Everyday People: Laughter carries couple through the hard times

Kathy and Richard Brittain of Hermiston take life with a laugh and a smile. They've been married for 19 years. Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Richard and Kathy Brittain are living proof laughter is the best medicine. During vacations, the Hermiston couple, who have been married for 19 years, always seem to end up in an emergency room.

Shortly after their wedding, Kathy had to have surgery. Over the years she's dealt with arthritis, an eventual hip replacement, diabetes, blood clots, a blood plasma transfusion and vascular surgery.

"Richard and I used to joke, 'I sightsee at hospitals.'" Kathy said with a laugh.

"It's funny, I've been all over the country and I've seen all the hospitals," Richard added.

Beginning in 1995, Kathy really had doctors stumped. For 12 years she went through periods of time when various parts of her body would swell, including her tongue, ears, lips, throat, hands and feet.

"Everyone at the hospital was coming to look at the tongue lady. I was known as the tongue lady and then I came back and I'm the tongue lady again," Kathy said regarding the strange ailment.

"We brought the New Year in at the ER," Richard said about 2007.

Finally four months later, doctors at Oregon Health & Science University discovered Kathy was severely allergic to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs being used to treat her arthritis.

Richard has his own problems with arthritis, which he now blames on Kathy. For three solid months, every time he would see her, he got down on his knee and proposed to her.

"At the post office, at the gas station, at the grocery store - everywhere," Richard said.

Kathy lost her previous husband in a motorcycle accident and wasn't ready to get into another relationship, although she viewed Richard as a good friend.

"I finally said maybe," Kathy recalled.

'"Maybe - that's not no,' I remember thinking," Richard said.

Despite the tragic death of her former husband, Kathy hasn't allowed that to interfere with Richard's love for riding his Harley Davidson.

"I don't touch it. I don't wash, wax or ride it. My luck it would collapse," Kathy said with a laugh.

"That's probably why it's still running," Richard said.

Richard said Kathy has a knack for breaking just about everything she touches or drives.

Richard's brand new truck had only 600 miles on it when Kathy wreaked havoc on it.

"She took it and it sounded like it was getting ready to blow up," Richard said.

"My dad used to tell me things would work around her if I didn't use things," Kathy said with a laugh.

Despite Kathy's luck getting near anything mechanical, she was convinced to fly to Disneyland after Richard won $10,000 in the Oregon Lottery.

The Brittains, their children, and friends, Dennis and Lori Bush, were waiting for their flight and Kathy, who had never flown before, was white as a ghost.

"We're in line getting ready to board and Kathy looks out at the airplane and says, 'You guys just go. I'm staying here,'" Richard recalled.

However, she was convinced to get on the plane, but unbeknownst to Richard, Dennis had told Kathy if the fasten seat belt sign was illuminated again after being turned off, it meant the plane was going to crash.

Shortly after take-off, Kathy was in the rest room when the plane hit some turbulence.

"She came back to her seat and they put up the seat belt sign and Kathy started crying, 'We're going to crash,'" Richard remembered.

He tried to soothe her fears, explaining the airplane had just hit some air pockets. Then he looked over and Dennis was laughing.

"That was her first flight and it took some convincing to get her on the flight back home," Richard said.

Despite Kathy's issues with moving vehicles, she works as a transportation specialist representative at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Actually being at DMV is good. I like to tell people how to drive," she said with a laugh. "My family doesn't listen and these people have to. Whenever I tell them to turn left, they usually do."

However, one thing that does function is the Brittains' ability to work together.

In the past they have teamed up at the Irrigon Market, Manteca Mini-Storage in Manteca, Calif., Shady Oaks in Roseburg and now, Chateaubri Mobile Home Park in Hermiston.

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