Chris had always been a great fan of presents from his earliest years. The excitement of wrapping and tying with a ribbon then taking a card and writing the name of the one intended to receive the present was a labour of love in his childhood. He liked receiving presents and he liked giving presents in equal measure. It was a ritual instilled in him by his mother from earliest recollections. The little family was not rich as the world defines richness, but they were rich in what really matters, a sense of family unity and satisfaction with what they had. As he reflected on that tears welled up in his eyes, but they were tears of gratitude for Cindy.
Chris’s father Kevin was a hard-working man who’d gone through difficult times in his chosen rural occupation before working his way into a middle-class lifestyle. Kevin had met the love of his life Pam in the little rural school he’d attended during childhood years. They were neighbours and walked the approximate five miles to school and home together each day with their siblings. Later when it was decided they needed to further their education at High School they travelled a twelve-mile journey to town on their bicycles over dirt tracks through those school years together as an inseparable pair. Kevin had always viewed Pam and her siblings as part of his extended family.
Rural folk are intimately connected and mobilize as a community to help each other in emergencies. But as he entered his late teen years Kevin developed a restless warm feeling when around Pam he couldn’t quite understand and Pam entering womanhood yearned for his company when he was not around. She understood what her yearning was as her own father and mother luxuriated in each other’s company in a demonstration each day of the bond between a man and woman in a family relationship. She wanted that in a family of her own. She couldn’t imagine holding that vision unfulfilled in her growing maturity and as she felt very comfortable in conversation with Kevin she gave him a strong hint she wanted a home of her own with him as the man of the house. Kevin was stunned and didn’t know what to say at first but quickly grasped this is what he wanted too. In that Pam had already indicated her wishes he began to plan how their life together as a family unit could be achieved. He asked his parents for advice. They told him to contact Pam’s parents and ask their permission then they’d happily work with their children, now young adults to set them up independently.
Everyone in rural communities is intimately aware of what is happening in the life of their neighbours. If sickness appears in one of the families, rural folk take turns to run the farm until the family can take up responsibilities again. So, when old farmer Colthorpe learned of Kevin and Pam’s plans he immediately contacted them. His children had all left his farm one by one seeking easier ways to make a living in big cities and old Colthorpe soldiered on by himself on his large property holding until his wife of fifty years passed to her rest. He felt he could no longer carry on by himself but could not bring himself to sell the land. His grandfather had cleared the land on being granted title and his father had inherited it on his grandfather’s death. So, this land had been in the family for generations. He approached Kevin. Would Kevin and Pam be prepared to run the farm and pay him a share of the annual income produced while he continued to live there and enjoy his sunset years? Kevin and Pam said yes and old Colthorpe built a substantial home big enough for Kevin and Pam and the family they would have in turn while he continued on in the traditional home that had hosted Colthorpe families in turn.
With their newly acquired marriage licence the couple moved in on Christmas day with the aid of neighbours and the whole rural community celebrated Christmas Day on Colthorpe’s farm in honour of the newly married couple. Kevin thought this was the best Christmas present he’d ever had. As Colthorpe aged Pam took on the additional responsibility of caring for his needs along with her own beginning family. On Colthorpe’s death Kevin was surprised to find the old man had given him an equal share with his own children in the title of the property. Colthorpe’s children had done well in city employment and had no interest in keeping the farm. They suggested Kevin buy them out and in gratitude for the way Pam had cared for the old man as he aged they agreed on a bargain basement price. A bank loan was negotiated, and Kevin worked hard to provide not only for his growing family but repayment of the bank loan.
It was a hard slog over many years but despite floods and droughts providing many anxious times for family finances the farm was eventually debt free. Yet another Christmas was to be celebrated with their rural neighbours in thankfulness for their debt free status. At that celebration Kevin declared having paid off the farm this would be the best Christmas present he’d ever had. Then he looked at his disappointed wife Pam and remembered he’d said that at the time they were married and moved into their first home. He corrected himself with a laugh.
“Well, the second-best present after marrying my beautiful wife Pam.” Everyone laughed as they saw Pam pretend to be upset at his first statement but nodding with approval as he corrected himself.
Chris and his siblings went through their growing up years totally unaware of the struggles their parents had putting meals on the table and providing clothing and education for them. His parents always had time for them and provided a joyful environment for their children to grow and be nurtured in. From an early age though Chris and his siblings had been instructed family is a place of mutual responsibilities. All were expected to make their contribution to family needs and responsibilities, and they did this naturally feeling a sense of importance in their family contributions.
Chris had a natural aptitude for learning and a love of rural life. After a period studying at an Agricultural State College he returned home and soon became a sought-after counsellor for those eager to learn the latest knowledge in agricultural practice. He was also a gifted mechanic who soon developed a reputation for being able to fix any kind of agricultural machinery.
Kevin and Pam watched their son’s development and noted community respect for his knowledge and skills, and they appreciated Chris never sought payment for his work on community crises needing his attention. Their pride in their now twenty-year-old son was apparent to all. His siblings Ted and Sue were equally proud of their brother. Young rural women of the district sought Sue out as a friend in the hopes of getting close to Chris and be noticed and would always be round to reward Chris with something home baked when he’d visit their parents to help out with farming methods or repair of some of their farm machinery. Chris’s obvious pleasure in these gifts would cause many a heart flutter and hope that their cooking would win them the prize they were after. But Chris seemed more interested in conversation with their parents causing those interested young women much dismay and further visits with Sue.
Pam had watched the efforts of these young women with good humour and Sue’s tales of the intrigue being woven by them would cause mother and daughter many a laugh. Pam decided it was time Chris began to seriously consider his choice of a life partner. She could remember she’d had to take the initiative with her Kevin and wondered why the efforts of these young women hadn’t caught her son’s attention. Perhaps she needed to have a talk with him? Her marriage had been made in heaven and she wanted the same happiness for her son with a family of his own.
So, one day when Chris had closeted himself in his room which was quite unusual for such an active young man she decided to check on him and perhaps look for an opening to discuss marriage prospects. To her surprise she found him on his bed doubled up in pain and concerned asked what was causing his distress.
Chris couldn’t explain exactly what he was feeling but conceded he was very sick and probably needed a trip to town to see a doctor. He’d been sick for a while but had kept this from his family and pretended everything was OK putting on a brave face.
Pam called Sue and told her to cover for the family meals and tell her father she’d taken Chris to town for an urgent consultation with Dr Rogers their General Practitioner. After a long wait as they didn’t have an appointment Dr Rogers called them in and began his examination asking questions as he examined. Loss of appetite, changes in urination, swelling in feet, coolness in tips of fingers and toes. This pressed alarm bells in the doctor’s mind and he admitted him to hospital referring the case to his friend Dr Herbert who was a Nephrologist specialist. A fearful Pam returned home to report what had happened to Kevin and the children assuring Chris she’d be back next morning to follow through with the specialist.
After exhaustive tests in the next few days it appeared that one of Chris’s kidneys would need to be removed and further tests would have to be made to see if the other kidney could be saved. The family were horrified at this turn of events. Chris had seemed to be his normal self but had withheld this gradual health deterioration to the point he could not handle his situation and bluff any longer. Dr Herbert insisted as a precaution to test the family to find if any of them could be a possible kidney donor if needed. There was no guarantee any of them would have compatibility so that it would not be rejected by the body if it would become necessary for a transplant to be called for.
Chris was too sick to take it all in but later learned his appetite for some things that did not fit well with his unique body chemistry were the probable reasons for his health crisis. He had a craving for red meat and ate it in abundance, he liked liberal amounts of salt in his diet and many cups of coffee during the day to keep up his active program. Apparently a heavy reliance on dairy products without the balance of vegetables and fruit in abundance had not done him any favours. Some could get away with that lifestyle but apparently his body could not handle that. What had happened could not be reversed now, but if he survived he’d need to follow a much more balanced diet planning in future.
Dr Herbert’s tests on the family gave no indication one of their kidneys would be compatible and his body would reject that transplant making any sacrifice from his family members useless. Donating a kidney had risks of its own and the specialist didn’t want to compound the trauma this family were already suffering. Naturally enough nothing can be hidden from a close community like the one Kevin and Pam lived in. They looked on this generous young man as a community asset and prayers ascended on his behalf by them all.
Then Dr Herbert phoned to say a compatible kidney had been sourced and it was a miracle as they concluded it would soon be needed. He’d say no more about the donor other than Kevin and Pam’s community had taken voluntary tests to see if they could rescue this young man, one of their own. So, the family knew one of their neighbours was the donor, but no one would break silence as to who that may be.
On the day of the operation the family took time from their farm work to come and sit anxiously as the lengthy operation took place. They were surprised to see one of the distant neighbour families also waiting anxiously and naturally inquired if one of their family was in for a procedure. The Richardson family were a quiet family that kept to themselves mostly. Chris had helped them with their machinery in the past knowing they were not financially well off, but they largely kept to themselves. The Richardson’s were not very forthcoming about their own reasons for being at the hospital but turned the conversation over to Chris expressing their sympathies at his health crisis. After what seemed like hours a doctor appeared and beckoned to Jason Richardson. There was a whispered conversation and Jason nodded in appreciation. “Thank you doctor, we’ll be off to the farm now and come back later.”
Jason Richardson beckoned to his wife and they politely took leave wishing for the best outcome for Chris.
Kevin turned to Pam after they’d left. “I wonder which member of their family needed medical attention?”
Pam shrugged. “They are very private people, so we’ll only get to know from our neighbours. Eventually the whole community will know as nothing escapes the grape vine in our community.” She smiled happily despite her anxious wait over Chris’s operation. She wouldn’t have it any other way because rural folk were her family.
Eventually Dr Herbert appeared on the scene and smiled. “The operation went well, and we have confidence this young man will make a full recovery. We’ll have to talk about lifestyle choices as with his genetic makeup he should have a long life if he makes changes to his choices after recovery, but those changes must be made, or he’ll be in trouble and the next time it will be fatal.”
After a day recovery in ICU Chris began to take an interest in activities in the ward. He’d be there for a while and was quite restricted in what he could do totally reliant on nursing staff. But from the time he was recovered from the anaesthetic his curiosity took in the skills and diligence of nursing staff alert and quick to act. The nursing staff told him he’d probably be in ICU for one more day.
On the second morning Chris noticed one of the patients was being removed and as the gurney with a young woman strapped on for transfer to a hospital ward went by the young woman spoke to the ones transporting her and they paused at his bed.
“How are you doing Chris? Are you OK?”
Chris gasped. “Cindy Richardson! What are you doing in here?”
The young woman smiled. “Sounds like you’re OK, good!” She indicated they should move on to the ward where she was transferring to.
Chris pressed the buzzer summonsing nursing staff. “The woman who they just transferred from ICU to wards Cindy Richardson, what was she in here for?”
“I’m afraid we can’t disclose that kind of information Chris. The privacy of our patients is protected by law.”
“Then when I’m transferred out of here tomorrow would it be possible for me to be in the same ward? She’s known to my family and I’d like to have someone I know I can talk to while in hospital.”
The nurse smiled. “Is she special to you? I’ll see if that can be arranged.”
Chris’s brain began to focus now the effects of the operation were becoming more bearable. He remembered Cindy from the trips over to their farm to fix their machinery and give her father Jason tips he’d learned in Agricultural School. He remembered the things she’d baked and handed him to take home after his visits. His mouth watered as he thought of those treats he’d come away with on each visit. He never thought about it at the time, but Cindy was a beautiful woman. He wondered what she’d needed an operation for and felt sympathetic that such a nice person would be in hospital. He looked forward to being out of ICU and hopefully able to talk about their rural life which he greatly missed here in hospital.
Next day he was wheeled out of ICU and taken to the wards. He smiled with delight when he found the ICU nurse had whispered to friends in the ward and arranged for a bed next to Cindy. The transfer had taken some of his enthusiasm out of him as he still hurt but despite that he chatted animatedly with Cindy who listened quietly. Eventually he remembered to ask whey she was in hospital and she remarked it was nothing, just a woman’s thing changing the subject.
But the word had leaked out in their community and Pam who gathered all information to share for any event shed tears. Cindy Richardson had volunteered to be tested for compatibility as a kidney donor for Chris. That was why the Richardson’s were there on the same day as Chris’s operation. A kidney was taken from her and immediately relocated into her son so he could live. Kevin and Pam got in their car and rushed over to see the Richardson’s pouring out their gratitude for Cindy’s sacrifice. The Richardson’s were embarrassed at the attention they were beginning to get from the community. They didn’t feel they’d done anything any of the farmer folk would have done for them should the circumstances be changed. It had been Cindy’s choice.
Kevin and Pam then rushed to the hospital after being informed Chris had been transferred from ICU to the ward. They were amazed to find Chris and Cindy in beds side by side. Pam took Cindy’s hands in hers as she rushed into the room. “Thank you so much for saving my son Cindy. I don’t know how I can repay you, but I’ll forever be indebted to you.”
Chris couldn’t believe his ears. “You gave me one of your kidneys Cindy?”
Cindy turned her head away from them all. “You were not supposed to know!” There was a trace of irritation in her voice. “I’m very tired and would like to sleep now so please don’t think me rude.” She turned her head and closed her eyes.
Kevin and Pam looked at each other crestfallen. “Sorry Cindy, we’ll try to be quiet and will leave soon so you can rest. They turned to Chris who now had tears rolling down his cheeks. They kissed him. “Son we will leave now and come back after Cindy has rested.”
When his parents had left Chris turned to Cindy. “Cindy I’m overwhelmed you’d do this for me, please don’t be angry at my parents because they really are grateful you’d do this and so am I. When I saw you in ICU it reminded me of the happy times I had visiting your farm and how you’d always give me some of your wonderful cooking to take with me after the visit. I asked the nurses if they could arrange for me to be close to you in recovery as we have so much in common to talk about. I know you’re listening Cindy, please don’t be angry with us.”
Cindy slowly turned to face him. “I didn’t want you to feel obligated to me and that’s why our family decided to keep it a secret. I’m happy you are going to recover as you’re so needed in our community, now you need to listen to what the doctor says and change your lifestyle, so we have you around. Now let’s talk about something else because you owe me nothing.”
Chris thought for a while then turned to face her. “Cindy Richardson I want to owe you. You see this kidney inside me belongs to you and I’m sure it will miss you if I’m not close by so I think we should consider the needs of our kidneys now and that means I need to be close to you from now on. Don’t you think we need to consider our kidney’s feelings?”
To his surprise Cindy laughed out loud then winced in pain. “Ouch that hurt, don’t make me laugh again while I’m recovering from the operation. That was a stupid thing to say Chris.” She chuckled again.
Chris thought some more and shook his head at the foolish comment he’d made. He did feel gratitude not obligation. Furthermore, he was now in his twenties and needed to think about his future. He was determined to stay with rural life and loved his interaction with the different families in their community. If Cindy would make such a sacrifice as give him one of her kidneys that was the kind of selfless partner he now saw would lead to a happy mutual relationship for life. He wanted to give to her in return.
“Cindy this is not out of obligation but out of a sudden realization I need a woman like you in my life. I want to spend time showing you I could be a loving and caring husband if you’d consider giving me that chance. I’d like to spend a lot of time proving that to you in the next few months because I want to marry you and I know you need to be convinced of that.
Cindy smiled. “I already know you’re a good man and would make any woman a happy and appreciated partner. How would I know you were not saying this out of a sense of obligation? That’s why I’m so angry you came to know I was your donor. I’d hate to live with a man who felt obligated to be with me. I want to say yes to a man who I know genuinely loves me.”
Chris once again lapsed into silence and Cindy waited for his answer. “Cindy it took being in hospital where my mind was not taken up with rushing around helping out in the community and working on our farm to think about my future and the one who’d share that with me. I realize that you are the fulfillment of all my hopes and aspirations. I love you for all you stand for. Would you consider letting me into your life?”
Cindy paused and thought too. “Chris I’d prefer it if you didn’t make it such a theoretical exercise. Why don’t you just ask me now directly rather than talk about months of demonstrations on your part that you could be a good guy to consider for marriage. Just put this into a direct question and I’ll give you an answer now.
“Cindy I want to marry you would you be happy to have me as a husband?”
“Yes, I’ve wanted to hear that from you as a genuine wish for years. Please ask my father’s permission when he shows up for a visit later. He will say yes but do our family that courtesy.”
Chris and Cindy having the good wishes of their parents decided Christmas being a time of presents they’d plan for a wedding on Christmas day. That day represented giving at its most magnanimous in gifts and they wanted to share that spirit on that specific day.
As Chris now fully recovered watched his soon to be bride walk down the aisle on her father’s arm he reflected on how much love Cindy had expressed in the giving of a kidney so he could live. Very appropriate to celebrate that principle then on this day. At the reception as his turn to speak came Chris referred to his wife’s expression of love. Love produces love he said as he acknowledged his wife and his love for his wife was deep and forever. It was not her kidney, but it was the giving of herself that expressed her love for him. He viewed her as the greatest present he could ever have and vowed to demonstrate his love for her in everything he did as they commenced life together.
© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved
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