Bustin’ Out All Over With Memories and Surprises

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by Helen Baldwin |

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yo-yoing | SMA News Today | main graphic for column titled "We're Not in Kansas Anymore," by Helen Baldwin, depicting a blue wave offset by green nature scenes

Birthdays, including my own awesome one last month, and other notable days — Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, school year’s end — dot the May calendar. June’s tally of memorable days is no slouch, either. My husband, Randy, and I married in June (47 years ago!), as did both sets of my grandparents and a niece. Additionally, our daughter Katie and son-in-law Paul celebrate their 10th anniversary next week. There are June birthdays and angel anniversaries. My late father-in-law’s birthday wraps up the month on June 30.


At the end of one of Katie’s college years, she emailed me about a dog found wandering around the stables where a friend worked. In a totally unsurprising turn of events, Katie, who had tried to find the dog’s owners, begged me to come get her (the dog, not Katie), as pets weren’t allowed in the dorm. She mumbled something about her responsibility as a resident assistant. Equally unsurprisingly, I dropped everything and drove two hours to retrieve (pun) the beautiful golden retriever, “Maybelline.” We were hooked immediately. When Maybelline’s family was located just two days after Katie arrived home for the summer, the tears spilled at the thought of losing this delightful goofball.

Alas, the family came to get “Kali,” whom they’d gotten as a puppy almost 11 years before. However, when they witnessed Kali’s absolute joy retrieving sticks and balls from our pond, they decided to leave her. Perhaps the fact that Kali ignored them had something to do with it. Kali’s birthday was June 1. She didn’t have many birthdays with us, but they were the best possible.

Kali in her favorite state — dripping wet. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Our dog Honey joined our family seven years ago on June 15. Randy and I had survived as a cat-only family long enough. On the day before Father’s Day, Katie, sensing I was weakening for another dog, announced that she and Paul had a coupon from the Charleston Animal Society. They would go right then (before I changed my tune) to see what was available.

Almost before I could hang up, Katie reported that they’d found a dog that seemed perfect. She sent a photo and a little video of “Honey” (as they’d dubbed her) before they picked up their two dogs from home to see how all three got along. Honey was an American Staffordshire mix. My eyes bulged. A pit bull? That was the very dog I’d insisted we could never have because we were going to have grandchildren! And we had a cat … with an attitude!

While Katie and Paul were rounding up their own rascals to meet Honey, I scoured all I could about the American Staffy. By the time Katie relayed that all dogs got along, I decided this did sound like the perfect dog.

Honey hasn’t disappointed.

Honey and the late Sami, BFFs in the sunny spot. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


Our third baby, Jeffrey, was due on June 1, 1997. My doctor’s trip to the beach in mid May brought on early labor, of course, and an arrival date of May 18. Given what was lurking on down the road, Jeffrey’s early appearance was a blessing, allowing us extra time to simply enjoy the new member of our family. He was beautiful and an easy, happy baby — surely compensation from God for handing us a newborn in middle age.

Drawing of Jeffrey by Katie, age 7. (Courtesy of Helen Baldwin)

The bliss of our bonus baby lasted through June. In fact, other than my thyroidectomy and a visit from Randy’s mom, the month may have possibly passed as normal.

July made up for it with Jeffrey’s diagnosis of SMA. The next few months, until our assignment ended, packed a wallop with a particularly powerful punch.


June 14 was World Blood Donor Day. My father was an extraordinary teacher and elementary school principal. He was also such an avid believer in the importance of donating blood that he formed a blood bank for school employees in our large local Texas school district. It blossomed impressively, thanks mostly to Dad’s generosity as a prolific donor and his genuine enthusiasm and appreciation when others did the same.

Helen’s dad in a favorite shirt. (Courtesy of Helen Baldwin)

Ironically, it was likely a blood donation Dad received during back surgery — on my 16th birthday — that would set his health on a downward spiral spanning over three decades. The blood was apparently (and unwittingly) tainted with some potent bugs without identification for years. The final stretch of its effect ended on June 29, 2006.


For years after Dad’s death, I was still shocked to hear his robust “THANK YOU FOR CALLING …” on the voicemail recording on Mom’s phone. What a letdown it was when a generic female’s voice took over many months ago.

The other day, Mom didn’t answer when I called. I was about to hang up when Dad’s familiar hearty greeting jolted me. Although the annual ads claim that we’re supposed to give our fathers something on Father’s Day, sometimes it’s the other way around.

June: memories and a few surprises. And a pretty hard act to follow.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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