Dale and meIt’s becoming a habit every summer. One that I could get used to. My friend Dale, who is a teacher and a coach by trade, comes up to Lawrence for three days a week, several weeks in a row, and he works as my caregiver. The arrangement came about last year. I was short on caregivers and he needed some employment in the summer months. It would be safe to say that the whole thing was his idea. Given that we live several hours apart, he leaves from Clearwater, Kansas, a small town outside of Wichita, while it is still dark outside. He arrives at 8 a.m. and works through the day until about 11 p.m., and he crashes on my sofa in between. On the third day he leaves at about 6 in the evening, so he packs 40 hours into three days. Then he spends four days at home with his wife and family and does the same thing for the several weeks that follow.

The setup works well for both of us. It gives him the employment that he needs for the summer and it helps me out when my caregivers are in short supply. That makes it a win-win situation. When Dale is here he works like a maniac. He does a gazillion loads of laundry that he folds and puts away. He washes the dishes after every meal that he prepares. (He makes a mean stir fry, I tell you. He even keeps the veggies crunchy.) This year while he was here we cleaned out and organized my shed, he painted part of my carport, he weeded around my bushes and trimmed the shrubs in my backyard. He got up on a ladder and cleaned my gutters. We went through and donated some of my books and movies, sprayed my whole house for bugs, and brought my service dog to the vet. He thought nothing of helping me in and out of the shower or helping me get dressed or ready for bed. Whenever I thanked him for his kindness he quickly shrugged it off and reminded me that he considers me family.

Awwww. Right back at you, Dale!

Perhaps one of my favorite things that Dale and I do when we are together is to reminisce about memories we have from college. This year one memory stood out above all the others.

It was probably during my junior year and it had been an exceptionally long week. Dale and I typically hung out with a group of students from the Baptist Student Union. On that Friday night, several of our friends wanted to go bowling. I never want to be considered a party pooper, but spending the evening simply watching other people bowl (which was something I didn’t think I could do) did not sound like my idea of a good time. I tried to bow out gracefully, telling everyone that I was tired and planned on spending a quiet evening at home reading a good book. It was truth.

Dale knew me well. He said “Lorraine, if you come bowling with us, I promise you will have fun. Please?

Who can pass up a request like that from a guy who so many young women had a crush on?

At the bowling alley, several people did their best to try and get me to successfully hit some pins. I was given the lightest ball in the building. Many friends tried holding my wheelchair in various ways to give me leverage. One guy even picked me up out of my chair and put me on the floor, in front of the lane, and had me push off on the bowling ball between my knees. Nothing worked. No matter what we attempted, the end result was nothing but gutter. I put my foot down when one of the staff offered to put those tubes filled with air in the gutters. I realize that he was trying to help, but even 21-year old’s (my age at the time) have to maintain their dignity.

There were only a few frames left in the last game. Dale had been observing everything but had not said much the whole night. Finally, he came up to me with an amused look on his face.

“I know what the problem is, Lorraine.” He declared. “It’s the shoes. You don’t have any bowling shoes.”

With that, he took the shoes off his feet and replaced my tennis shoes with them. Then when it was my turn, he wheeled me up to the bowling lane and held my chair in place. “Concentrate quiche,” he said. It was his nickname for me. He always had a theory that I had been named after food. Quiche Lorraine. Get it?

I took a breath and swung the ball down the lane in front of me. Not only did I hit some pins, but I got a strike. Everyone in the whole place cheered like crazy. Except Dale.

He said only one thing. “I knew it was the shoes.”

Dale and I met during my first week at college in 1987. We have supported each other through trials and triumphs and everything in between. There is something extraordinary about friendships that span several decades.

I am at a place in my life currently where I would like to meet more people and socialize more often than I do currently. Unless he works as one of my caregivers, Dale and I don’t see each other much. So, whomever I spend social time with at this point sort of has some big shoes to fill.

Even if they aren’t bowling shoes…