If you ask anyone who knows me what my favorite holiday is they will tell you, “Oh, the Irish redhead? Definitely Cinco de Mayo!” Like many holidays, there is great historical significance that gets a little lost in the celebratory shuffle. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the most important day in Mexico – that is actually September 16th, Mexico’s Independence Day. Recently, Cinco de Mayo has become more of an “American” holiday, and similar to St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrate it differently in the United States than they do in Mexico. Boy, do I love it though! The food, the music, and, of course, the margaritas!! In addition to all of that, there is a different and much more significant reason why I love it.
One afternoon on May 5th 1992, in his early twenties, long before we met, my now-husband was riding as a passenger in his friend’s car when a large pick-up truck with its winter plow still attached (although the snow was long gone) made a left hand turn across the lane into their oncoming car. The accident resulted in a broken nose and several lacerations on the face of his friend, the driver. For my husband, however, the injuries he sustained were far more serious and life changing. A fractured C2 vertebrae (the same vertebrae that paralyzed Christopher Reeve and killed Dale Earnhardt on impact), dislocated shoulder as a result of torn ligaments, and multiple lacerations on the face and legs requiring many stitches. This was all discovered after the jaws of life extracted him from the car.
For the sake of brevity (which for those who know me, know I am not good with), I will skip through the details of the first EMT on the scene who recognized him as a former classmate, assessed the shattered windshield and realized they were dealing with a head trauma that needed to be handled with great care. The nurse in the ER who tried to get him to stand up from the gurney he was laying on, with sandbags stabilizing his head and neck, “to better help her to take his x-rays.” The flock of medical staff that came rushing down the hallway to stop her from this almost huge mistake and sandbagging his head again after they saw the paramedics report. The stubborn 20-something year old that he was, deciding against his doctor’s recommendations for a halo collar (one that is bolted into the sides of the head) and instead choosing to wear a brace, which is used in far less severe injuries; a dangerous decision considering that moving his neck a ¼ inch in any direction could cause pieces of broken vertebrae bone to get into his spinal column and paralyze him any second. Confined to a hospital bed for months, long before the internet, social media and Netflix to pass the time, he read newspapers, played countless video games with friends, watched movies that a thoughtful local video store provided him with, and in his own words, “spent the day trying to kill time so another day stuck in a hospital bed would go by quickly.” Although his medical team predicted his recovery to be roughly 18 months, instead, he was up and about in only 8! Spending that time watching the seasons, and snowfalls tick by gave him time to think and reflect on his life, goals and motivations. His outlook on life as a result of that accident always inspires me. One thing I do know is you will never (at least not before having our boys) catch him in a movie theater during daylight hours; he refuses to “spend time in a theater and waste a day.” As his Doctors and therapists constantly said to him in awe each time they saw him; it was a miracle he was even alive, never mind not paralyzed.
In the years after the accident, he met his parents each May 5th for dinner as a sort of celebration. On May 5th, 2001, for the first time in 9 years, after traveling home from a work trip to California, he called his mom to say he was exhausted and would not be joining them that night. In the meantime, a good friend of his called on him to be his wing man for the evening to meet up with a girl he was interested in. Although tired, and not in the mood to go out, he agreed to head to a local Mexican restaurant. Also out with friends that evening, two of whom were meeting guys they recently started dating, was me. I had just wrapped up a production of a play I was in the week before and would rather have been home that Saturday night in my jammies and reading. But fate works in funny ways, and it was that night that I met my husband. We literally bumped into each other in the overly crowded restaurant. Previously convinced I would always meet my future husband in the travel section of Barnes & Noble, or reaching for the same pint of ice-cream in the grocery store (and not a Mexican Restaurant Bar), I was, to say the least, a little rough on the question and answer portion of our conversation. As my husband often loves to interject when telling this story, it was at this point that a metal chair and lone hanging light bulb appeared out of nowhere as my interrogation began (really, I wasn’t THAT bad!). “What was the last book you read? Oh, you like to cook? What are your three best recipes? What are your hobbies? If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would it be?” I peppered him with questions and his answers, both genuine and interesting, were also intriguing. During that exchange, one of my friends who was randomly snapping pictures of the evening stuck the camera in front of us and said “Say Cheese!” Jokingly, my husband-to-be put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me next to him for a quick pose. We had so much in common as we talked and his kindness and humor led to a first date, countless others, a fantastic proposal, beautiful wedding day, two trips to Italy (the answer for both us for the “If you could go anywhere in the world” question), and three boys. As I look back on the picture that my friend had developed and gave to me a few weeks later, it quickly became one of my most treasured possessions. We look like we had known each far longer than just the 10 minutes we had been talking. Now, 15 years later, he has been there for the best days of my life, and recently, some of my hardest. While I still love the fun, food and celebration of Cinco de Mayo, in our home, each year when May 5th makes its way to the front of the calendar, we lift a margarita and chip to recognize a date on which one life was miraculously spared, and that same date when a new life with two people began.
In the spirit of kicking off Cinco de Mayo, here is a favorite easy Margarita recipe of ours for you to toast with!
~ 2 oz Tequila
~1 oz Triple sec
~1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
~Mix well & serve over ice. Salt optional