Updated: Jul 2, 2020
| This is the 223rd story of Our Life Logs |
“The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.”
– Thomas Paine
I was born on August 31, 1938, in Anniston, Alabama, to a homemaker mother and a father who wore multiple hats: namely, farmer and bus driver. Times in the southern US during the 1940s and 1950s were trying ones, indeed. We were poor. I guess you could say “dirt poor.” I remember my mother making my clothes from flour or potato sacks, and there were plenty of hand-me-downs from my older brothers.
The days were long on the farm. We kids learned the value of hard work from a very early age. I learned the importance of providing, and of appreciating what one had. When you did not have much by way of material possessions, you really did thank God for simply having food in your belly when your head hit the pillow at night.
I loved my family and our little house on the farm, but I was restless. I wanted a taste of the outside world. I was a country boy daydreaming of the city life so I started saving little by little. A buddy of mine—who was like a brother–had been to Philadelphia and told me stories that piqued my interest. I wanted to leave my “little fish in a little pond” life and explore what was uncharted territory for me.
One summer I turned 18, my friend and I packed up his car and our savings, and off we went to Philadelphia. I truly felt like someone that had been asleep and finally had awoken. The restaurants, the city’s energy and, of course, the vibrant nightlife, were everything I never knew I always wanted. Somehow, I just knew this was going to be my new home. I loved my hometown; I had simply outgrown it, like a comfortable pair of shoes you had gradually worn out. I could no longer be complacent.
I got a job as a shoe store sales associate, and I acclimated well to work and my new life. Before long, I was promoted to the store manager position. But just as my life settled, it changed again – both economically and geographically after I was offered a transfer to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1966. It came with a handsome salary incentive, and while I loved my life in Philadelphia, I had decided it was time for a new adventure. Little did I know this would prove to be a life-changing, transformative move—in every sense of the word.
Cincinnati’s “flavor” was a little different, but it still had the feel of a big city. One of my new sales associates was a hard-working young lady who attended the local university and through her I got to know her close friend Barbara. I will never forget the moment this bubbly brunette, barely over five feet tall, walked through the front door of the store. She was only 19, but she was wise beyond her years, with a raw confidence I had never seen before. I was captivated by her smile and larger-than-life personality.
What I did not know at first was that Barbara was just as taken with me, but once we found out as the old expression goes, the rest was (truly) history. We dated for several years before opportunity came a’ knocking once more, and I transferred to Chicago, which was a truly bountiful time for both of us. We married in 1975 and were two successful, happy newlyweds in our prime. The only “dash” was that, after a year of trying, we could not conceive. We both knew that we wanted to be parents, but the Universe seemed to be saying “not yet, not yet.” I strongly believed in fate, so I encouraged Barbara not to worry. We moved to St. Louis after I received a promotion and within a year, we were pregnant!
Our daughter, Nicole Rose, was born March 1, 1979. She was the spitting image of her mother, but she had my deep, soulful eyes. She was the light of our lives and answer to our prayers, as we now had our little family, at last. Life soon became a balance of two careers and child rearing, but we made it work with help from Barbara’s mother, who often flew in from Cincinnati. Unforgettable, lifelong friendships were made, and life was filled with family vacations, soccer games, date nights, and planning for the future. We were living the American Dream, and life was good. However, some things cannot be planned nor prepared. There are few dress rehearsals in life, and our family were on the brink of a bend in the road of which we never could have anticipated.
Somewhere around the time Nicole was approaching adolescence in 1991, I began experiencing a bizarre, unprecedented symptom of scratchiness in my throat. It began as little more than an irritation, but it soon progressed to the point that I felt hoarse much of the time. It was also a strain for me to speak clearly and to project my voice. We were all mystified. I sought medical attention and was initially diagnosed with dysphonia. The diagnosis helped as far as giving a name to my condition, but it eventually became apparent that I was dealing with a much bigger animal than a hoarse voice.
Other symptoms were cropping up, like tingling and numbing sensations in my feet. Once I started to lose my balance, I knew something was seriously wrong. I had always been athletic – a former football and tennis player in high school, as well as a lifelong runner – so these changes were quite alarming to me. My wife, ever calm and collected, assured me that we would find the answer. I wanted to believe her.
A visit with a specialist and multiple tests later uncovered a whole new diagnosis for me to research: peripheral neuropathy. This one sounded much more intimidating, and I was scared. It was not in my nature to panic or lose control, but I will admit that I felt pretty grim. What sorts of lifestyle changes would I have to make? Would I still be able to jog? Walk the family dog? I knew throwing in the towel was not an option; I had to be strong for my family—especially my emotionally sensitive daughter, who was already quite affected by the changes in my health. We had always been extremely close, and I could not let her, or my ever- devoted wife, lose heart. I steeled myself for whatever was coming and decided to face it head on.
Over the next decade with more doctor’s visits, I left with new diagnoses and more confusion. Eventually, my neuropathy symptoms (cause still unknown) became more pronounced, and I began having a more difficult time at work. Standing–and remaining–on my feet became progressively more uncomfortable and next to impossible, without the threat of falling. Aquatic therapy had been prescribed, and it did help me feel that I could better master my muscular coordination. But I was so very tired after the sessions. My body, always strong and able, was now feeling genuine fatigue. I knew I had no choice but to press onward. Barbara, forever at my side in every sense, fortified my courage.
After noting my gradual, but definite, muscular-coordinative decline, my physicians decided to run additional tests in 2007. I knew they were suspecting something beyond my PN diagnosis. One would not think a new diagnosis with three simple letters as its abbreviation could cause the world as you knew it to freeze. ALS, they said. ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I vaguely recalled what happened with the famous ballplayer, but I thought the disease was extremely rare. I remember taking my wife’s hand and uttering a silent prayer, and it was not a prayer for myself but, rather, that everything would just… Be all right in the end.
We learned as much as we could about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was genetic, but the chances of developing the condition were still rare. There was an apparent connection between the disease and athletes. My wife came to terms with the knowledge that my working days were at an end; without missing a beat, she went about the business of making special modifications to our home so that I had greater ease of use. My wife and daughter did everything they could to assist me where needed (the use of a walker allowed me more independence of mobility).
The challenges grew more pronounced, so we realized that I needed professional care outside the home. I have always gone with the flow (I mean, come on, I was the kid whose clothes were made from paper sacks!), and this circumstance demanded more of the same. So that is what I did. I took my hits like I took my good days: there is always something beautiful to be found in every day. Nothing lasts forever, and that includes everything from constipation to a lucky hand at poker. I was raised believing that peaks and valleys keep us humble. Actually, I take my previous statement back. There is something that lasts forever: love. Without the love of my wife and daughter, I would have crumbled as my body deteriorated.
Life hands us many obstacles, and some seem impossible to conquer. Sometimes we must concede and walk around the proverbial mountain, sometimes we are able to scale the mountain, and sometimes…we must be the mountain. We often cannot choose our fate. We just have to be grateful for what we have when we have it. We can’t take life for granted because even when all is going right, there’s still a chance for something to go wrong. I’ve learned to accept that in life. The truly strong heart and character remain courageous and resilient despite the maelstroms of life. You see, it was never an option to throw up my hands and give in. I had come too far and worked too hard at leaving a meaningful legacy for my family. Come what may, I knew I had their support and love, just as they had mine. We three had powerful family ties, and they were bound fiercely. Despite knowing the endgame, I knew I would never face a moment alone. And I never did.
This is the story of James E. Forbus
James did not lose his battle with ALS; he simply bowed out with grace, the early morning of June 17, 2011 after four years. Coming from a poor family, James had dreams of leaving his town and finding success. When he finally reached it, and then settled down with a family and a good job, he began experiencing health problems that made him see how little life can be controlled. He was happy to have lived the wonderful life he did while he still had the chance. A man of simple means, he truly lived his 72 years on this earth to the fullest, and he never complained a day in his life. He possessed great wisdom to match his inimitable wit. He was most at home surrounded by nature; he was adored by many, he was a loving husband, and a towering beacon for his daughter, Nicole, who idolized him. James had a work ethic like no other – a gift from his father. He loved animals, warm summer nights, and a good glass of wine. His heart was profound, as is his legacy, for all who knew him (or simply wish they had).
This story first touched our hearts on October 6, 2018.
| Writer: Nicole Forbus | Editor: Kristen Petronio |