A Servant’s Heart

It’s time I introduce you to the most important person in my life, my wife Maria.  So today’s topic is all about her.

Maria is my Cuban bonita (beauty)!  She’s a gorgeous woman, with a bright smile and cheerful disposition.  She loves life and everybody likes Maria.  People aren’t afraid to say “Schmahl, you really married over your head.” And they’re right…I got lucky!

When my dad first met Maria he described her as “vivacious.”  In the dictionary, that means “lively, spirited, animated, having or displaying tenacity of life.” Vivacious…it’s a pretty good description.

Maria was born in Cuba and has an older and younger brother, Humberto and Jesus.  Her dad has passed and I call her mom, Nilda, the best mother-in-law in the world because she is!  Maria’s family got lucky and was able to move from the communist regime in Cuba to the United States in 1968.  They went straight from a tropical island to Lincoln, Nebraska.  Paradise to the frozen tundra…lives totally turned upside down in two quick days!  They arrived in January when winters in Nebraska can be brutal.  The day Maria stepped off the plane was the first time she ever saw snow or ever felt what real cold is like.

Maria’s family came to the U.S. without a dime in their pocket and only the clothes on their back.  She didn’t know a word of English…it was a totally new culture…and for a girl in the 7th grade, it was tough.

The Ramirez family received some financial help early on but they came to the United States to make a better life for themselves and they weren’t interested in hand-outs.  The first couple of years were difficult.  Everyone worked to help support the family and they’d pinch every hard earned penny.  They missed their homeland, but they were also thankful for the new opportunity the United States offered.

Maria doesn’t have much sympathy for what others would call “the less fortunate.”  Here’s how I would paraphrase her philosophy on the subject.

Look, if we could come to the United States with no money, no English, no handouts and make it, so can you!  There are very few problems in life that hard work can’t solve.  So get off your lazy butt, work hard, and take the responsibility to improve your own life. Don’t expect or think you deserve a handout.”

That’s Maria.  She’s Cuban through and through…which means she’s got a Latin temper and isn’t afraid to express herself at all when she’s mad.  Trust me, I’ve gotten hundreds of earfuls over the last 33 years…and usually she is in the right (but not always J).

When I met Maria in 1980, I was immediately attracted to her.  She was indeed a beautiful, vivacious, and fun young woman.  We married just over a year later and have been together ever since.  It hasn’t been a perfect marriage.  Like everyone, we’ve had our ups and downs…but it definitely has been a happy marriage.  I wouldn’t call her “the love of my life” or say we’re “soul mates.”  We’re just best friends and we always enjoy spending time together.

In Maria’s book, family is everything.  And the reason I entitled this chapter “A Servant’s Heart” is because that’s what she has especially when it comes to taking care of the two boys in her life.  There is no amount of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc…that she won’t do for us.

Maria absolutely adores Zach and the feeling is mutual.  They’ve always had a special, extremely close relationship that I’ve envied.  When the three of us are having an argument about Schmackary’s, I’ll always step in because naturally “father knows best.”  If it’s a dispute between Maria and Zach, he’ll sternly say, “Dad, butt out of it, I know how to handle mom!”

Maria loves to spoil Zach.  She loves cooking his favorite meals and she loves it when he brings laundry over to our place so she can still take care of her little boy.  There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for him.  Zach doesn’t like it when Maria goes over to his apartment when it’s messy, not that he’s embarrassed over the mess, but because he knows mom will start cleaning right away just to help him out.

Maria doesn’t like to think about the fact that I might die from the big c.  In the introduction to The Last Train I wrote, “Why did Terry encourage me to start writing? Because I am going to die.”  When Maria read those words it made her really mad.  She said, “I don’t want you to talk about dying, I want you to fight this with everything you’ve got!”  Anytime the subject of death has come up in the last two months, she gets angry.  She doesn’t want to even think about it.  I told her the other morning while holding her, “Don’t worry dear, I’m going to outlive you by 10 years.”  She replied, “There, I like that much better, and I certainly hope so!”

But I do worry about what will happen to Maria when I’m gone.  In her eyes, life boils down to just the three of us living and loving each other every day.  My number one prayer has been that God will take care of Maria and help fill the void when the likely happens.  I’m so glad that Zach will be by her side, because just as she has taken care of her little boy every day of his life, he’ll be doing the same for her when I’m gone.

I love you Maria, with all my heart.  And come to think of it, you are indeed the love of my life!

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Medical Health update:

A lot of people wonder what ‘s it like to be on chemotherapy treatment.  I know for each and every one of us that has been or is on chemo, the symptoms are different, unique to every big c patient.  And they’re often very heard to describe.

But here’s how I’m going to describe it, and sorry if this gets a little gross for some of you.  I think my description will show just how brutally honest, straight-from-the-heart I’m trying to be with you riders (you’re not readers or followers to me…you’re my riders on The Last Train).

I just don’t feel “normal” anymore…and mainly it’s because my bowel movements have changed so much.

Maria, Zach, and I enjoy a little bathroom humor with one another and it usually involves toots (what we call them).  Whenever somebody “let’s one” Zach will exclaim in deeper than normal voice “baby gots gas.”  It stems from an old Eddie Murphy movie.  Invariable we’ll start giggling or laughing, and the smellier or louder the toot, the more we’ll laugh.

I’ve always been very normal when it comes to bowel movements. Once in a blue moon I’ll get constipated or have diarrhea…but 99 percent of the time I’m very normal and predictable in this area.

But not anymore!  As Forrest Gump would say “it’s like a box of chocolates”, I never quite know what I’m going to get.

One day it’s diarrhea, another day I’m constipated, and then I just might be back to normal.  Sometimes, it can change several times within each day.  And man do I ever have the toots! I’ll let loose with one in front of Maria (I’ve never by shy about tooting in front of her, in fact I’ve always kind of enjoyed it) and she’ll wave her hand in front of her nose and exclaim, “Man, you are rotten inside!”

I still giggle about one of my favorite moments when I was dating Maria.  We were sitting on the couch at her mom’s house and she kept getting up and going into the bathroom every couple of minutes.  I finally held her down and wouldn’t let her go.  And sure enough, my darling, little new sweetheart had the toots…the smelly kind.  She was totally embarrassed but I just laughed.

I’ve really been lucky so far…almost no pain at all from the chemo or big c.  But I have dozens of reminders, maybe even hundreds of them each day that I’m not normal anymore.  Dizziness, fatigue, tummy aches, weakness, lots of little things like that.  Nothing bad…just little reminders/side effects of chemo.

The way I gauge how I feel…and I ask myself this question several times each day…could I play golf right now?  Sometimes the answer is yes, but usually it’s no, something’s just not right.  Deep down I can sense that there’s something wrong with me inside.


the big c:

I hope this is the last time you ever read the word “cancer” in The Last Train.  I hate this vile, disgusting, killing disease that has taken the lives of millions.  It is important to respect the power of your enemy but you don’t have to like your enemy.

I hate the big c…and I won’t even dignify this disease in my blog by calling it by name.

I’m not even going to capitalize “the big c”…it doesn’t deserve to be elevated to caps.

I can’t wait for the day when a brilliant research scientist or group of medical experts finally puts an end to this repugnant disease that has cut far too many lives short.


Next stop: Hitting Rock Bottom