by Stella De Genova
Do different foods or their aromas spark a memory or remind you of something or someone? This writing all came about from food. I came home from an evening out with my shopping assistants (a/k/a girlfriends) and described to my husband a very delicious stuffed pablano pepper we had at our last stop after shopping. I have a similar recipe and he asked why I haven’t made it lately. Well, the last time I made those stuffed peppers was the last meal I cooked for my stepdad before he died. He always liked my cooking and I had wanted to make him something special before he couldn’t enjoy it anymore. Those peppers, just like so many other things, started me thinking about Wally.
My stepdad, Wally, was like a second dad to me for 32 years and a grandpa/dad/babysitter to my kids. He had a brain tumor when my son was 4, which was removed and benign. After surgery, he had to learn to speak again (except for curse words – his brain never forgot those!). He had been an alcoholic and never drank again after that surgery. He was also a heavy smoker but quit cold-turkey because my baby nephew had bronchial problems and Wally didn’t want to hurt his little lungs when he was around. He was a blue-collar man, a simple guy who loved his family more than anything and was a role model for all of us.
As in so many families, cancer hit our family and we lost Wally to lung cancer 2 years ago. He would have been 71 this past July. Wally was braver than we were. He was stubborn and tried to smile until he couldn’t anymore.
He was a hero to all of us. And you know what the strange thing is? He used to tell me that I was his hero. What?! Are you kidding me? He watched (and helped) me raise my 3 kids as a divorced parent. I worked full-time as a legal secretary and bought a home for my family. And because I’ve been legally blind since my late 20’s, I think he respected me for doing whatever I could to care for my family. He and my mom helped me through so many trials and tribulations and sometimes he would laugh and ask how I dealt with all that I did. I’d tell him that’s why I drank a glass of wine in the evening and he’d laugh some more.
Doing what I’ve done for my family and just getting through the day with retinitis pigmentosa isn’t unusual or special to me – it’s just life and what I do every morning when I get out of bed. Even though I’ve had night blindness since early childhood, there were never limitations set – except for driving a car! Little by little, I have made the necessary adjustments as my vision has worsened. I’ve never dwelled on what I couldn’t do because of my low vision. I was too busy doing everything else that needed to be done to think about that.
As much as I love and respect Wally, I have to say he was wrong about me being a hero. HE was the hero to battle a disease that he knew he’d lose in the end. So now, when people ask me how I stay so optimistic, knowing I will probably lose what little vision I have left, I think of Wally’s fight and remind them that no matter how bad we think we have it, it could always be worse.