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Wang celebrates birthday, Easter with special dinners

From David Chen, husband of Theresa Wang, who is recovering from injuries sustained in the Nov. 19 car crash that also injured Colt Brennan:

Aloha to our Ohana,

During the early 1900s, a wave of settlers from the mountains of the French and Spanish Pyrenees came to start a new life in Bakersfield. These immigrants referred to themselves as coming from the Basque country, and with them they brought their farming and sheepherding skills. To say their descendants have thrived in this agricultural paradise is an understatement.

The Basque have learned to perpetuate their culture, which is first the people, then their social events, the eating, drinking, laughing, dancing, singing and whatever God may have desired for the Basque and their friends to take pleasure in and enjoy.

And it was ensconced in this spirit of joy that Theresa and I celebrated her birthday with dinner at Chalet Basque, one of close to a dozen such restaurants in the area.

Wheeling into the main dining area was an experience in itself. The rehab aides at the Center for Neuro Skills told us the service was family-style and sure enough, many of the diners were in groups of 10 or more and they most certainly looked related. With just the two of us, the hostess (who coincidentally was from Shanghai) asked us to wait a bit as they opened another section.

My suspicion is they usually seat parties of two in the booths but that wouldn’t work with Theresa’s wheelchair. Once seated, we browsed through the menu and settled on some entrees, the braised lamb for Theresa and pork chops for me. If anyone out there is disgusted by our choices, be reminded that if God didn’t want us to eat meat, He wouldn’t have made animals so tasty!

The best part of the Basque dining experience is that with the exception of the entree and drinks, everything else is included. Not only is there endless bread, soup and salad, but even the appetizers and sides are generous.

The server hinted that some first-time diners are put off by the pickled tongue dish; however Theresa delighted in it along with the delicious cabbage soup for which we enjoyed a second helping. Sitting there just watching, listening to and enjoying dinner conversation with Theresa made for a wonderful evening that I will always remember.

And for the first time since before the accident, I noticed Theresa was using her knife and fork with both hands rather than just favoring her stronger side. With this abundance of food and drink, it wasn’t long before Theresa needed a bathroom break, so off we went in search of the facilities.

Being with someone in a wheelchair has given me a new perspective on handicap-accessible bathrooms and how they can differ tremendously. The most convenient are the ones where there is enough room next to the toilet to back in the wheelchair, allowing the occupant to slide over without too much effort.

Others are barely wider than public stalls with just enough room to get the wheelchair inside facing the toilet, so the user must stand and do a 180 degree pivot. In Denver, we had some difficulty with this type of stall and sure enough, that was all Chalet Basque offered.

Once we were in and the door was closed, I was contemplating how to assist Theresa with her transfer in the tight quarters when she just stood up, grabbed the safety rails and slowly stepped and turned until she was ready to sit down.

To the casual observer, these may seem like small steps but to know how far Theresa has come, this really is just one more sign of our Lord blessing us with His healing grace.

The scheduled outing the next morning was the weekly grocery shopping trip and this time, the rehab aide suggested that it would be a good planning exercise for Theresa to see if she could stick to the $75 budget for food only. That pretty much ruled out Trader Joe’s for the most part as Theresa spent almost double the budget there the last time I was in town.

So we went into Albertson’s instead and were doing pretty well with Theresa mostly selecting products on sale and keeping a rough tally on the back of her shopping list. She even managed to squeeze in a strawberry tres-leche birthday cake, something we didn’t have room for the night before and now she wanted to share it with her roommates and the rehab aides.

At the check-out, I watched the total purchase amount ring up and sure enough, it stopped at $73; that is until the cashier asked if there was anything else, which was Theresa’s cue to reach up to the magazine rack and throw in a special wedding publication celebrating Prince William and Kate Middleton, which blew the budget completely.

This is an old trick she used to pull pre-aneurysm so in some ways, I am grateful for that side of her coming back too. Still, the look of enjoyment and wonder as she read about the royals and shared cake with everyone made it worthwhile.

Easter Sunday arrived and following a beautiful Spanish mass service, we ventured to the local shopping center in search of stationery and thank-you cards. Theresa has received close to if not more than 100 get-well cards and her goal is to reply to each sender as her time and energy permits.

She chose a box of 24 at Target and then we decided to wheel through the mall for a look-see. That turned out to be a mistake as the sound of muzak competing with loud conversations, music from other stores, echoes and the such conspired to give both of us headaches.

Taking refuge from the noise, we detoured into what appeared to be a department store but was Forever 21, a clothing and accessory outlet geared towards younger ladies and those still clinging to youthfulness. We’ve heard of this store, but up to now had never been inside one.

At first it was fascinating to see an entire department-size store devoted to the young miss set but soon enough, their music also took its toll and we headed for the nearest exit and returned to the CNS residence, just in time for Easter dinner.

To celebrate Easter, the CNS staff prepared a special meal consisting of beef tri-tip, salad, rice & beans, and assorted desserts for the residents and their visitors. It was a nice surprise and a wonderful way to cap off a beautiful day celebrating our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

There also were baskets of easter eggs on each table with chocolates and other goodies inside. Theresa’s aide, Darlene, dined with us and I asked her half-jokingly why the eggs weren’t hidden for everyone to find.

Her completely serious reply was that it was tried in the past however the results were unexpected as some of the residents became obsessed and looked into the wee hours of the night. Sometimes, it’s just simpler to hit the EASY button.

With dinner completed, it was fast approaching 8 p.m. and I had a 4 a.m. wake-up call for my return flight to Kona on Monday. Theresa and I spent a few more precious moments together as I wheeled her back to her apartment.

She thanked me for coming out and said that this weekend together was her best birthday gift ever. I fully agree and continue to praise our Heavenly Father for all He has blessed us with.

Kissing Theresa farewell, I drove back towards the hotel but not five minutes later, her distinctive ring tone (the nose twitching sound from Bewitched) alerted me to who was calling. Sure enough, Theresa was checking if I was safely back and that she was already missing me.

To heck with the hotel room, I turned around and returned to the apartment where Theresa and I spent more of our last evening together. The simple acts of chatting, folding laundry and applying Maderna gel to some of her fast-disappearing scars brought loving joy to my heart, a feeling that remained long after I said farewell for the second time that night.


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