I was leading a very uneventful life back in 1954. I had an older brother and sister along with a younger brother. Mom was due to have another baby in September, so that would put me right in the middle of my siblings. During summer vacations, we would spend most of our days outside playing with the rest of the kids from the neighborhood. We lived on a cul de sac which provided us a safe place to ride our bikes and play endless games of kickball. We would have regular trips to the beach which was a block away. There was the Village Store across from the park, so we knew we would have the opportunity to stop in to choose little snacks for just a few pennies. Life was simple, love-filled, and comfortably predictable.
One afternoon in late June Mom called me inside to ask me one question. She gently asked me to cover my left eye and then tell her what I saw in her hand. If I guessed correctly, I would be able to eat it. I remember how excited that made me because we were always expected to share our treats with our siblings. I was motivated to win, so I knew all I'd have to do was look hard and think hard. I could not see what she held, but I did think there must be a piece of candy...so that was my guess. I was shocked when I uncovered my left eye and saw a pad of paper.
A neighbor had brought Mom's attention to a white mark on my left eye. She suggested they bring me to an eye doctor to have it examined, but Mom thought she would first do her own test to determine if I had vision in both eyes. The test results were confirming her biggest fear, so within a day I had an appointment with an eye doctor who was able to identify what it was, but informed us that I would have to travel to New York City to have the surgery.
I didn't know anything about these facts, as I was only told that Mom and I would be going on an adventure to a large city with my favorite Aunt Mary. Silly me, I was excited about going on my first train ride and being able to sleep and eat our meals on the train. It was a tremendous new way to spend my vacation. I do remember that many of the adults were looking at me with a sadness in their faces and eyes. My grandma even sobbed when she said good-bye to us at the station. As I hugged her, I reminded her that we would all be safely back home soon. I thought maybe many seemed sad because they had to stay home as we headed east on our adventure. I also received several holy cards with promises of prayers for me, and again I tried to make sense of it by thinking maybe this style of card and prayers were gifted to those going on an extended trip. Wow, going on a summer vacation kept making me feel more and more extraordinary!
I heard my mom and aunt having quiet conversations on the train trip, whispering throughout many of them. The only word I didn't know was cancer. I wondered, "What does that word have to do with our special time together and why was I the lucky one to be chosen to go?"