back down after admiring the view from the top. I encountered the trio, still slowly making their way up.
Dorothy was enjoying the walk and the views. In earlier times, the Packard family was an active, outdoorsy bunch, headed by the late Don Packard. With three kids, they often camped at Spirit Lake, where Don played his accordian around the campfire. Now, gazing out upon Beacon Rock’s panoramas, perhaps Dorothy felt a sweet connection with that past. She appreciated the handrails along the trail, too, saying she loved the views but didn’t like “looking down” from such a height.
At dinner, Dorothy was still with us. She had perked up noticeably over the course of the day. What a trooper! And Dorothy, who John said usually “eats like a bird,” had developed an appetite.
After Kate, John and Dorothy left for home, the rest of us bobbed in the outdoor hot tub, marveling at the day’s events. By then we were all enjoying the joke.
“Imagine being 89, having a stroke and then climbing Beacon Rock — all in the same day!” May we all do so well. And we were crediting Kate for not underestimating her mom.
Next day, the doctor said Dorothy was fine. She didn’t have a stroke, but she did have an enjoyable day in the fresh air, surrounded by natural beauty, the warmth of friends and the love of her daughter.
It was my birthday, but Dorothy got the best gift.
Do you think Dorothy's daughter did the right thing by taking her mother on a hike? Under similar circumstances would you have stayed home and served your mom tea and crumpets instead? Comment in the space below.
Susan Piper is the Publisher/Editor of Columbia River Reader. Her column, "Sue's Views" appears every month on page 3.