Bethany’s first bicycle was small - the appropriate size for a girl of five - and pink - a dainty, girlish pink that would likely make her nauseous these days. And the bike had training wheels, although not for long.
Bethany had had the bike for a week or two, when, one overcast Saturday morning, the Harris family went shopping. On our way back to the Myrtle Avenue estate, Bethany said, “When we get home, take the training wheels off my bike.” Debbie and I did the responsible parent thing and attempted to convince Beth that the training wheels should stay on for a few more weeks. She would have none of it. When we got home, perhaps hoping to teach her a lesson the hard way, I took the training wheels off. Then, as Debbie and I watched, Bethany got on the bike and rode down the sidewalk like she had been doing it for years.
One summer evening, a year or two before Bethany started school, we were at Cederquist Park watching Russ’ Little League game. Bethany wasn’t enthralled with the baseball action, and she spotted some friends playing on a pile of dirt. She was so excited, she fell off the top row of the bleachers. As Debbie and I jumped down, Bethany got up and dusted herself off. She allowed us to ask her a few questions and to look her over, but she did so with a great display of impatience. Then she ran off to get dirty.
Bethany’s interest in science is limited, which might be due to an experiment she conducted as a child. Her question: How long does it take for the coils of an electric stove to cool once the burner is turned off? The answer turned out to be: Longer than she thought. The result: Two burned fingertips, great wailing and many tears. We rushed her to the sink, held her fingers in a stream of cold water for several minutes and then slathered them with Vaseline. By then, she had calmed down enough to pretend she was listening to the parental lecture, and when that was over, she was on her way.
Bethany has never lost that confidence that seems to say, “I’m going to do this, and don’t even think you can stop me.” Until 2001, when Debbie and I divorced and she and Beth moved to Idaho, Bethany’s concept of untamed wilderness was Lake Shore Park. Since then, she has become quite the hunter and fisherman. A few years ago, she shot a bear. And one day last week we were talking on the phone and she said she was going to get some grouse for dinner. This didn’t mean a trip to the supermarket. She was going to go up in the mountains and get the evening meal the way Daniel Boone did.
Bethany has another side, of course. One night years ago, she sat on the kitchen table, looked at me with those expressive eyes and sang, “Say, Say My Playmate.” It was enough to make a grown man cry, and the thought of it still does.
Confidence, determination and love are always needed, but Bethany needs them more than ever now. On Friday she gave birth to a son. Hayden appeared abruptly and unexpectedly three months ahead of schedule, weighing in at one pound, eleven and a half ounces. It’s hard to judge a person’s reaction when the only thing available to you is the sound of her voice. But what I hear on the phone is the love, confidence and determination that have always been there. Debbie, who is on the scene, has told me our daughter is amazing. One doctor, Debbie said, was so impressed with how well Bethany was handling the situation that he told her once Hayden gets through this, Beth should consider becoming a nurse. She’d make an excellent nurse, he said.
I haven’t met Colt, Beth’s fiancé, but they say he’s a fighter, too. Hayden has a long and perilous battle ahead of him. But with Bethany and Colt in his corner, I’m betting Colt makes it.