Flamingos became a part of our family story when my cousin and I insisted that my Uncle Wayne find a new way to mark his crab pots. All we found in the bay marking the pots were plastic milk containers that all looked alike. It took my cousin and I hours to find our family pots off the coast of Camano Island. To solve this issue, I sent him bright plastic pink flamingos to attach to his crap pot buoys. This began decades of gift exchanges. The more outrageous the better. My aunt even devoted part of her otherwise “Sunset magazine worthy” garden to display a flock of questionable flamingo garden decor. She and my uncle have been on the receiving end of countless gifts from friends and family who have joined in the playful exchange.
Wayne is my mom’s first cousin, not really my uncle, he is my cousin. My grandmother was his father’s younger sister. Mum and her siblings grew up with Wayne and his brother. They were two plus years apart in age and shared many family dinners and holiday times together. I use the term uncle as an affectionate nod to way I care about him. I have been lucky to spend a great deal of time with he and his family, especially on Camano Island, where they spend Summers.
My “uncle” Wayne was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nearly twenty years ago. He will turn eighty next month. His birthday is the day after mine, November 24. Over the years I have watched him valiantly fight to maintain his independence as the disease has slowly stolen his muscle control and much of his mobility. He had a surgery called deep brain stimulation twice to help relieve some of his symptoms. Yes, BRAIN surgery. He also takes medicine every 3-4 hours to help him maintain mobility. Walkers and scooters help him to navigate the landscape of his life. He has a recumbent bike that he rides as often as he can. It is an exhausting existence to observe, yet he does so with courage and little complaint. He is quick to offer a joke or witty remark, he laughs often, AND he continues to show up despite the challenges. We share a new level of appreciation for one another, a deeper understanding. We share more than a family tree, more than our flamingos. We share our diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
When I decided to participate in a fundraising walk and gathered my team, I named our team, Team Flamingo. Flamingos are a unique bird, bright in color and survive in the most extreme climates, they thrive in the muck. They stay in large family flocks and are very social. Just like Uncle Wayne and me trying to thrive in the muck of an uncurable brain disease keeping family and friends close. The pink flamingo never fails to bring a smile to my face.
This year I participated in my fourth Sole Support Walk raising funds for Parkinson’s Resources of Oregon (PRO). This organization is the umbrella agency that coordinates support groups in Oregon and is a phenomenal central place for anyone to access information about providers, support, respite and social work services. They support the Young Onset Happy Hour group that I co-founded. It was the third year of Team Flamingo. We raised just over $5000. It was a great event full of family, community, laughter, exercise and music. The flock was strong with many other young onset women who share my challenge and make it worth the fight. I am so very grateful for all that participated, donated, cheered for and loved me through another year.
Despite the muck …..WE WILL SURVIVE AND THRIVE.