I grew up in a place -- Riverton, Utah -- that, up until the late '80s or so, was very much like the stereotypical small town you see in movies and old TV sitcoms. I lived on a pleasant road lined (at that time) with big shade trees; there was a single grocery store whose staff knew my mother by name; and my dad did a lot of barter work with the neighbors, trading his mechanical knowledge for labor to help build our barn, among other things. But even then, Riverton's small-town atmosphere was something of a fading illusion -- traffic along that tree-lined road grew heavier with each passing year, and tract houses were quietly springing up like mushrooms after the rain.
The community to the south of Riverton, however, a place called Bluffdale... well, that really was a small town. Bluffdale didn't even have its own grocery store, or a school for its children, or much of anything really except alfalfa fields and cows and pick-up trucks. Bluffdale old-timers still refer to driving the three miles over to Riverton for groceries as "going to town," as if they were trekking in from the Outback to the Big City. This is where my lovely Anne, a.k.a. The Girlfriend, grew up, playing with the neighbor kids that were her age, babysitting the ones that were younger, being watched over herself by the ones that were older.
It was the sort of upbringing that leaves deep and lasting roots. Many of Anne's "old gang" still live right there in the old neighborhood, and the ones who have moved on in search of greener pastures -- or any kind of pastures, considering that Bluffdale is now "developing" just like its big brother Riverton -- seem to keep in better touch with their childhood friends than most. When something bad happens to one of them, the word gets around. And people do what they can to help.
A while back, Anne got the word that something very bad indeed had happened to one of the old gang. A guy named Nate Pemberton lost his wife Jenni and their unborn fourth child to something called an "amniotic embolism," a rare and not-very-well-understood complication of pregnancy that kills nearly 80 percent of the women it afflicts. Just to make things more interesting, the couple didn't have any health insurance. So now, in addition to trying to deal with his grief and raise their other three kids alone, Nate has to find a way, somehow, to cover a bundle of very large medical bills.
To try to help Nate, the old gang and the larger community of Bluffdale old-timers have set up a fund in the name of Jennifer M. Pemberton at Zions Bank to collect donations. (If you live out of state, there's also a PayPal account that will feed into the same fund). More impressively, they're mounting a benefit concert headlined by local country-western performer J. Marc Bailey. Now, I'm not a big fan of country music, but I have seen Marc perform -- I've also met him via a mutual acquaintance -- and I can attest that he puts on a good show. He's had some rock 'n' roll influences and his music isn't strictly country. This ought to be a decent night's entertainment, and of course it's for a good cause. If you're interested either in contributing or attending the concert, you can find the details on this memorial blog or e-mail me and I'll make sure you get the facts you need.
I have to confess that I don't actually know Nate. I knew who the Pembertons were back in the day, but due to a quirk of timing they were all either ahead of me or behind me in school, so I never actually got acquainted with them. However, Anne knows them and the news about Nate's troubles shook her. Shook me a little, too, to be honest. The word "tragedy" gets thrown around pretty easily these days, but if this story doesn't qualify as a genuine tragedy, I don't know what would. I don't want to taint this noble cause with politics, but it seems to me the story of Jenni and Nate Pemberton is a damn good example of why we need to get serious about renovating our healthcare system in this country. It's absolute nonsense that a country that calls itself the "richest nation on Earth" can't set up something so good working people from small towns don't have to worry about bill collectors pounding on their doors during the worst year of their lives. Stories like Nate's are pretty common, and the injustice of them always makes me angry. The Europeans consider access to healthcare a basic human right, and they never have to worry about losing their homes when something unexpected happens. So why can't we Americans, who used to lead the world in just about every way you can think of but lately seem to be sitting on the sidelines, say the same thing?
Forgive the mini-rant. As I said, these stories get my dander up. Anyway, if anyone reading this knows the Pembertons or lives in the Salt Lake/Provo area and wants to see a good concert, or even if you're a total stranger who's just looking for a way to spend some of that free money George W. is sending to us this month, please check out that blog I mentioned and throw a couple of dollars into the hat. It's a good cause. And it's a way to keep that small-town atmosphere alive just a little while longer...