“Taming of the Schnauzer”

“Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.
Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
Katherine: Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
Katherine: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katherine: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again, Good Kate; I am a gentleman.”

In the mid-1970’s, Mom and Dad traveled to Janesville, Iowa and adopted a schnauzer puppy that we named Katie, or as her AKC papers read, “Katherine of Aragon” (I know, self-appointed fact checkers will insist that it is spelled “Catherine”, but WIKI and history will show that Henry the 8th’s first wife also spelled her name with a “K”, so there!).  And Mom got the “Aragon” from “Dargan”, her maiden name.  She believed that somehow, we were related to Katherine, or Catherine of Aragon, but she had no proof….just family folklore.  (We also are supposed to have French and Spanish blood somewhere way back in the family tree, and at one time, there was a myth that the Maruska’s —Grandma’s maiden name—were Jewish, but that story doesn’t pan out when scrutinized)

Anyway, I am more convinced more than ever, after having read the stories of other Miniature Schnauzer

A black-and-silver Miniature Schnauzer named M...

A black-and-silver Miniature Schnauzer named Mattie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

owners that members of  this breed that the Schnauzer breed has the unique characteristic of communicating telepathically to other schnauzers in a 50 mile radius at 2 AM and they all gather at a local Denny’s or other coffee house and drink enough coffee to keep Folger’s and Maxwell House in the black for the next millennium!

I will never understand some of Katie’s idiosyncrasies, but as far as I’m concerned, if she could have talked and carry on a conversation, I’m pretty sure that a psychiatrist would have made a case study on her.

One of my favorite games that I loved to play with Kate was the “Daddy’s Home” game….Katie could be sound asleep, and I could just say the words, “Daddy’s Home”  or sometimes, just “Daddy”, (or, “Mommy”) and she would be on all fours and in full attention in 0.005 seconds, and running up to the back window and wait for Mom or Dad to come walking up the back sidewalk, and she would be ballistic and would want to be let out of the house immediately.  Or, there was she “Sammy” game  “Sammy was a generic name that mom gave to all squirrels….Same scenario, but instead of uttering “Daddy” or “Mommy”, I would say, “Sammy!”, and I got the same results


After coming home one day from running errands, we all entered the house to find that the phone was knocked off the hook, and you could hear the dial tone from way in the kitchen.  We searched the house for clues…nothing…no break in, Thank God….

…Well, this went on for several more times, and then I got the idea that Katie was the instigator….I go an idea on how to catch her in the act….

I ran upstairs and got Mom’s binoculars, then grabbed the cordless phone, and then opened the Levolor blinds on the living room windows, and instructed Mom and Dad to not answer the phone under any circumstances for the next 3-5 minutes….

Now, back in those days, before the break up of Ma Bell, if you wanted to make your own phone ring, you substituted “99” in place of the first two digits, and that is what I did….I ran across the street with the cordless phone and binoculars and made the call… and waited….Ran across the street and stood in Meyerhoff’s front yard with binoculars aimed at the east living room window….

…Sure enough, Katie thought that she was left alone in the house…and when the phone rang, she ran for it, bit the receiver, and pulled the damned thing off the hook!

Too Cute!

From that day on, whenever we left the house, we made darn sure that the phone was in a place where Katie could not get to—Problem solved!


“Weren’t you supposed to pick him up??”

My 52nd birthday was two days ago (June 5th) , and all these stories jogged my memory a bit…

It was my tenth birthday, and it was about 6 PM or so….Mom and Dad got a call from Tm, and he told them to make sure that I didn’t eat any supper, and Mom and Dad kept it quiet,  and managed to stall their dinner long enough for Tim to come and pick me up.  I get into the car, and we arrive at The Brown Bottle….Jim and Marty were already seated at the table, and as I sat down, they gave me a replay as well as a confession….

“You were supposed to pick him up!”

“No, You were!”

“No, it was Jim’s job to pick him up!”

Needless to say, what had happened was these three clowns could not decide who was to pick me up, and on their own, each decided that one of the other two  were going to pick me up, then they all arrived at the restaurant, sat down, and all asked the other one where I was, and after playing the blame game for five minutes, Tim politely goes over to the pay phone (This was back in the Ice Age before cell phones, little ones!), runs home in his 1972 Cougar (which was cool as hell to a 10 year old!) …And races back to the Brown Bottle with me in tow.  But hey, it;’s all good—If I recall correctly, I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, lol!

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well!”

Margaret Mary (Dargan) Meyer 1915-2008

This is my mother, Margaret Mary (Dargan) Meyer.  She was born June 21,1915, and died March 5th, 2008, of Alzheimer’s.  She was 92.  She was born in Riceville, Ia, to Thomas Dargan and Mary Maruska.  Her parents divorced when she was 8 years old, and was sent away to a boarding school, Visitation Academy in Dubuque, Iowa,

Old Cable elevator

Old Cable elevator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and spent her high school years at the Visitation Academy in St Louis, Mo.  Upon gradation, she was offered a full scholarship to Loras Collage, but instead turned it down to assist her family, who got down on their hands and knees to beg for her help.  Times being what they were (It was during the worst part of the Great Depression), she reluctantly accepted their urgent call. In January of 1941, she married Edwin John Meyer,the friend of her brother, Thomas Francis Dargan.  Margaret and Edwin were blessed with seven children, of which six survived.  Teresa Mary, born in November of 1944, Thomas Edwin, born in September of 1946, Timothy John, born in August of 1948, Marley (Pat), born in August of 1951, Martin (Marty) Gregory, born in June of 1953, and (me) Michael Anthony, born in June of 1961.  (A seventh child was stillborn at an unknown date, presumingly between 1949 and 1950).  I rejoice that someday, I’ll when I get to heaven, I’ll finally meet a brother or sister that I never knew!

Mom was known for her quotes that we kids heard ten thousand times, and the one that I remember most was,

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well!”

Others included a quote from Shakespeare, “To thy own self be true!”  And for some odd reason, she loved to quote Betty Davis’  line in “Cabin in the Cotton”….

“I’d love to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair!”

Mom also had some crazy idiosyncrasies like saving envelopes and using them for scratch pads.  i remember looking into “the drawer” in the kitchen (It was a drawer that wasn’t used properly for kitchen items, it was Mom’s junk drawer.  It was well organized…well, sometimes…but it was where Mom kept all of her important items like pencils, erasers, and of course, used envelopes!)  Long before it was chic, Mom got into the habit of recycling tin cans….but she didn’t stop at merely collecting them…she actually went thru the bother of putting them into the dishwasher after taking off the labels and after cleaning out the debris trap, would take the clean cans and flatten them and send them to the tin can box in the basement!  Mom was also a bit nervous and become forgetful…She would run around the house, asking, “MIKE! —Where’s my purse?”  “Where’s my glasses?”   And…we would point to the top of head or under her arm, and inform Mom that her glasses were on top of her head and her purse was already either under her arm or on the kitchen table…Then she would storm out of the house, get into the car and go do her errands, and we would just shake our heads and go about our business at hand.

Throughout her life, Margaret loved to garden and watch nature.  Among her greatest achievements in the garden were her Jackmani Clematises,

and to this day, I can still remember her admonition, “Hot heads and cold feet, and be sure to get the right amount of lime and bone meal!” It is with great joy that even today, 20+ years after the sale of the house in Waterloo, Iowa where Margaret and Edwin spent the majority of their lives together, mom’s clematises are still growing along the east side of the old garage at the end of the property, although, not much else remains of the thousands of dollars of landscaping that they invested into that yard.  Along the east edge of that yard, Mom planted a Doctor’s Wife rose bush (Trust me, you can Google that species all you want, it will not come up in a search but they did exist at one time!) in the late 1960’s.  On time, in the 1980’s, we watered that bush and forgot to turn off the trickle of water that we were watering it with, and in the morning, I stepped outside to the most amazing rose bloom that one could ever get their eyes on—it had measured across approximately 7-8 inches!  In the late 1970’s—about 1978 if I recall correctly—Mom and Dad had a kidney shaped flower bed installed also on the east end of the yard.  I remember that it was the envy of the neighborhood.  After all, it was the east side of Waterloo, and for anyone to spend that kind of money on their yard on the east side was unheard of! I can’t recall all of the plants that were in that garden, but it was the first time I had ever heard of the giant allium, and kinda toward the middle of this garden, mom placed a fountain of St Francis of Assisi—our sister Terry always commented that it looked like St. Francis was taking a leak, LOL!  Other notable plants were the Columbine and the old fashioned bleeding hearts as well as her crocuses and tulips, and on each side of this garden, they planted cedars and in the middle, some big old fur bush that was big and ugly and overgrown by the time that the house sold in 1992.In the NE corner of this garden, Mom planted another type of vinca and pampas grass and in front of that, her peonies…Mom said that peonies were very particular about how they were planted—you dig too deep or too shallow, and they won’t bloom.  Kinda picky for a plant that only stays in bloom for two weeks at the best, don’t you kinda think? And on the north side, along the fence, Mom planted a rose/tulip garden.  I forget which came first—the roses or the tulips, but one died out, and the other replaced it.  For years, Mom had a honeysuckle hedge, but it got wiped out when the witch’s broom infested the plants. On the south side, near the driveway, Mom planted a forsythia bush…originally, this was going to be a hedge, but later mom decided against that.  Those are picky bushes as well…they require a certain amount of snow cover or else they won’t bloom very well, or so they say.  Inside the fenced part of the yard, along the fence, Dad planted rhubarb which he transplanted from his family farm back in Sheffield, Iowa.  This farm had gone to waste years ago, as it was confiscated during the depression.  Mom also had the back and side of the house landscaped, and in the middle of this was the finest specimen of a dogwood bush anyone could ask for, and over behind the house, Mom planted a Japanese Flowering Quince,

which did actually produce some fruit from time to time. Behind he dogwood, Mom had a lovely collection of bearded iris that were stolen by one of my siblings (I won’t say who!)–from one of the local parks in Waterloo.  In the back of the house and almost directly under the peak of the roof, Mom and Dad planted a magnolia tree.  It didn’t do a whole lot for many years, so one year, they got another magnolia and that one was full of blooms!  But the winter wasn’t very kind to that magnolia and in the spring, the younger magnolia died, and removed and in its place, Mom planted chives, which were the attraction for many a grand child (Especially Tim and Kathy’s boys who lived two blocks away)Well, as fate would have it, the older magnolia apparently saw what happened to its younger companion and decided to straighten up, or be chopped down as well!  So, in the years that followed, the older magnolia sprung up like a weed, and so much so that it began to bloom twice a year! To the south, on the wall of the old crooked white garage that the prior owners, the Van Nices built,  Mom had planted her hostas, and in front of her hostas, in a vee shaped area, she planted vinca and moss roses, and above the hostas, in front of the old boarded up windows which were painted white, Mom hung an 8 foot long window box, and every year, you could count on mom planting pansies, geraniums, asparagus fern and some vine whose name escapes me, and some times, some begonias.   On the West border of the property, Mom and Dad planted six Lombardy Poplars and planted three on the East side as well.  Mom was kinda eccentric and one year, because they were not of  even height, she ripped them all out and started over with 9 new ones!  Margaret also loved the cardinals, and thru keen observation, I was able to discern 3 or 4 distinct calls of the American Cardinal male. But mom’s favorite “pet” were the squirrels—she named all of them “Sammy”!

Our schnauzer, Katie love to chase after”Sammy”.  In fact, she was so smart, she picked up on who “Sammy” was.  All you had to do was mention the name, “Sammy”, and she would go to the window and go nuts!

“Dad”—a personal essay about cancer for the living

I wrote this essay when I was a student at the University of Northern Iowa for a required College Writing class. I had left it on a hard drive on one of the old Mackintosh Pluses  in the lab, and some woman found it, read it, and went on a frantic search for me. When she finally found me, she said to me on the phone, “You need to become a writer!” I asked her why, and she said that she had read my essay, and it made her laugh and cry, then she would laugh again, then cry again. She then told me that her mother had died a number of years before, and she was never able to let go, but now, thanks to my essay, she was able to do that. I’ve re-worded a few passages here and there, added some new information, and deleted a few things that I looked at recently and said, “now, that’s just plain silly and doesn’t really tell the story”, but the CORE of the essay is intact as it was written approximately 14 years ago.

Personal Essay

“Mike (Oh, Mom…I wish you would call me Michael, my given name instead, just once?!), you’d better go check on Ed—He’s been down there for two days and hasn’t come up since!” I went down slowly because it did seem odd to me that Dad did stay down in the basement for more than a day, and I didn’t know what to expect. After all, Dad was 72 years old, and it was normal for him to retreat to the basement, now that it was all remodeled with a full bath and such just four years prior. There was a remote chance that he was just enjoying one game after another or if it was early in the day, he always watched, “The Price Is Right”, and later in the day, “Jeopardy!” followed by whatever sport was on ESPN. But Never across Dad’s TV would flash the sagas of Erica Kane, Catherine Chancellor or Reva Shayne—the soaps were Mama’s department.

“Mike (There’s that mis-use of my name again!), go tell your mother to get some oxygen!” Dad said as I descended only half way down the stairs. I didn’t even think, I just made a 180 turn right back up those oak trimmed basement stairs, and got Mom to call the hospital. Within ten minutes, Dad was on a stretcher and on his way to Allen Memorial Hospital, where I was born and Mom had worked for twenty years as an LPN. This would be a journey that would end some eight months later on September 15, 1988, just one flight up and eight-ten feet over from where it began. The original prognosis was that Dad had Pneumonia and Emphysema, but Mom knew better…her 20 some years as an LPN combined with “women’s intuition” told her that two and ½ years earlier, when they removed polyps from Dad’s lung that there was something else, but nobody was prepared, not even she when Dr. (I’ll Come When I’m Good & Ready) Sangha said,

“I’m sorry Ed, but you’ve got lung cancer!”

“Tell me straight, Dr Sangha…how long?”

“I’d say about six months.”

Strange enough, Dad also knew but kept it to himself and was holding out for a more positive prognosis, and hope that Mom too, was wrong.

Within two days, our peaceful little house (that was the rave of our poor neighborhood, because of all the extensive remodeling a shy four years earlier) was like a reunion at Walton Mountain, minus, of course, Jim Bob and Mary Ellen. The traffic had for at least these next few nights, returned to what it once had been in the early 1960’s before my sister Terry, the oldest child, and only girl, had gotten married. It was a real trip having all of my older siblings all under one roof again, sleeping in their old bed rooms, as if they had never left home. But reader, if you want to experience a real trip, you should try sitting down in this crowded house, celebrate your twenty fourth wedding anniversary at the dinner table with macaroni and cheese as your meal the while little bugger faced nieces and nephews are staring up at you saying while trying to have at least a little resemblance to a “romantic” meal!

Brothers Marty and Tim spent the night in Mom’s bedroom, and I don’t think that they slept at all that night. Laugh, laugh, laugh was all that I heard from their door the entire night, and I kept wondering what in the world could they have been laughing at? I think that I might have heard them open a drawer, but I can’t be certain, but the next day when I ran an errand for Dad, I drew my own conclusions. Dad asked me to bring some item from his top drawer the next morning, and bring it to him to the hospital. I retrieved whatever it was Dad told me to retrieve, and next to his “Twelve Steps” book was another item of peculiar curiosity. I was really puzzled. Next to Dad’s book was this little black foil pouch. I investigated it…I was a condom! Now, why in the hell did he need one of these things? I sat next to the bed, beside myself for three minutes, totally amused…chuckling as I tossed that little jobber into the wastebasket, so as to not allow any scandal to befall Dad. I then wondered if this is what made my brothers roar with so much laughter the night before?! To this day, I have never asked either one of them…probably best to leave it alone. But still…

When death is near, it can do weird things to a person. As soon as Dad got the news of imminent death, he broke down and cried for about thirty seconds, and then he began to shift gears. Dad became a freaking comedian! Night after night, elephant jokes and “Old warrior” stories from WWII were the standard fare:
“How do you get an elephant into a matchbook?…Take the matches out and stuff it in!”
Or, we got a healthy dose of WWII stories that started with:
“I remembered when I got out of the Army in 1945 and right after the war, we…”
Dad even had a memory about me:
“Mike, I remember taking you down to the Cedar River to fish, but all you did was play, play, and play in the rocks!”
And for the umpteenth time, we heard the ever-so-sorrowful saga about my sister Terry, when she was about three and Mom and Dad gave her three duckies for Easter: Fluffer, Duffer, and Quack Quack, and how Terry one day picked up all three of those poor duckies by the neck and swung each one around in a circle, tossing them then one by one, into the field, killing them all! Needless to say, Dad was not a happy camper when this happened, and sis got the whooping of her life!

The routine for the next several months would be as follows: Get in the car, drive to see Dad, leave after just a few minutes, get home, then get an anxious phone call from Dad, asking us to come back because he was lonely, then we would get back at the hospital, only to find that Dad would then apologize and tell us to go home because he was tired. Many times Mom would say,

“Ed—are you certain that you want us to go home this time?”

“Yes, Margaret…I promise…I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

After six weeks of that, the doctors sent Dad home. All the while that Dad was still in the hospital, our family started a “Disease of the Month Club” for the next seven months, starting with my Brother Tim’s appendix and my C.A.T. scan in February and in March, I had a fissure on my tailbone. Mom had knee surgery in April, came home in June, while my niece Maria had some sort of blood disease in May, while in June and in July, somebody else got sick, but sorry, I can’t remember who. Later, the C.A.T. scan that I had in February would prove that I was born with Cerebral Palsy. That would later lead to me becoming a client of Vocational Rehab, which led me to later attend college at the University of Northern Iowa.

Once I came home from the hospital in March for my fissure, this began a daily circus of going to the pharmacy to pick up Dad’s meds, fix Dad’s meals (and later, Mom’s too), take care of the “potty”, calling Hospice when needed, dishing out pills at the right time and in the correct dose, cleaning house and letting Donna, Dad’s visiting nurse in, so that she could give Dad his baths and re-fill his oxygen tank with distilled water. Our once spacious living room with the fancy designer wallpaper put up just four years prior had become a freaking hospital suite with one electric bed, a porta potty, a bedside table, an oxygen machine, a portable oxygen unit, and both Dad’s tiny 13 inch as well as Mom’s 30 inch TVs! All this plus all of the already existing living room furniture to boot! And yes, Dad brought with him all of his stale elephant jokes and even more stories from the past. All these essentials of daily life and the noise (and smell) that they made after awhile, for the most part, became like old friends: The hissing of Dad’s oxygen tank, Dad’s usual fare of game shows and ESPN competing with Mom’s soaps eight feet away, the clank, clank, clank of his walker, the smell of the porta potty, the smell of the porta potty…the smell of the porta potty! Oh yes, I got to know my father well in those last months…BLINDFOLDED!

Another routine that I got down pact was Dad’s “Ice Cream” face. If you become a care giver for someone who is terminally ill, a bit of advice: What ever you do for a dying man in his last days, for God’s sake, don’t ever forget to give him his ice cream! I got to a point with Dad that all I had to do was pop my head into the room, look at his face, see that silly grin of his, and I’d say,

“Ice cream, right?”

“How did you know?”

“Oh, pul-lease, Dad! I know you better than you think! So…what will it be this time?”

It was like a game that Dad and I played…he’d have that smile that he used only for “I want some ice cream, please!” At first, I had to learn the difference between that and his “The porta potty needs to be changed!” grimace. Well, the clue was where Dad was sitting in the room at the time, but one time, he tossed a monkey wrench into the “game”, and wanted BOTH, so he then would ask me for Ice cream after I got him off the porta potty. Sure, he was fully capable of speaking and just telling me what he wanted, but these non-verbal requests had become OUR game, and we both played it well. A goofy game, but it was a way for father and son to bond.

Visits and calls from every family member and friends that Dad ever had or knew in his 72 years, had either made a visit to our “private hospice”, or they called for the next six months. I don’t think that we missed a single one! Every conceivable in-law, out-law and any possible stretch of the family tree, had now turned that family tree into a twisted vine. Every “Get Well!” wish ever printed by Hallmark was expressed and bestowed on Dad. We heard from family I swore that I had never heard of, and fortunately, Dad was able to reconcile with a niece of his. As it turned out, she was confused because it was actually her sister that did Dad dirt a few years before, and the poor woman thought that Dad was mad at her, too! They both cried a lot of tears before my cousin hung up, and Dad kept crying after my cousin hung up. Sad to say, her sister, my other cousin, never called Dad to apologize. For the first time, after Dad quit crying, it was back to the silly stories, and there would be more crazy stories from the past that afternoon, but thankfully, no more elephant jokes! Dad even heard from some old friends that were co-workers of his at Iowa Public Service that he hadn’t heard from since leaving some 30 years prior. One of those nice men even went into our basement to add a hook up in the living room so that Dad could have his cable TV in there!


I have to pay special tribute to a dear friend of my Brother Tim, Becky Kemp, who also was terminal with cancer at the same time that Dad was: Becky, like I said, was also dying from a similar cancer that took her mother’s life when Becky was young.. Becky was a dietitian at a local hospital, and she would bring over yummy things for Dad, and was always able to cheer him up. Heck-she cheered ALL of us up, and here she was the one who was dying! Anyway, Becky was just doing what she did at the hospital, but this time, it was with a more personal touch.

Mom also had a friend that dying of cancer, her name was Mary D. Mary had a hard life, and as if being attacked outside the church doors just two years prior wasn’t bad enough, Mary had a bastard of a husband named Jack who was twenty years her senior. Prior to all these entire events, Dad did play cards and drink beer with tomato juice with Jack, but towards the end, this all changed as Dad had very little sympathy for him. When she died six weeks before himself, Dad cried like a baby because he had felt a loss and because he also knew that the next one to go.
…And time proved him right.

We jammed a lot into that summer that would be Dad’s last. We planted his garden, that garden that he loved, with him sitting at the edge of it in his wheelchair, bitching out orders and making sure that we did everything correct, right down to the last damnable detail. For a man who had a cataract on his only functioning eye, that crusty ole boy didn’t miss a damned deviation from his plan. Why…he had the nerve a couple of weeks after we had already planted that masterpiece of a garden, to make us tear up one little hill of cucumbers because he claimed that they were planted wrong! (Well, I do say this with a wee bit of sarcastic tongue-in-cheek) But I had almost gotten ready to plop him in that wheelchair, roll him out to the garden and dump him out and tell him,
“Plant your own Damned cukes, old man!”
…And then say it with a big grin on my face—while eating his ice cream!

The most emotional time for us outside of getting the news of Dad’s cancer and then eminent death was Mother’s Day that year. Mom had surgery on her left knee and while she was supposed to be out in two weeks, the knee got infected, forcing Mom to stay additional six or so weeks. We managed to get Dad into the Mercury with a portable oxygen tank, and sneak our way to Mom’s room at Allen Hospital. Terry and Brother Tim snuck over to an adjacent neighbor’s yard, and stole a big bunch of lilacs. Yea…big deal you might say, except next to that abandoned house lived Mrs. F., and she was a real whack job, and she would have called the police or something! We got Dad situated in his wheelchair and snuck into Mom’s room without her knowing a thing. While we all poured into the room at once, somebody managed to snap a picture of both Mom and Dad while Dad broke the silence that was in the room with,
“Hello, Honey!”
There wasn’t a dry eye anywhere in that room, and Mom was pleasantly shocked as well as pleased to see Dad. That picture that I mentioned was put into a pink fabric frame that Terry made Mom for Christmas, which for the next several years, sat on Mom’s buffet in her living room. Years later, that same picture would sit next to her bed, as it does this very day at Saint Gertrude’s in Shakopee, MN, where Mom was an Alzheimer’s patient. Terry was supposed to return to the Twin Cities later that afternoon, but a tornado decided that it was going to possibly hit Waterloo, so Terry stayed an extra day. It really was a beautiful scene in that hospital room that day. We rarely saw our parents be so tender towards each other because of all the dysfunctions that were in our home, so this was a rare, precious moment.

Taking Dad home was the proverbial “real trip to the zoo”. Since it was pouring and you literally could not see more than ten feet in front of you, there was now an ocean where I believe we had a back yard earlier that morning, so our house now looked like Mt Ararat. I sent out a turtledove when I could out the driver’s side window, and waited for its return. On the third attempt, Terry noticed that there was an olive branch stuck in its beak, so we decided to open the Ark, release the animals two by two, and settle on the land, offer a burnt offering in thanksgiving and multiply and replenish the earth. Tim had the brainchild to go and run to the back porch and grabs the umbrella out of the patio table, and put it over Dad, since there was still a bit of a sprinkle coming down. Terry got into the idea to pretend that she was Nefrititi, and chanted as if she was back in Egypt, among the papyrus leaves and lotus blossoms, and commented to Dad that we looked like Cleopatra and her maids going up the Nile. You must forgive my sister…she turned forty a few years prior to this and was going thru her second and perhaps her third childhood, and hasn’t quit regressing yet!

Need a good babysitter with good references? Call me! I had a rich and growing as well as the learning experience of a lifetime this whole, especially during the time that Mom was in the hospital with her knee. I had to do all the afore mentioned things that I had done for Dad, but now I had to clean house, do all of the shopping, pay bills, get Dad’s medicine, attend to Mom and her needs, mow the lawn, cook, run errands, make executive decisions, work to de-tassel corn for sixteen hours a day (…milk the cow, feed the chickens, butcher oxen, castrate a bull, slop the pigs, make soap, candle eggs, bale hay and plow the back forty), I had to deal with that Damned porta potty even more!

The big turn in events came in late July when Dr Sangha saw Dad for his check up. He seemed incredibly good to Dr Sangha, so Dr Sangha gave Dad another six months. We took that as a sign that just maybe; we’d get to have at least one last Thanksgiving with Dad, and who knows- Even Christmas? Dad was the king of Thanksgiving at our house. Since he was unable to work due to his eyesight and a few other reasons, Dad stayed at home and made meals and made house while Mom worked, so every Thanksgiving, the ritual in our house was my retarded brother Pat and I tore up many loaves of toasted Roman Meal bread to make Dad’s sage dressing. Pat and I would sit in our jammies while Dad would toast the bread, and there would already be a turkey neck and giblets simmering in a pot for making the stuffing later. Dad would have the Macy’s Day parade on full blast so we could at least hear it, if it wasn’t possible to move the TV to the doorway. Then, Mom would come down and Dad and she would get out this old hand grinder that was, I believe, her mother’s, and either Pat or I or both of us would be taken off of bread duty for awhile, and we’d fish out all the bad cranberries, and Mom and Dad would grind the cranberries for Mom’s Cranberry Fluff, and in later years, a similar recipe for some cranberry relish that had Mom got out of the Sunday magazine section that had walnuts in it. I believe that it was something that Joan Lunden, who was then co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning, America!” made for her family. Then, if this were the late 1960’s we would pack it all up into the car and take off for the party room at Iowa Public Service, where my then brother-in-law Jim worked. In later years, the routine was modified to either our house, or Tim’s house in Des Moines, and later, Cedar Rapids, with an occasional Thanksgiving in St Paul. I also remember that Dad usually made the pumpkin pie most of those years, but one year, I asked to take over the pie making, to wit, Dad agreed. What I did was I recycled our jack-o-lantern by putting it in our window instead of outside, with a smaller painted one outside for tradition’s sake. I then kept our jack-o-lantern in the fridge until about 5, passed out candy and kept it out until about 7, then put it back into the fridge, and cut it up the next day, cooked it down in our pressure cooker, then kept the cooked pumpkin the freezer for a few weeks, then took it out and made pie…Lot’s of pie! It must have been okay to do that, because nobody got sick or died from eating it! I remember that it had a really fluffy texture…not heavy or dense like the canned Libby’s pumpkin that Dad always made otherwise.

…But as fate would have it, Thanksgiving 1987 would prove to be the last of that particular Thanksgiving ritual.

Anyway, one day right after this visit to Dr Sangha, Dad decided that he wanted to go grocery shopping at County Market, which at that time, was the closest that Waterloo, IA came to having a Sam’s Club. We got out his mini-tank, changed his tubing, and got Dad into the Marquis and took off. Dad decided that he didn’t want his Co2 in the store, so we left it in the car. We were gone for the longest time, and when we got back, Dad asked to be put into his recliner right away, which was normal for that time of day for him to be in. Dad was fine for about a minute, but then he began to shake with tremors so violent, it shook his entire body. Pat and I were standing there like helpless lambs, while we waited for Mom to return from the bathroom upstairs. When Mom returned, we called the hospice nurse who came right away. And within minutes, Dad was on his way back to Allen.

This time, Dad was in the hospice on the fifth floor, and thankfully, he would be later transferred to the Hospice unit at Covenant Kimball across town, which was way larger. I was in a panic that Sunday, and I called a couple of friends of mine, Darren and Carolyn from church, and they came out of Sunday school just to be with me. I then called Mom, who asked me to spend the night with Dad, which I did. That first night, Dad was gurgling and trying to tell me something, but in disgust, gave up. By morning, he had regained the ability to speak, but had no recall of what he was trying to say the night before. During the night, the entire family managed to once again come from all directions, and we packed twelve-thirteen people into a hospital room that was the size of a Toyota! The doctors later came by and told us that Dad had a stroke. Even though I had heard the term before, and had seen stroke victims, I asked Dr Basu for a definition of a stroke and he explained to me to think of the inside of the human brain like the spokes on a wheel, and when one has a stroke, it’s as if somebody has cut one of those spokes. Well, maybe not a complete answer, but it was enough to explain to me as to why Dad wasn’t able to control his movements.

Cedar Valley Hospice

Dad had begun, due mostly to the stroke, to hallucinate now. Our long time friend Betty, who was a nurse aide at Allen, came in to see Dad a lot. On one of the mornings before he transferred to Covenant Kimball, Dad told Betty that he had a dream about having a job on some truck with her husband Lloyd, and Dad woke up from this dream, not comprehending the fact that he wasn’t in the dream world anymore, and Dad kept insisting that they let him out because he had to get to work! Dad then would turn to Betty and he insisted that she should not have shaved her head, and that long stripe of hair that was in front looked awful. Of course, Betty had to re-assure Dad that her hair was a long as it ever had been. Later, when Tim brought his wife Kathy and their three boys, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Dad kept asking, “Now, tell me the truth…when did I die?” Tim had to re-assure Dad that he was still with us and the proof was the fact that they were having that conversation.

Dad’s hospice volunteer Craig M. was a real saint of a man who spent a lot of time with Dad in those last days, even overnight. Craig made weekly visits to see Dad on Tuesday nights at seven, and we always made sure that there were either cookies baking or something else ready for him when he came. Ironically, Terry and then husband Jim and Craig and his wife knew some friends in common, so they got to know each other fairly well. The role of the Hospice Volunteer is to be there for the patient and the family, but I for one think that Craig went well beyond the normal job description! Dad got to love Craig, and Dad being the gentle heart that he really was, unofficially adopted Craig as one of his own. Craig even got asked by Dad to be in on his funeral plans, and Craig agreed full heartedly to play the organ. Dad had a hymn from his Lutheran days that nobody seemed to know that he wanted Craig to play. It took some doing, but the music director at Craig’s church was finally able to pin down the rare hymn that Dad requested for his funeral.

The time came to transfer Dad to the Hospice Unit at Covenant Kimball, where they administered chemotherapy to ease Dad’s pain. Mom asked me to stay with Dad that night, and I reluctantly did. I later changed my reluctant mood after the first night, and after awhile, I saw it as a proud duty to be there. As it turned out, there were many families that were there that either I knew or my brother Tim knew thru his associations, so we got to knit together as a family. We would visit one another in each other’s rooms and even attended to each other’s patient. One lady named Ann that knew Tim would check in on Dad, or I would check in on her husband from time to time. Ann and I even went together to visit others that we knew. It was therapeutic to us to attend to each other’s needs, and it helped each one of us prepare for what we knew was inevitable. I got to spend quality time with Dad in those last days like I had never gotten before. I no longer resented Mom asking me to stay there, but looked upon staying there as recreation as well as therapy. On one of Dad’s ambulance rides across the street to the Oncology Unit, I got to ride along in the ambulance. It to this day has been the one and only time that I’ve ever ridden in an ambulance. After three days of staying with Dad around the clock, I went home, and ironically, as reluctant as I was to stay with Dad, I now was equally reluctant to leave him alone!
After so many treatments, the Oncology unit sent Dad home, as there was nothing else that they could do for him. Dad knew that his time was near, even more so than anybody else did.

Mom and I came back right before Dad’s last treatment and noticed a Christmas tree that was on display in the lobby of the Oncology unit. It caught our eyes because it was definitely not the season, but as we got closer, we noticed that the decorations were a bit different than normal decorations. There were decorations all over that tree that were donated by the families of those who were patients there-most of whom were terminal, and the ornaments were donated in their memory. A couple of months after Dad’s passing, Mom picked out a brass ornament and had it engraved at Newton’s Jewelry downtown.

It was a quiet, uneventful homecoming for Dad. There would be no “umpteen in-laws and out laws” to welcome him home, as there had been before, and Dad would no longer crack the stale elephant jokes or WWII stories. This was the last act…nothing to do now but wait. We called Terry and let her know that it would be any day or perhaps any hour now. She wanted to come right away. Mom had the plan all set: She was going to have me get up at five AM and drive four hours up and four back to Eagan to pick up Terry, and hopefully, get back to Waterloo before Dad died. Mom ended up staying up all night just talking to Dad. Then, at three in the morning, all of a sudden, Dad started to have tremors, and she was unable to stop him. Dad’s Hospice nurse was called and she came right away, and administered a shot to calm Dad down. Well, scratch those five AM plans for me! Mom called Terry right away, and within twenty minutes, Terry called back to let Mom know that that she and Jim were on the road. The nurse confirmed the worst: that this indeed was the end, and that she had done all that she could do to calm Dad’s shaking, but let us know that after awhile, the shaking would continue, and beyond a certain point, nothing would have stopped it.

Dad’s visiting nurse from Cedar Valley Hospice came and performed her usual duties, and gave Dad his bath, while other family was called, and Terry and Jim arrived at eleven. We knew that Dad knew that it was they, because as soon as Terry spoke, a tear came to Dad’s eye. He could no longer see out of his one “good” eye, but could hear us. Terry, Jim, Mom and I kept vigil at Dad’s beside all the way until the end. At 12:55, Terry noticed that we had run out of Kleenex, and I dashed down to the basement to fetch some. Terry remarked that it was a good thing that they came when they did because there would have been no way that I could have driven up and back in time to get her. As I handed Terry and Mom the box of Kleenex, Dad’s eyes had glazed over, and Terry cried out, “Father, into your hands, we commend Dad’s spirit!” And with that, Dad breathed his last.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Within one hour, our make shift “hospice unit” had been returned to its normal self, the funeral home came and got Dad’s body, the medical supply company came and unceremoniously removed Dad’s oxygen tank, his TV stand, the bed that he used, the walker and oh yes…that porta potty. After a brief mourning period, Terry and I swept and dusted the room very quickly, and put the furniture back in its proper place and we prepared ourselves for family and friends to come over pay their respects to us and to Dad’s memory. Tim was Pat’s guardian, and brought him to the house thru the kitchen door.
“Remember that wish that Dad had, Pat?”

“Yeah, I think so?”

“You remember what that wish was, don’t you?”

“No, I don’t”

“Dad wished to die peacefully and today…

…he got his wish.”

Tim held pat for the longest time, while Pat sobbed into Tim’s chest right there in the kitchen. We all we crying but Pat was Dad’s little buddy, and Pat probably felt the lost more than any of us. Marty and family came just moments after that, while Maria and her crew would follow later at the funeral home. Terry called her son Michael, who was in the Air Force, but they had to relay the message. You’ve heard that joke about “Army intelligence”, haven’t you? Well, you can extend that “joke” to the Air Force, because whoever relayed the message to Michael was about as tactful telling Michael that his grandfather was deceased as Rosanne was singing the National Anthem, if you catch my drift!

We sat down and planned Dad’s funeral. Between my sister-in-law Jeanette and myself, we had this idea of each of the grandchildren and great-grand children each enter the church with a rose, and hand each rose to Mom, while Craig would play Pachelbel’s Canon in D. At the funeral, they did exactly that, and we got several different colors of roses to make it even more special. Craig did play Dad’s favorite hymn, while I got to introduce it. One of my friends from the Black Hawk County Iowans for Life said that it was the most moving funeral that she had ever seen, and indeed, it was!