I dislike flying: the herding, the depressing bag of pretzels, and the claustrophobic cabin. It’s a perfect environment for disease transmission and my immune system can’t protect me. Yet, the opportunity to spend the holidays with our oldest son, my brother, and nieces and nephews compelled my wife and I to fly to the San Francisco Bay Area.
We stayed in Oakland at a hotel on Broadway, close to where our oldest son lives. I’d arranged to re-schedule my twice monthly infusions so as to not interfere with our activities. My treatment also includes oral drugs, which can continue when I’m on the road. I take a chemo type pill once a day and a steroid once a week. I’ve become inured to the daily pill. Its side effects blend into the general fatigue syndrome that characterizes my blood cancer. The steroid, though, radically alters my mood, my energy, and, perhaps, my personality.
We dined at a number of excellent restaurants: Itani, brunch at Lake Chalet, The Berkeley Social Club, a morning snack at The Rotunda on the first morning, the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast Christmas day, then Farley’s East on the penultimate morning. Prior to seeing the movie, Little Women, we ate Thai street food at IMM and finally a goodbye meal at Tay Ho, a French/Vietnamese restaurant.
The highlight, however, was Christmas dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in San Francisco. The Oakland gang merged with the San Francisco gang.
The house sits near the top of Stanyan Street above Golden Gate Park. It is of Victorian vintage, built early in the twentieth century. (1904)
There are three levels situated on a steep slope adjacent to Sutro Forest. My brother and his wife live on the top floor. Their daughter and son-in-law and 12 year old grandson occupy the main floor. A laundry and storage, as well as a small studio apartment finish out the dwelling. There is also a two car garage, quite a luxury in parking starved San Francisco. They bought the house for $75,000 in 1973.
They admit to initially being anxious about the mortgage. At the time, my brother was a San Francisco fireman. His wife worked in medical research. She then chose to get a law degree and eventually became a patent attorney. Along the way, she also bore a child. By investing in their ingenuity, they were able to persevere through those early busy years. The house is now worth much, much more than the purchase price.
Christmas day was my steroid day. Under the influence of the drug, I sometimes jabber too much. I have also been known to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Such are the perils of the steroid high. My faux pas filter, however, managed to keep me out of trouble. The convivial conversation even prompted me to toast the three family lines in attendance.
But, the enduring star was the house itself. Nurtured by my brother and his wife through the years, it has hosted numerous events commemorating family passages. Decades ago, when we immigrated to New Zealand, there was a going away party for my wife and I. Then, in the not too distant past, a support reunion party for me prior to my stem cell transplant.
Furthermore, two of their granddaughters lived there while launching into adulthood. And, my SIL’s mother spent her final days in one of the downstairs apartments. Birth, death, and all the transitions in between: such is the legacy of the Stanyan Street house.
When the evening ended, my wife and I returned to Oakland with our son. The lights of the Bay Bridge glittered with holiday flair. Thanks to the steroid, my slumpiness from the myeloma vanishes temporarily. Though the day’s activities had drained the jolt of energy caused by the drug, I still floated in its groove. I mused, without judgment, as to how my body is no longer entirely my own. It is managed, to a degree, by pharmaceuticals. That’s ok. They keep me rolling along the bumpy road of life.