About a year ago, my Grandpa Steve got very sick and ended up in intensive care at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. He was there for a month before being moved to Heartland Health Care in Henry. He was at Heartland for six more weeks. He couldn’t walk and was there to get physical therapy.
When Grandpa Steve was at Heartland, we would go and visit him as much as possible. The whole family decided to get together on the Saturday before Easter. That meant 11 kids and seven adults. The kids participated in an Easter Egg hunt while the grown-ups talked. After the hunt, we all stayed in the main room and played games, colored pictures and drank Arnold Palmers (my cousin Jacob taught us how to make these). It was fun, and Grandpa seemed happy. But it was also sad to see him there when he really wanted to be at home. When we were leaving, Grandpa was crying.
Grandpa did come home shortly after Easter. It was hard because he still couldn’t walk. My Uncle Tom had to make ramps for him to get into the house. They had to redo the doors so the wheelchair could fit. Nothing was made for someone in a wheelchair, but he was so happy when he got to come home. Grandpa was making jokes to everyone and was determined to make it work.
After a month or so of using just a transport chair that my Grandma had to push around all over the house, he got a Hoveround. This is like a motorized wheelchair — which is super fun to drive, just so you know. It made things even easier because he was able to go places without my grandma pushing him. He started going places he hadn’t gone to for a long time because it was hard on his feet before. One day my Grandma and I went to pick him up from Rotary at the Elks Lodge, and we couldn’t find him anywhere. We drove all around and finally went home, and he was there waiting. He had ridden his Hoveround all the way to Greencroft.
In July, my Aunt Bekah said she found a deal for all of us to go to Wisconsin Dells for a vacation in January, and my Grandpa said yes! Everyone was psyched about it, but I think Grandpa Steve was the one looking forward to it the most because of everything he had been through in the past year. He kept talking about it more and more the closer it got. He would crack jokes about things happening and kept worrying if everything would be handicapped accessible.
Finally the day arrived for us all to leave. Of course the day we left brought the only snowstorm of the entire winter season. Even the storm wasn’t going to slow us down. We were all determined to get there on the day we were scheduled to arrive. Grandma and Grandpa got stuck in a traffic jam for two hours. We were lucky enough to have stopped to eat and used Aunt Bekah’s GPS to steer us clear of the jam, but it took us over the hills and through the woods on roads that were not plowed and hardly traveled.
We all managed to get to the resort safely and get unpacked. Before everyone was even unpacked, all the kids had their swimsuits on and were running up and down the halls begging to go swim.
After the first night it took my cousin Hensley tripping over a flap in the shower to realize the Leaches were in the handicapped-accessible room, and my Grandma and Grandpa and the Larsens were in a regular room. So, the family pitched in and helped get all the food, clothes, toiletries, and Grandpa switched to the right rooms.
Grandpa Steve wheeled his Hoveround down to the water park the very first night and was with us almost the entire vacation. He figured out the ramps, elevators and hallways all over the resort, so he could be with us. One time he showed up with my little cousin Benjamin sitting on the footrest of his Hoveround getting a ride back to the room.
He told jokes to the waitresses and strangers passing by his table. He figured out how to carry at least 8 drinks at one time from the snack area to keep everyone supplied with refreshments. One night Grandpa went a little overboard drinking adult refreshments and got lost in the resort. He took an elevator when he was already on our floor. He told us he got his Hoveround stuck in the elevator and had to call security to get him out. I didn’t find out until days later that this was another one of his jokes.
Any vacation is fun, but this one was extra special because of what happened to my Grandpa during this past year. My Aunt Bekah told me a quote that kind of fit with our vacation experience. “The soul would have no rainbows, if the eyes had no tears.” I love you, Grandpa Steve.
Amelia Bystry, 13, is a home-schooled student who resides in rural Princeton. You can contact Amelia in care of this newspaper at P.O. Box 340, Princeton, IL 61356.