Four simple words… “Make your own party” what do they mean.. I guess that would depend on who you are. For my aunt Darleen.. that was her motto. This story is going to be hard to write and for some even to see…
Darleen’s Flamingo 5K run is a as you guessed it 5K run put on every year to raise money for the Shepard Cancer Foundation. Let’s do a little back story.. first who is Darleen Smith.. well she was born Darleen Barnard and she was my aunt. She had 3 sisters and 2 brothers.. She had a very interesting life I must say… she and my other aunts loved and I do mean loved the beach. She’d spend any free time outside tanning and swimming. She married a good ole country boy named Fred Smith. He was the love of her life. It was nice growing up seeing that kind of love. I spent many summers with them, helping babysit my younger cousins. Oh the fun we had and the trouble we managed to get into. Those summers are some of my fondest. Darleen had 4 beautiful children whom I love dearly. But as families often do they grow up and getting to see each other becomes a rare treat. As was the case for me..
Living so far away you are not always the first to know things.. and by the time I learned she had Cancer she had been dealing with it for a while. She would not allow any one to talk about it. She always wanted to act like nothing was wrong. She had bone cancer they were just never sure where it started but they think it was a breast cancer cell that got into a fracture she got from skiing years before. Her motto “Make your own party” And she did. She lived for her family trips to the beach, spending as much time with her family as she could and still trying to make others feel happy and special.
I will never forget the day I got the call from my aunt Faye.. she said “You better get out here cause she is dying” those words still sound as fresh as the day the call came in. But getting out there is not as easy as driving the next county over. We were like a 3 day drive away.. we start wracking our brains how are we gonna do this. Our money is very limited.. we both have jobs.. pets we can not abandon.. and we were like weeks away from payday!
We made a trip up to work to get the ball rolling there. My managers were wonderful to us. They said go go.. don’t worry we will take care of stuff. So we bought a few items we needed and headed home called the in-laws to make plans for them to take care of the pets, packed and loaded up the van and we were gone.
Now My hubs is a wonderful driver but he has a hard time seeing at night so we had to pull off earlier then I would have liked but you do what you gotta do. We pushed that ole van pretty hard. We had gotten to Nashville and had stopped to get a quick bite to eat.. when the van quit working.. I was like really.. Luckily we were right next to a garage and they tried to help us.. after 3 hours they said there is nothing we can do you are gonna have to take it to a dealership and see what they can do.. Here I am trying to get to my dying aunt and my van is broke in the middle of no where… the garage man was nice enough to not charge us and call to get our van towed and a cab to take us to the dealership. Once there we sat and sat and sat. right before the dealership was due to close for the night they came and told us they were having issues and it was gonna take some time to get fixed.. time.. time.. I do not have time.. they lent us a rental car to use to go find a hotel for the night.. one day wasted.. my aunt kept calling where are you.. ya’ll better hurry…
The next day we head back to the dealership and wait and wait and wait. They knew we needed to get out of there and they knew we were as broke as church mice. They bent every rule they could to help us, even going so far as to get us some used parts because they were like 1/4th the cost. Everything they tried nothing worked.. we had been sitting there for well over 8 hours with no more hope of having it fixed then when it was pulled in the day before. Those wonderful people who had been so good to us taking care of us making sure we had everything we needed.. took it upon themselves to rent us a car so we could get back on the road while they tried to get our car fixed. Talk about some good God fearing people.. they were just awesome to us. We had not been on the road 20 minutes when I got the phone call from my aunt.. “where are you..” I told her we just got a rental car and we are on our way… “She is not gonna make it.. she has been trying to hold on..” silence… “…oh no… she’s gone..” she’s gone.. I was not gonna get to thank her for being a wonderful aunt and spoiling me and loving me.. my father was not gonna get to tell his baby sister just how much she meant to him.. and that he did adore her. My hubs just kept saying I’m so sorry I am so sorry I wish I could have gotten you there in time.. he pushed himself to get us there as soon as he could. He was so exhausted and worn out, yet he still had to worry about how we were gonna get back to Nashville to pick up the van, how much that van was gonna cost us… and dealing with a funeral. It was nice to see my family but I hated having to see them this way. My grandfather was living with my aunt Faye so we got to see him and try to help her out a little taking care of him..
My poor little baby was dealing with her own issues, being yanked out of school at the drop of a hat and being hauled over the country then being stranded in Nashville, not knowing how or where we were.. She is a stress er anyway so her little mind was working 100 miles and hour. She was also aware that mommy and daddy were worried about where they were gonna get the money to get home and get the van. It took it’s toil on her in more ways then one.
We spent what seemed like days at my aunts house greeting family and old friends alike.. I never knew just how loved my aunt was by the community she lived in. I was shocked and yet very proud that she was that adored.. My grandfather could not attend the funeral because he was bed ridden and he did not even remember she had passed on.
We were making calls back home every day making sure things were going ok.. they were.. Denny stayed in touch with the car people trying to see how things were going and more importantly praying the cost was not more then the van was worth. Still no luck.. they were working on something electrical.. MONEY MONEY was all we saw… we were trying to decide just how we were gonna get home.. take a bus was too costly for 4 people and the nearest bus station was like 3 hours away.. it was a holiday weekend and there were no cars to be rented.. so we were pretty much stuck… So here we are on Easter Weekend trying to make it as special as we can for a small child and trying to deal with a funeral as well as giving a helping hand with my grand father.. I have to tell you my husband was wonderful with him, helped bath him and feed him.. made me very proud.
So the funeral is over and we are thinking we gotta get back home.. and then out of the blue the next day My grandfather passes away that morning.. I am you have got to be kidding. Before he died my aunt was on the phone with his hospice nurse and said you need to get here something is not right with him. He is dying.. well it’s gonna be about 30 minutes or so… he had orders so there was nothing we could do.. but just sit there and watch him. I’ve got my baby in this house already dealing with one death and now right in from of her eyes someone else in her family is dead. Too much for us so I know way to much for her. Need I tell you our emotions and stress levels were all over the place. So we had to start all over again.. planning another funeral. The family decided on just graveside services because honestly it was just too much and he was being buried beside my beloved grandmother about 2 hours away.
I hated to call my work, I mean if someone told you this story would you think they were making it up.. It just sounds to strange to be true. I asked them if they could put in our vacation time cause we were gonna need the money badly and recounted some of our problems we were having. They did and we were grateful. On the upside of things if there can be one here the van was fixed, they replaced something very expensive in the circuit board and had to make a new key.. yada.. yada..yada.. how much .. how much.. These wonderful people did not charge us for any labor only the used parts they had to buy.. so we had thousands of dollars worth of work and it only cost us around 600! Tell me there is no GOD!!!! We had so much stress and we were ready to get out of there and our kid was having a mental break down just too much.. we almost decided to not even attend my grandfathers funeral.. but we decided to stay… the next day we were on a mission how to get home. No rental cars were to be found. The ones who had cars you could not take out of state… it was looking bleak… My poor uncle who had just lost his wife said in his loveable redneck NC accent “Well hell! We’ll just drive ya there!” I adore this man, I have my whole life! We called all over the place and it turned out at a local airport several hours away they had cars we could rent.. so we packed up and headed out.. once there oh no you can not take these cars out of state.. we were like we asked you this before we left.. the dealership right beside them said oh we allow our cars to be driven out of state.. WONDERFUL.. haa you think it was gonna be that easy. We do not use credit cards… just part of our way of life.. we do use our debit card.. Ya know no money no buy.. they would not take the debit card you had to use a credit card.. really.. REALLY!!!!!! In the end we ended up getting the car, but only because my wonderful uncle used his card, an as long as we had the car where it was suppose to be it would cost him nothing.. We have tried many times to repay him but he refuses every time.. did I mention how much I love that man! We set off to get to Nashville. It takes 17 hours to drive it I know I have made the trip tons and tons of times. We hit that road and never stopped unless it was for gas, bathroom breaks or food. We made it to Nashville the next morning and we were sitting at the dealership when they opened up. Paid for the Van and thanked as many people as we could and were on our way. Poor hubs never stopped.. just pushed through he was about dead when we got home in the wee hours of the night…
I am so proud of my family… they took something that was so hard and still painful and turned it into something so wonderful. They organized the Darleen’s Flamingo 5K run in her honor. This November 3rd they will hold the run again as they have every year since she as gone home. The turn out is incredible! I feel very honored to have gotten to call this remarkable women my aunt! As she would say “Make your own party” and those are pretty good words to live by. So I hope every time you see a pink flamingo you think “make your own party” just like Darleen did!