• Cara Van Leuven

Mulberry Grove

In less than 24 hours in the same hospital Tom witnessed his father ringing the Siteman Cancer Center bell, following his final chemo treatment and signaling a life free of cancer; he also witnessed his mother take her final breath while he comforted her with the warmth of his hands.

The day before, the day of the bell-ringing, Alice was awake, whispering and a renewed life seemed inevitable. But this morning Tom learned the breathing tube was back and her body was simply rejecting life. It just didn’t seem possible - we simply could not register the idea of her leaving her life, as well as ours.

Tom’s headlights headed west while Pops and I drove east to pick up our truck which was at the shop in Vandalia. On the way there, Pops asked if I wanted to take a tour of Mulberry Grove, the town where Pops and Alice were raised, where they met and ultimately where they began a life together raising two boys.

There are moments when time just disappears - like when you’re submerged under water, when you’re lost in a dream or more intensely when you find yourself in the show ring, galloping around looking for fences. You may hear your trainer’s voice or scuffles in the bleachers, but ultimately it’s a loud silence totally dependent on the relationship you have with your horse. Time also stops when wheels turn underneath you and you simply drive around and look at stuff. It’s so simple, yet one of my favorite things to do.

My Mulberry Grove tour started with a now-defunct campground and a house where Pops once lived; it seems like he and his brother were always in some sort of trouble. We drove by the high school and a shack that was long ago demolished, but it was where Pops and Alice first lived together. I imagined Alice, a mom at 16, in a house that wasn’t even fit to keep around.

The whole town seems kind of sad now. However, after nine straight days of overcast skies and unrelenting rain, the unexpected sunshine offered a fresh perspective and it helped me envision Alice as a young woman navigating her way through parenthood, a gift I know she relished.

Tom was by Alice’s side every day she was in the hospital, except for the one day he was so sick I insisted he stay home. It was such a severe illness that came on fast and involved seven blankets; I convinced him to let me take his temperature. Seemingly normal until you learn the only thermometer we have is for the horse … let’s just say vaseline was involved.

If Alice was here I would share that story with her and we would laugh and laugh. I’m sure it’s not the only story I’ll wish she was around to hear about. But as long as we continue laughing, I feel like we’ll be doing her right.