It was 2017 and we had just received the news, "It's back. The Cancer has spread." My wife, Katie, being the best wife a guy could ever ask for got in the car as we left our appointment with the Oncologist. She was devastated but defiant. And she wanted to inject our dour mood with a bit of levity and excitement. "I know I'm enabling this, but damn it we're getting you that pinball machine you've always wanted. You need something to be happy about." The next week we drove up to Fridley, Minnesota and purchased my first machine, Star Wars. I loved everything about it (and still do). The lights, the rapid fire speed, the video clips, the theme. The pin may have it's shortcomings but who doesn't love this theme? The days and weeks after that moment of bringing the machine home was a blur. Katie would endure a double masectomy and countless chemo and radiation treatments. Our kids at the time were both in diapers at ages 1 and 3. I was working full time. Needless to say there was a LOT going on in our lives. This solitary Stern beauty stayed warm in my basement each night. Star Wars was my nightly confidant to all the chaos swirling in our lives. The asteroid field scene was my daily reality. Every blue moon, my wife would play pinball with me after the kids went to bed. What a nice surprise.
Fast forward through six years of relative peace, of being free from the nightmare that is The Big C, it came back again. And this time it meant business. Now the disease was everywhere: lungs, brain, eye, bones, you name it. In January of this year, we took a trip to Las Vegas and went to the Pinball Hall of Fame. It was my third time to this mecca, but her first. She loved every minute (and hour) we were there. Weak and walking slow now, she was an 90-year old woman in a 40-year old's body. Her eyes, lighting up with every machine she played.
Because our kids were older now, we needed to make plans for me to take over and become the solo parent and school chaffeur possibly someday. We had to move to get the kids into the school district and closer to their/our friends. So we started designing the dream home we've always talked about over candlelit dinners and beach vacations and ever-extending roadtrips. "Let's put an arcade in!", Katie said. We both are like kids at heart. She loves a good Ms. Pacman cocktail table and I love a good Medieval Madness CGC remake. Match made in heaven. What was once my lonely little pinball machine could now blossom into the more well rounded collection I always dreamed of. Today I'm proud of the collection I get to play every night: Medieval Madness, Jurassic premium, Revenge from Mars, Meteor, Theatre of Magic and, of course, Star Wars. And I'm so thankful that I have the coolest wife ever. Or should I say, had. Katie passed away on Valentine's Day 2020. Now just the three of us, we moved into this new home two months later, Katie was as excited as I am for this arcade space in the basement. It has become my refuge from the grief and exhaustion of being a single Dad. It's not church, but it's my church. And each one of these machines is a most beautiful distraction for me. Thanks for reading. When I meet fellow pinball players and collectors, I wonder: how is pinball a beautiful distraction for you?
P.S. Here's a picture of Katie playing pinball. I just realized she's playing Indiana Jones. Funny, it's the same machine I've been on Pinside looking to buy lately. And on its left, what else, but Star Wars.