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A Valentines Day Reflection


February 14, 2018 (2018©donnliston.com)

EDITOR’s Note: Cathy Liston died February 24, 2019. This is a melancholy remembrance one year before her passing.

For 28 years Valentine’s Day has beat out Christmas, Thanksgiving,
Halloween, and April Fool’s Day as my favorite holiday. Valentine’s Day is the
day I married Cathy, in 1990.

In the early years we both wondered aloud how long the
honeymoon might last. I’m happy to say it has never ended.

Cathy wasn’t so convinced we should marry at the time
because we had been seeing each other for only a few months. When we both took
off one day during lunch to get our marriage license—and after we filled out
the paperwork I didn’t have the money to pay for the marriage license–she must
have had second thoughts.

I was on a cash only economy, and it was simply an

Despite my embarrassment Cat obviously knew what she was getting
into; every time I had brought my paycheck to her teller station I asked that
she write the amount in the bank account on the receipt, so I would know how much
I had until my next paycheck.

Once we were married Cat made sure all the bills were paid on
time and I always had $100 on my money clip. Instructional note: Two people can
live cheaper than one.

We resided in efficiency apartments across the hall from
each other on the 5th floor of the

Light shines on the Mendenhall Apartments from the corner

of the street across from the Alaska Capitol.

Mendenhall Apartments, two blocks
up 4th Street
from the capitol, in Juneau.
Her apartment had a spectacular view of Gastineau Channel while my apartment
was slightly larger with a walk-in closet I had turned into a black & white
photo lab. Once married, we both moved into my apartment until we could save
enough money for a down-payment on a home.

I worked for the teacher’s union, NEA-Alaska in an office
down the hill. Her job involved protecting a lot of legislator’s personal
funds. My job included responding to members’ requests, and trying to get many
of Cathy’s legislator customers to give ever more public money to education.

I was also on the bargaining team of employees of NEA-Alaska
as we attempted to negotiate a successor contract with our teacher’s union employer.
Working as support staff for NEA-Alaska negotiations against 54 school
districts, I understood what employees of the union should also expect in our
employment contract. However, I was astounded on several occasions at what the
union expected for teachers but did not expect to give its own employees!

Click to read about the best thing about Los Anchorage

My role–on the union of employees of the teacher’s union bargaining
team–required regular trips to Anchorage
for negotiation sessions. It was on one of those trips, returning to Juneau, that I
implemented a bright Idea: How about having my favorite senator marry Cat and

Some might recall when Alaska Airlines on occasion featured gourmet
meals. This particular plane was full of legislators and other dignitaries. The
midtown Anchorage
senator from the district where I grew up was Arliss Sturgulewski–a widow—flying
in first class. After eating the sumptuous dinner I scratched out a note to
Sen. Sturgulewski, asking if she would be willing to marry us, and the steward
delivered it to her. I waited with bated breath for her response.

Suddenly, Sen. Sturgulewski arose from her seat and came to
the bulkhead, with my piece of paper held up to eye level, and announced: “Donn
Liston, I would be very happy to marry you!”

There was a gasp from those within earshot, and after a
pregnant pause she continued: “…to Cathy Gault.” Everyone laughed and my face
must have been valentine red.

On that Valentine’s Day Cathy and I walked over the Capitol
and into Sen. Sturgulewski’s office. There were beautiful flowers, supportive
staff, and the ceremony was wonderful. The Juneau Empire sent Mark Kelly to
take our picture and it appeared in the paper as a news item. (See his current FaceBook

We went to Haines for our honeymoon and stayed at the
Captain’s Choice motel. In our haste we had forgotten to grab our suitcase and
only had the matching sweat suits we had bought for the occasion. Who needs
clothes on a honeymoon anyway?

The years have passed so quickly, EVERY Valentine’s Day
being a highlight of the entire year. In our lives together, Cat and I have seized
opportunities and faced challenges, confident in our sacred bond.

Our biggest challenge has always been her health. We face it
head-on and we deal with it in whatever manner necessary. In 2003 a major
health event resulted in her being held in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Hospital for 11 days. Our doctor told me
I could expect to have her in my life 2-3 years. It was devastating; I was a
newly certified teacher, we were living in a new home, and I had grandkids
without ever having kids. How could I lose her now?

I thank God for every day since then; each day a bonus—15

In April of 2017 we got another downgrade of Cathy’s health
status; she tripped in the dark over our youngest granddaughter’s toys while
visiting in Ohio,
and cracked three ribs. Upon her return to Eagle River,
the same doctor who had treated her before found on the x-ray lesions the size
of her thumbs in both lungs. Treatments began immediately and her lifespan was
now projected to be in months.

By October, due to new Chemo options, those lesions were the
size of peas! The oncologist was ecstatic! We were winning the battle against
cancer on this level.

I took a new job in December and we drove our truck and 5th
wheel trailer to Haines, then took the Alaska Marine Highway to Juneau, for the upcoming
legislative session. We stayed again at the Captain’s Choice. January
temperatures in single digits froze up our camper home in Juneau. We moved into an efficiency apartment
while I received updated training as a legislative staffer.

Soon Cat became very sick.

A scan of Cat’s brain at Bartlett Memorial
found a 2 cm
lesion. We returned to Anchorage where she received “gamma knife” treatments
from which she is now recuperating at our youngest daughter’s home near the
Cleveland Clinic—one of the best cancer hospitals in the world. I am back on
the job in Juneau
and we are looking forward to a glorious road trip home after Session in the

Forgive me if I am sentimental, but this Valentine’s Day
will be a celebration of all the others we have shared together.

I love you more than ever, Cat!

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