Monday, June 15, 2009

Relay for Life - Inspiration from Shannon

Our friends, the McRae family, go way back with us. Gregg knew Dave (the dad) in high school and college, and they were roommates after college. They took trips together, went boating & sailing, and shared a lot of laughs. Dave & his wife, Cary, are responsible for introducing me to Gregg.

In 1989, I was working in banking (public finance) with Dave, who had just married Cary (Gregg was in their wedding). Cary and Dave held an Oktoberfest party at their house, and they invited a group of friends, old and new. It was my first party as a "single woman," since I was going through a divorce at the time. My soon-to-be-ex had walked out, filed for divorce, and was moving to California, so I was on my own. Dave thought I might like to meet some of their friends, so he invited me to join in the fun.

At this time, I was renting a guest house from a family (they had four kids), living behind their beautiful, waterfront home. As a party guest of Dave & Cary's, I brought a crate of freshly-picked apples that I had bought from a farm near my home (and chips and dip, from the store). When I arrived, about an hour after the time the party was to commence, Gregg was the only other guest in attendance...yet. I remember being taken in by his large, clear, beautiful blue eyes, especially as they were offset by his dark hair & green shirt. I noticed how short (conservative?) his haircut was, too. My soon-to-be-ex was an actor, an artist, and a horseman...he had long hair and an earring. Hmmm: quite a contrast.

When my ex left our marriage, I made a promise to myself: the next guy I date is going to understand why I live where I do (in the country, by the water), isn't going to get me away from here, and is going to have to love the outdoors. At the party, Gregg asked me, "Where did you buy those apples?" I told him that they came from a farm near my home, in a place called Lemolo. He asked me, "Do you mean the old Johnson farm?" and I said, "Well, it was on Johnson Way," so he told me that he knew exactly where I bought the apples, because he grew up less than a mile from there. He lived a few miles from me; he had recently moved back from the city. Interesting...
Things started to get more interesting in the kitchen, as I was mixing the dip. Gregg was with me, and a bee got into the house. I was allergic to bees when I was a child, and I still steer clear of them. Gregg was trying to catch the bee...and I immediately questioned his ability to do it successfully. I watched for a moment, and then said, "Well, if you're going to try to kill it, be sure you DO, because if you miss, he'll be mad, and he'll come after us." I recall that he didn't say a word to me, but did I see the tiniest, pitying glance? I'm not sure, but he killed the bee easily and cleanly.

Gregg seemed to be everywhere that I was, during the Oktoberfest; I was mingling, moving from room to room, and he seemed to appear, silently (as if by magic), next to me. He asked me for my phone number, and I gave him my business card...with my work number, not my home phone. This was in the days before everyone had a cell phone!

The next morning, as I was washing my hair in the shower, I winced as I remembered the scene in the kitchen. Did I really have to tell that guy how to deal with the bee? What was his name again? Was I turning into a woman who didn't trust men? It kind of looked that way.

Gregg called me a few days later, asked me out, and we went on a date...and then another. Various "ups and downs" followed - mostly ups. A year and a half later, we were married, with Dave McRae as one of our ushers. They loaned us the family condo and car for our honeymoon on Maui.

Fast forward...Dave and Cary now have three daughters. They are a happy family, with Cary working part-time at the girls' private school. Cary was diagnosed with cancer shortly after Katie received her diagnosis, but fortunately, after treatment, Cary's cancer went into remission. Unfortunately, last spring, the cancer returned, and she passed away in the summer; I wrote about it here and here. We were all heartbroken for her family; they are brave, strong and very close. Cary would be proud of them. [You can read about Cary, and see photos on her caringbridge site.]

Dave and Cary's middle daughter, Shannon, sent me a note and a photo recently. I have her permission to post them here:
"My school team had our 3rd year of relay and every year I'm the captain. You might like to hear that Katie was well represented in the central Seattle Relay for Life just about every year... The team name is Cary's Angels. I've been the team captain for Cary's Angels for 3 years. This year, we had the biggest team of 50 middle school girls and we won the most inspirational award and got second place for fundraising at $4,094.34. We had many Cary McRae luminaria and also a few Katie Gerstenberger luminaria from the McRaes."
This photo shows Katie's luminary in the center, along with Cary's.
A long relationship, with many happy memories (and some sad), brought about this great kindness, generosity and caring among some motiviated middle school girls. Thank you, Shannon, for remembering Katie and for honoring her, alongside your mother. We appreciate what you and your team are doing to raise awareness and funding to find cures for cancer!


ChiTown Girl said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story. It was so great to learn about how you two met! What a great thing Cary's daughter has done, to honor both her mom and Katie.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I hadn't seen any of the postings about Cary and I am so sorry to hear of her struggle and passing. She most certainly played a good part in your life with Gregg.
Blessings to Shannon (and her sisters) for keeping the memories alive of her Mom and Katie too.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, Shannon, for helping so many families and for keeping memories sacred of your mother and Katie.

Karen, I loved hearing about how you met your husband. He sounds like a wonderful man, and I'm sure you were the ultimate "catch."

Renee said...

Thank you Shannon for being a wonderful person. Thank you very much.

Kisses and hugs to you dear Karen.

Love Renee xoxo

Anonymous said...

Your bee story reminds me of my husband. Apart from knowing all the "back roads" in Chicago, I am also attracted to him to this day for his ability to kill stinging insects on the fly -- that, and his revelry in the kill.

Dawn~^i^Brandon^i^, Jordan, and Seth's mom said...

Beautiful story and Beautiful families....thank you for sharing. It is an honor to read.

Enjoy your Summer!