Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28th

February 28th, 1973: Dad went back for more treatment today. He says it makes him short of breath and tired. The nurse said it would do this. Barney Roodhouse came down tonight and sat with dad for awhile. And tomorrow, Paul Beckenholt is taking dad to Quincy for his third treatment. Yup. I guess dad's got a few friends.

February 28th, 2013: People had been, and were, stepping up to help. Friends of dad. Friends of mom and dad. Dad's friends in particular, were probably able to keep the mood lighter than if mom were along all the time. It would serve that purpose. And to allow mom to continue to be the homemaker she was. Keep a routine, cook, and look after me.

Dad had said the cobalt treatments made him short of breath. I would think the cancer would have, too. Warren Zevon, a musician I admired, noted that it was shortness of breath that tipped him off something was wrong. He was right. And he lasted a little over a year after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Byron "Barney" Roodhouse was one of about a half dozen really close friends of dad. Paul Beckenholt as well. Barney had done a little bit of everything. I'm not sure what he was doing at the time. He had a teaching certificate. When I was really little,  he managed a news agency that was two doors north of the hardware store.

The northwest side of the square evolved in the 60's. But early on, the businesses went like this, from the alley north. Pittsfield Hardware, McGann's grocery store, the news agency, Brant's bookstore, Floyd's Jewelry, Kientzel's Shoe store, Town & Country, and Carl Cunningham's plumbing and heating. Dad bought the grocery store space, and Brant's bought the news agency space. Both to expand their businesses, in the early to mid-60's.

Mr. Beckenholt had a daughter, Sally, who was a lot older than me. Maybe 10 years. It didn't keep me from having a crush on her. If dad took his coffee break at the news agency where Sally worked, I was always eager to tag along.

Eventually, the coffee breaks moved to The Bowl, on the southeast side of the square. It was a restaurant-lounge, and bowling alley. The guys called it the eight o' clock coffee bunch. Dad would go there, after opening the store at 7 a.m., once Peachy got to work. John Blake owned The Bowl. Most of the regulars were Blake, dad, Roodhouse, Beckenholt, Ed Pease, Albert "Bud" Schimmel, Elmo James, and Ivan Knapp. These guys were friends and jokesters.. Not mean-spirited, but borderline ornery. Usually, one of the gang was the victim of the others. Dad used to say, "If you're gonna dish it out. You have to be able to take it."

Ed Pease operated State Farm Insurance. Beckenholt worked at G&W Furniture. Schimmel was an attorney. James had a heating and plumbing business. Knapp had a construction firm. A few had nicknames. Roodhouse was "sewer bass Barney" because he loved to fish. Elmo James was "Crisco." I don't know the origin of that one. Knapp looked like Col. Sanders, of chicken fame. He was... "Col. Sanders."

I'm sure it hurt the guys to see one of the group in a bad way. They may have joked, but any one of these guys would have given the shirt off their back to help the one in trouble, when the chips were down.

Beckenholt, Pease, Roodhouse, and I believe, Schimmel, would wind up being four of the six of dad's pallbearers.




Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February 27th

February 27th, 1973: Dad got his first cobalt treatment today. And tonight, he looks pretty tired. But, Dr. Bunting said it would be this way for about the first five out of ten treatments. They go back to Quincy tomorrow, for another one at 2:30.

February 27th: 2013: Mom was probably the one who drove dad to Quincy for this first treatment. Dad may have driven, and mom the passenger. Along for the ride, the support, part of the process, and any conversations with the doctors in Quincy.

Dad wasn't going downhill at an alarming rate at this point. Some fatigue. Some weight loss. The physical aspect would get worse. It was probably the mental part that was the toughest to deal with during this period.

Quincy is approximately 45 miles west of Pittsfield. On the Mississippi River, it's where dad was born and raised, before following his dad to Pittsfield to become involved with the hardware store. Two of his aunts still lived there. Relatives on mom's side lived there. It's where we went to visit and shop. Route 36, and then Route 97, were very familiar, two lane roads.

From Pittsfield, West to Barry. Then Kinderhook, then Marblehead. Finally Quincy. A pretty drive in the day. It's four lane and wide open now.  Limestone bluffs on the north side of the road between Kinderhook and Marblehead. When I was little, I'd ask mom, dad, or Aunt Betty if any lions or bears might live in those woods and hills.

Mom got her one and only speeding ticket near Marblehead one year. I may have been six or seven. She paid it in Quincy. A federal building, I think. Anytime we'd pass that building in years to come, dad would ask me, "What building is that, Kent?" "That's where mom paid her speeding ticket," I replied. Dad put me in the middle, at mom's expense. He'd laugh. Never let her live it down. In fact, I think he had the police report item under glass at his office desk at the hardware store.

Before I was born, or was very little, dad and mom set out for Quincy in an old Chevrolet he had. Maybe a 39' or 49'. Roll down windows on an antique car. The story goes, (and it's been confirmed) that dad went to toss a cigarette out the window. The wind caught it, and blew it right down the door frame. There was smoke, then a small fire. A beverage or two may have been consumed during the drive. Dad calmly pulled the car over, dropped his trousers, carefully aimed, and "extinguished" the fire!

I didn't go along on any of those trips for his treatment. None. I'd remember if I did. I was in school, anyway.

Cobalt. I don't even know if that is used for treatment anymore. Chemotherapy is the thing I hear most about now. I don't know how long his treatments lasted. Not long, I think. I don't know if they were painful to him. I don't recall that they were terrible.

I just remember being sort of happy that the treatments had begun. And hoping this would be the stuff that would "fix dad," as I'd have probably stated, if I were to have entered that in my original diary.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 26th

February 26th, 1973: I got a little upset tonight, because some people by the name of (edited out), sent a card to dad that said "Good bye from all of us." Dad said they didn't mean it the way it sounded. These were people he traded with at the store, and he gives them pretty good deals. Outside of that, we just took it easy.

February 26th, 2013: I hate to edit. But I'm intentionally leaving out the name of the family who sent the card. They might still live in the area. Or have relatives. As dad noted, they didn't mean it the way it came across. They just didn't understand. Or know better. They lived south of town. The man may have been a hired hand on a farm. They weren't highly educated, and they didn't have a lot of money. I believe they had a big family.

I can't remember every detail about the card. But it was designed as a farewell card. A poor choice for a cancer patient. Dad might laugh now, and admire them for cutting to the chase. Inside were words something along the lines of "Good bye from all of us. The big of us, the small of us. The short of us, the tall of us. We all say good bye."

It upset mom more than dad. It sort of upset me. The fact that they cared to send a card was really what was important. Dad was beginning to receive a lot of cards and calls as the word spread about his condition. He'd sit at his spot at the kitchen table and open the mail each evening before supper.

 Pittsfield is small. A little more than 4,000 people. Pike County? I"m not sure. But dad had built a good reputation, and had loyal customers, at the store. These people included. And dad didn't treat these people any differently than a doctor or attorney who shopped at the store either. It wasn't his style. He treated everyone the same, as far as I know. With respect and dignity. And he'd "work" with people who might have it tougher than others. Letting them extend payments. He was a good businessman. But he sincerely wanted to help. And maybe teach responsibility along the way.

One of my favorite "dad tales" is how he would let paper boys buy their bicycles on the payment plan. Just like people do cars now. It only applied to paper boys. We sold Schwinn bikes. The Cadillac of bicycles back then. The paper boys would come in, put a few dollars down, then pay off the bikes a dollar a week. A good bike was probably $50-$60 back then. Dad sold bikes, taught kids responsibility, and never got burned.

I'm sure dad "worked" with the family who sent the card. I'd heard their name before. Hard working people. Mom and dad always taught me to never look down at anyone. And I don't. I read that Art Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was said to have "Treated everyone the same. Whether it was the Pope, or a bum on the street." Mr. Rooney is in my "top five" favorite sports figures because of that. Dad was like that too.

Because of that, dad was beginning to hear from people, and learn that they cared about him too.

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25th

February 25th, 1973: Dad and mom went for a ride with Uncle George today. They just kind of relaxed, and got their minds off things. Me? I played 23 holes of golf with a friend.

February 25th, 2013: Well, it was assumed that my parents went for a ride with Uncle George to relax. I wasn't there. Maybe they were having intense discussions about the situation. Maybe a little of both.

Uncle George is my mom's brother. The oldest of six kids. He has been around cattle all of his life. An order buyer. Working for the farmers and plants. He knows his stock, once judge the American Royal cattle show in Kansas City, and can guess livestock weights within a pound or two. He and dad had a great relationship. They shared the same ideas and principles.

Many times, I'd ride along with him through the country, or to cattle sales in the Pittsfield area. My favorite sale was in Coatsburg, Illinois, because there was a catwalk above the pens where we could look down. When you're younger, everything is bigger. It was cool.

Four years after dad died, Uncle George took me along on a trip to Norris Farms near Havana. The hardware store had been sold. Even though I was very interested in photography, George was checking to see if I had the aptitude and attitude to become a cattleman. "How much do you think that steer weighs," he asked? "Oh, between a thousand and fifteen hundred," I told him. Later, my cousin Eric saw him and said, "So. You're gonna make a cattle buyer out of Kent, eh?" Uncle George responded with a grin. "No. I don't think I'm gonna live that long."

Uncle George getting exercise on my 12th birthday. 
Uncle George stepped in and looked after mom and me when dad died. And I worked for him a couple of summers while I was in college. He's slowing down some, now that he's in his late 80's. But he was a hard working, up at dawn, and go kind of guy. And he expected the same from his employees. I love the man.

George would put hundreds of miles a week on his car, riding around looking at cattle. And he had car phone back in the early 70's. It took a mobile operator to make the call. And the horn would honk with an incoming call. Way ahead of his time.

He knew his way around. I believe George and his wife, Mary, and mom and dad, went across the Mississippi River, and south and west of Louisiana or Hannibal, Missouri. The rolling hills around the well maintained county roads.

It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day in February. While the adults did their thing, my buddy, Jim Barrow, and I somehow got a ride out to Old Orchard Country Club and began golfing.

Barrow is one of my oldest friends. Meaning our friendship goes back far. First or second grade. Only Brian Ervin outranks Barrow in that department.

George and Mary were helping mom and dad escape. Jim was doing his part to help me. I had a lot of nervous, scared energy going. The golfing enabled me to let some of it out. I was 14. He was 12. We were too young to be able to rent riding carts. It was all walking. We only played 23 holes, not 27, because our legs finally gave out.

I can't say how the mood was, back at home that evening, when everyone got back together. But I think I'm safe in saying the day was a good diversion for everyone.




Remembering Tom Grieger

It was a Sunday afternoon in the late spring of 1987. I was living and working in Macomb, Illinois, for the Macomb Daily Journal. I'd been there since August of 1983, and was looking to make a move up the ranks in the world of photojournalism. That is, I wanted a better job at a bigger newspaper. After three and a half years, I felt I was ready.

There was an opening at The Daily Herald, in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Suburban Chicago. A staff of  six or seven photographers who took up about seven of the top ten spots in the monthly clip contests with the Illinois Press Photographer's Association. A great staff with a great reputation. I wanted to be part of that team, and applied.

On that Sunday, I was totally immersed in watching my beloved Boston Celtics on the tube. They were in a playoff run.

The phone rang. The fact that the phone rang is important. Most of the time, when the Celtics were on, I unplugged the phone.

I answered. It was my cousin, Eric Kiser, calling from Quincy. I'm not sure what he wanted, but had to excuse himself. "I'll call you back in two minutes," he said.

Less than two minutes passed, the phone rang again. I picked up and said, "Eric Kiser Insurance. How may I help you?" I thought I was pranking my cousin. There was a pause, then a voice at the other end said, "I think I may have the wrong number." I immediately knew it was not Eric. "No. You may not. Who is this, please," I asked? "This is Tom Grieger, of The Daily Herald," was the reply.

Thinking that callback to be Eric, I came "this" close to answering the phone that second time with, "What the fuck do you want?" Had I done so, I might still be working in Macomb. Later, I related this story to the man who would become my boss in June of 1987. Tom Grieger. The Director of Photography, at The Daily Herald. Thankfully, he thought it was funny.

I went to work for Tom that summer. I worked for him for eight years, barring a year and half I was at a sports newspaper. Tom retired in the summer of 1995. He was a very easy to guy to work for. A gentle man who knew how to "coach" his staff.

Saturday night, around 8 p.m., Tom passed away.

A few memories from those days with Tom and the incredible staff of people I worked with...

My formal interview was on Monday, Memorial Day of 1987. Tom, and Mike Seeling, the Assistant Director of Photography, and I sat in their office for three hours. My buddy, Mark Dial, and I had driven to Arlington Heights from Indianapolis, where we'd been to the 500 the day before. While I interviewed, Mark napped in the car in front of the paper on Campbell Street. 217 Campbell, I think.

Most of the photographers were out shooting parades. But I did get to meet Rich Chapman that day. He was back early from his gig.

I was offered the job. I was "green." I know for a fact that they could have hired more qualified shooters than me. But I'm glad they liked what they saw. And I'm grateful they took a chance on me.

I learned a lot at The Herald. I was surrounded with talented, nice, co-workers who shared their knowledge about the craft of photojournalism. I also made life long friends there. Things eventually fell apart, and I wound up in Galesburg. Some of my best work was done here. But it was good because of what I learned up there. The ten years I spent in Chicago were my "golden years." Shooting pro sports, covering big stories, etc.

One such event happened in November of 1987. Chicago Mayor Harold Washington died suddenly. City hall was up for grabs. There was a lot of turmoil surrounding who would become the next mayor. My colleague, Dave Tonge, and I, were sent to cover a meeting in downtown Chicago, at city hall. Dave was in the council chambers, I was downstairs, in the lobby.

A huge crowd assembled. Angry people. Some of the anger was directed at Eugene Sawyer, a council member who was interested in becoming mayor, and did. He was not favorable with much of the public. Especially the black community.

In the middle of the chaos, a man came downstairs to address the crowd. He was roundly booed. I made pictures, and asked a woman who was near, "Who is that?" "That's Sawyer," she told me, without  hesitation.

I raced back to Arlington Heights, processed my film. made my prints, wrote my captions, and made deadline. I was feeling pretty good.

Photographers are competitive. We all like to think we captured the best image from an event. And though we were all friendly, it was especially nice to "beat" The Tribune or Sun-Times. The next morning, I was out running errands. I went straight to the honor boxes containing papers. The front of The Sun-Times had a photo very similar to mine. But the man identified was not Eugene Sawyer.

"Uh-Oh. Shit," I thought. "Somebody is wrong."

When we walked into the photo department, Tom's office was to the left, the general work area was ahead and right. That afternoon, Tom was there to greet me, wiggling his pointer finger at me. "Come here, honkie," he said. He was calm, and polite. He even told me the copy desk should have caught my mistake. But we had a good discussion on double checking facts and identification. And not taking a stranger's word on something. It was a big story. Ultimately, I caused major embarrassment to the paper. I was forgiven, and life went on.

A lighter tale. They sent me to Sarasota, Florida to cover spring training for the White Sox in 1989. I was picked over the other guys. I was progressing as a shooter, and had apparently earned what we called "plum assignments." A trip to Florida in late winter was a good one to get.

Everything went well. We shot slide film in those days. Exposure was tricky. You had to be dead on. It was hard to expose for the highlights, while trying to obtain shadow detail under the bills of the ball caps. At the end of every day, I put the film on a flight to Chicago. Someone would go pick it up at O'Hare. This was before the days of computers, or easy transmission of pictures.

Soon after I got back, Tom called me into his office. I wondered what the meeting could be about. It was my expense report from the trip. Again, in his pleasant manner, he asked me about my accounting. "According to this, you were tipping the waitress 50%." "For that amount of money, I hope she was sitting on your lap naked, and feeding you grapes," he said with a smile and a laugh.

I explained myself. And I was honest. I didn't do any cheating. I took no advantage, or hid anything. I was simply caught up in doing my job, and having a good time doing it. Rather than do my expenses daily, I put it all off until returning. I put everything together in haste, resulting in "fuzzy math."

Tom was a graduate of Indiana University, in the journalism program. Shooting styles in photojournalism evolve over the years. Tom was very good for his era. I don't know his whole career history at The Herald, but his first day on the job as a staff photographer was November 22nd, 1963. The day Kennedy was assassinated. It was bound to have been a wild day in the newsroom!

He stayed with The Herald, and eventually rose to Director of Photography. He and Bob Finch began to assemble and cultivate a crack team of shooters. The Herald was still small, but growing. Photos got huge play, five and six columns across the page. It was a visual paper. Photography carried a lot of clout. And any photojournalist would love to have a spot on the staff. Tom was instrumental in building this reputation. Many shooters went on to larger, metro papers. The names of alumni from the paper is very impressive. And the high calibre of photography there continues to this day.

Tom was not an imposing figure. Slender, he often wore a cardigan sweater. He was not heavy handed in his dealing with people. He had a great sense of humor. He would jokingly ask us if we "Worked in a mattress factory," because he thought we must be "padding" our mileage reports.

If he was in the office when a few of us were to get together and go out for lunch, he'd send us on our way with the command of, "Eat, pigs!"

If the assignment was something he deemed to be mundane, he'd tell us, "Don't crap around on it."

"Twit" was a favorite of his. But if he referred to someone with that term, it was said with a smile, and in good nature.

"Monkification" was a Grieger original, as far as I know. This too, dealt with assignments that had so little to offer in opportunity for good photography, that a monkey could shoot them. At least I think that is the origin of that phrase.

When I moved to Galesburg in 1997, there was a period of time that Tom and I lost connection with each other. Somehow, thankfully, that was reignited five or six years ago. We talked on the phone, I visited him a few times at his home. We shared good memories, and he always took interest in how I was doing down here.

He had been failing some. Slowing down, the past year and a half. When his wife Sharon called Sunday evening, I feared the worst, even before she told me. You can just tell when it's "that" call.

I will miss him. A bunch of us will. He was a great man, a great guy to work for. A lot of us can thank him for making us better photographers, and for the opportunity he and The Daily Herald provided us to become so.

Tom Grieger and myself. November of 2011. Tom was the retired Director of Photography at The Daily Herald



Sunday, February 24, 2013

February 24th

February 24th, 1973: Now there is a new worry. Dad has cancer of the bone. Yup. Now there's a new spot just off his shoulder that's cancerous. Dr. Bunting came down and clued us in on everything. And, they're going to try burning each off with cobalt treatment. But there's still a helluva chance of things going well.

February 24th, 2013: Always looking on the bright side, I guess. We got word that dad had more than just his lung(s) and liver to worry about. An area around his shoulder showed up bad, too. And yet, I concluded that days entry with optimism.

I don't remember whether the original tumors showed up on one lung, or both. There was also the liver. Now the bone. Details and memory are vague on this. If I recall, it was his right shoulder. The new spot must have been detected by x-rays. They must have been keeping the x-ray technicians busy, monitoring the situation.

That, or dad may have acquired a pain in his shoulder, mentioned it, and they went looking for the source of the problem. Metastasis. The cancer was spreading.

Based on my diary entry, Dr. Bunting made a trip to the house to fill us in on the latest development.

I had to drop a "swear word" in for good measure that day. "Helluva," was a word Jerry Kramer used throughout his diary, "Instant Replay." The book that influenced me to keep a journal during dad's illness.

I just can't remember every last detail of what was happening. I wish I'd had the discipline to be more through in my writings.

Obviously. Things were going downhill at a pretty steady rate.

What are the stages cancer patients are said to go through? Anger, denial, and acceptance are a some of them. Never, did I see dad angry. Never, did I hear "Why me?" He was probably aware of his fate by this time, or well before.

I was the one playing the denial role.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23rd

February 23rd, 1973: Dad just rested today. Waiting for some word tomorrow.

February 23rd, 2013: In looking at the notes I made from memory in 1993, when I last attempted this project, and failed.... I stated, "It looks like there was a lot of waiting around." That may be the understatement of my original diary. And this blog.

"Groundhog Day" for a cancer patient. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Do I need to repeat that?

Dad may have, or may not have, been spending some time at the hardware store. I'm thinking it was a 50/50 mixture. If he had the energy for it, he'd want to be there.

Treatments had not begun. He wasn't losing weight. And he really didn't look all that bad. He was still smoking. I think the smoking stopped when the treatments began.

Tears were probably shed in private. The dark cloud was hanging. But the world did not stop. The store was open. I was in school. We ate dinner together every night at the kitchen table.

If I stated much more than those facts. I'd have to make stuff up.

An old pocket knife of dads

Friday, February 22, 2013

February 22nd

February 22nd, 1973: We called Lynn tonight, to let her in on the up-to-date news. Dad went back to Quincy today. But we won't get the word for a couple of weeks, I think.

February 22nd, 2013: If you're reading along, you may be getting confused. I lived it, and I am. Looking back, I wonder what I was referring to when I wrote of getting "the word"? Dad had been clearly diagnosed with cancer. He had tumors on at least one lung, and his liver.

There may have been a few details omitted in my original writings. To this point, a day shy of two weeks into dad's situation, most everything had been revolving around pinpointing the type of cancer, and size of the tumors.

Maybe, possibly, "the word" was in reference to how advanced the cancer was. Maybe, possibly, I was not strong enough to put that in words.

Lynn is dad's daughter from his first marriage. She is 20 years older than me, is a great half sister, and has lived south of Tacoma, Washington since the early 60's. I don't have a lot of memories of her living in Pittsfield, before she got married, and moved. First to Dover, Delaware. Then to Lakewood. Her husband, Roger Cory, was in the Air Force. I remember  a photo of me, sitting on the gift table at her wedding, that hung in Aunt Betty's den. When she moved out and got married, she also left behind a small stack of 45 rpm records that helped launch my love for music.

My half sister, Lynn Cory. And her friend Stew Wegner


I never met Lynn's mom, dad's first wife, until years and years later, at the wedding of Lynn's son, Rodney.

The long distance made seeing them difficult. Lynn, Roger, and their children, Rodney and Julie, had their life, out in the northwest. We were in the midwest. Flying was still expensive, and more for the "privileged" in the 60's. Mom was scared to fly. They did make it back to Pittsfield a couple of times. I can remember Rod and I racing around on our riding lawn mower, and catching lightning bugs in Aunt Betty's backyard.

When mom married dad. Lynn was still living in Pittsfield. Lynn was only 6-7 years younger than mom. Apparently, at times, it was awkward. And it was through no fault of Lynn's.

Dad would have the opportunity to call Lynn from the hardware store at any time. And we all called back and forth at various times of the year. Especially holidays.

Lynn had surely been notified of dad's condition, as soon as we found out. This was an update. To this point, no plans had been made for us to visit them. Or for them to visit us.

Lynn and I both inherited dad's dimple. Lynn jokes, and tells people "we fell on a nail."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21st

February 21st, 1973: Dad just rested today. But I think he's in better shape now than ever.

February 21st, 2013: A two sentence entry in the original diary. Not much to add, 40 years later.

The 21st was a Wednesday. So, if dad was resting, he was resting at home. Being kept away from the hardware store. That probably bothered him. The store was his sense of purpose. Like me with a camera in my hands. Not just a job. A passion.

Almost anything I could add here, right now, would borderline on speculation. I was at school all day. Dad would was home. Mom was home. I don't know how they passed the time. He was sick, but far from frail and bedridden, as he'd become later. Even as bad as the circumstance were, mom may have enjoyed having dad around the house.

Maybe they talked about what was ahead? Maybe they went uptown for lunch? Depending on the weather, I'd have ridden my bicycle to school. Or, been taken and picked up by mom, or some other parent from the neighborhood.

Dad was lucky. Rich in friends. There's a good chance someone might have made a stop by the house to check on him. Visit for awhile. Ask if there was anything he needed. Or, help mom out.

With an entry like today, there was either not much to report on. Or, I was bored, and running out of new things to enter in the diary.

I had missed something in my notes from two days ago, the 19th. Something important, but not in my original diary. They had found the size of the tumor to be smaller than first thought. But the tests had also come back as "positive." I had recalled of not remembering how we all reacted to this news. And not recalling as to whether I was invited to the meeting when dad was told the biopsy reports were positive. He was definitely full of cancer.

Somewhere around the 19th or 20th, any doubts were erased. And hope was given a major blow.

Look at all the knives! A window display from the hardware store in 1955. Shapleigh (a hardware wholesaler) awarded grandpa and dad a first place, worth $100, for the best window display of May



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 20th

February 20th, 1973: Dad sure is in better spirits today. They went to Quincy for the liver scan, and came back in the same day. He goes back Thursday for more tests.

February 20th, 2013: In looking back at 1993 notes, my attempt to follow up on the story 20 years after the fact, I wrote. "I think this can be pretty much taken at face value." That is in reference to my original, 1973 entry.

He must have had more of a positive outlook on this day. I would have been in school, and mom likely was the one who drove him to Quincy that day. This would have been one of the earlier trips in the 90 mile, round trip, drive. As the need for the drives to Quincy grew in the frequency in his treatments did, friends stepped in to do the driving, and allow mom time at home, and with me. I likely would have gone to the store to help after school. Or gone home from school. I don't remember when they got back that day. But it was an "up and back" trip.

Looking back on all this, I wish I'd had the interest and courage to have really pursued the diary in much greater detail. To ask a lot more questions, of mom, dad, relatives and friends. I remember many more details than I wrote down back in 73'. But not as many as I'd hope for now. It would give dad's story a lot more depth. It would be especially interesting to know how mom was coping, what was going on inside her head?

Back then, no one knew I was writing stuff down. I had sort of an "office/hangout" in the basement. Most of my original writings were made from there. I wasn't necessarily hiding anything, or trying to be sneaky. I probably thought no one would see the need to do what I was doing. If I told mom or dad I was writing, and was told to stop, I would have. Not only because I would have been told to do so. But for the fear of getting caught after I'd been told to. As dad would say, "Don't make me have to tell you twice, boy."

I told mom of the diary years later. She didn't express a lot of interest in reading it. I didn't feel like asking her a lot of questions that would have helped fill in a lot more blanks now. For the most part, we didn't talk a lot about the sad times. Only the good. Too much looking back led to tears. Mom died in 2004.

It was always weird. For the most part, after dad died, mom was a loss 364 days out of the year. She would always pull herself together on Christmas day, to insure it would be the best day we could make of it. I was 180 degrees opposite. All right, 364 days a year, but a wreck on Christmas day.

It was never the same for either of us once he was gone.

Dad, at Pine Lakes. 1967

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19th

February 19th, 1973: Good news. The tumor is about the size of an English walnut. Not the size of a fist, which they had figured it to be. Dad is all done at the hospital now, and will go to Quincy for his liver scan. Things look a lot better anyway, as small as the tumor is (we still don't know if it is malignant). They might be able to burn it off with cobalt. Maybe there is a God.

February 19th, 2013: It must have been a one night stay at the hospital for dad. They were able to establish the size of the tumor, probably by x-ray. Thinking back, I would believe they must have already known this, based on the fact that it was surely x-rays that showed spots on his lung and liver in the first place. Dad, out of breath, not feeling well, goes to the doctor. Initial x-rays are performed, confirming something is wrong...

The liver scan would be done in Quincy, at Blessing Hospital, for whatever reason. Better technology, or Illini Hospital just didn't have the means to perform something like that in those days.

Hope was hanging on by a thread. Four days earlier, on the 15th, Dr. Bunting had said, "It looks malignant." Not, "It is malignant."

Typing this now, and trying not to look too far ahead in my original writings. But I had too. It appears there was a lot of testing going on, but none of it conclusive in findings. I'm not interested in turning this story into a medical journal. In looking ahead a few days, I don't know if there ever was a day when dad was told, "you're going to die." The process just kept moving forward. Tests, treatment. Treatment, rest. More treatment. Time at home. Time in the hospital.

I'm not even sure of the clinical name for the type of cancer dad had. I was told it was "oat cell." I know that is small cell cancer, and is typically more aggressive. Carcinoma. It's highly malignant, and people who contract it are pretty much getting a death sentence. Would he still be alive if he didn't smoke a couple of packs of Salems a day? Who knows? I will not get on a soapbox. But I can not see anything, not one thing, appealing or beneficial about cigarettes.

Mom was just as bad, or worse. But she beat the odds. Years later, on trips back home to visit mom, she'd moved into a small apartment. The walls were yellow. The t.v. screen had a yellow film on it. I'd leave to come home and my duffel bag, my clothes, my hair, absolutely reeked. If that stuff can turn the walls yellow, imagine what it's doing to your lungs.

I try not to judge. We all have vices and faults. Cigarettes are a bad one, though.

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 18th

February 18th, 1973: Tonight, dad went into the hospital about 7:30. We ate at the Cardinal Inn. Just before he left, dad told me I'd have to be the man of the house for awhile. And to help whenever I could, at the store. I'll be damned if I'll let dad down.

February 18th, 2013: Dad was officially admitted to Illini Hospital, in Pittsfield. As stated before, I don't think he'd been admitted to a hospital in years. Never, in my lifetime. Maybe never, period. There was one blip, I'm not sure when, that he had problems with his feet. He may have missed a day or two of work then. But other than family vacations, a planned day off, or hardware shows, twice a year, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the man was an iron horse. Nine hours a day, six days a week, at Pittsfield Hardware.

Mom got the night off from cooking supper. We ate at the Cardinal Inn. A truck stop diner a little towards the west end of town. It sat along U.S. Route 36, the main drag through Pittsfield. In town, its name is Washington Street. Pittsfield is bypassed now. But back then, Route 36, which ran from Indianapolis to Denver, was busy. A well traveled route for long haul truckers. "The red bird," as it was sometimes called, was the classic "greasy spoon" eatery. A good breakfast spot, but we didn't eat the evening meal there very often.

The store was going to be left in the very capable hands of Pat and Peachy. They'd handled it before, short term, when dad was on vacation, or at the hardware shows. Wilbur Bartlett would also help pick up the slack when he wasn't busy with his full time job as a rural route mail delivery driver.

Mom would check in too. But on a limited basis. She never had much of a hand in being involved with the store in day to day operations. That would come back on us, not long after dad died. Mom and dad had a "traditional" marriage. Mom was the "homemaker." Dad was the alpha male, the breadwinner, and the one who brought home the bacon. Did I leave any cliches' out, there? I found out many years later that mom and my Aunt June had wanted to open a beauty salon. "No, Dorothy. Your place is at home with that boy," he was said to have told her. I think that's kind of harsh. It didn't give mom a chance to become her own business woman (though she did eventually have the antique store). The salon idea had come earlier, when I was much younger. Dad felt it was important to have a parent at home, with the child. To watch over, and teach right from wrong. I'd agree. In ideal circumstances, it would be great for one parent or the other to be with a child until they begin kindergarten. That doesn't happen so much now, unless there is a lot of money in one income.

Mom didn't have a lot of self-confidence to begin with. I doubt dad's directive helped. But she did stay home. And despite all my shortcomings, both parents instilled a few traits in me, which I try my utmost to practice everyday. Honesty, respect, and accountability. To others, and myself. And when dad died, mom was given the unenviable task of assuming BOTH roles to a 14 year old boy. A time in my life when I could have easily gone off the tracks. She played both roles well, and I made it through. Not going off the tracks until many years later!

Dad at The Badlands. 1972. His last vacation.
When dad was admitted to the hospital that evening, and having him tell me "I'd have to be the man of the house," etc. I looked at it as a chance to start showing him I could do those things. I was kind of excited by it. Psychologically, it gave me a chance to step up and focus on what he asked, rather than focus on why I was having to do this in the first place. It was good to help. But it probably put me deeper into denial as to what was really going on. A Yin/Yang thing.



Sunday, February 17, 2013

February 17th

February 17th, 1973: We didn't do much at all tonight. We had an early supper. During the last quarter, dad looked over at my plate and started to cry again. Before he started to eat tonight, I think dad said a little prayer to himself. I just wish God would change sides real quick. Dad goes into the hospital tomorrow.

February 17th, 2013: We ate dinner (supper, as we called it) at an old oak, claw foot table, that dad bought for mom at some point. Mom loved antiques. She eventually opened an antique store in the very back portion of the hardware store warehouse. A partition was put up, and a hole punched through the bricks of the building off the alley. Her store was called "Alley Antiques." Glassware is a little too "girly" for me. But my appreciation of antique furniture is rooted from mom's interest.

I'm typing from that table right now. A carnival glass light fixture, from our dining room, is hanging above it. The spirits are right here, right now. I can see a black, burn spot near the section dad sat nearest. His cigarette must have rolled out of an ashtray. That same section of table would get the occasional pounding of his fist, to emphasis the point that I better eat what was in front of me, and "straighten up and fly right."Dad sat to my right, with his back to the living room. Mom sat to my left, her back to the wall that separated the kitchen from the breezeway. I sat in the middle, looking out the kitchen windows to Prospect Street. The Ford station wagon would be in clear view, parked by the street.

Just before we began to eat, I glanced over to see dad with his head sort of bowed. He was resting it on his hands. His mouth was moving, but you couldn't hear what he was saying. His eyes were closed. For sure, he must have been praying or collecting his thoughts. He was all to himself. I don't know if mom noticed this, or not? This was more, new, behavior by him that'd I'd never seen before.

I could sort of understand his actions then, but sure can relate to it a lot more now. He probably knew he was terminal. Very sick at the least. If I looked over at my wife, and 14 year old kid in that condition, I'd pray too. Dad was probably a lot less concerned about himself, than he was for mom and me. What was going to happen to us. People dad's age have told me I was "The apple of his eye."

Late in the meal, he glanced over at me and my plate, and began to cry again. He didn't break down, but there were more tears.

Tomorrow would be the first time in his life that he'd miss a day of work for something other than a vacation, grandpa's death, or something not related to the store. That was probably eating on him too.

He was doing his best to appear strong. But the thoughts in his head must have surely made it so full as to almost explode. There would have to have been acceptance to the situation. But a lot of fear and denial as well.


February 16th

February 16th, 1973: Tonight, I stayed at a friends house. And dad told me to have a good time. Then he broke down.

February 16th, 2013: The junior high school days. It was pretty common for friends to get together outside of school and stay over at a buddy's house every once in awhile. Shooting pool, throwing darts, building model cars. In the summertime, we'd camp out, and run wild through the neighborhoods. The street lights had sensors on them. They'd come on at dusk, off at dawn. A good, solid kick to the base of the pole would "confuse" the sensor and shut them off for five minutes or so at night. This was a fun activity in Pittsfield at the age we were. If one ran fast enough, you could kick enough poles to darken a whole block. We were easily amused.

I was friends with lots of people. But Rick Alspaugh and Donnie Bradburn were two of my best buddies back then. And as goes with junior high school, comes drama. The silly part of the friendship with those two, is that rarely, could all three of us be friends at the same time. One of us was always "on the outs" with the other two. I know we'd laugh about it now.

Rick Alspaugh, left, and Kent. 1972
It's almost certain that it was one of those two pals houses, where I spent a night, hanging out. And it was probably set up by Ron and Barbara Bradburn, or Dick and Sue Alspaugh. Four of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. That's how folks operated. People stepped up to help other people. This stay over was probably arranged more for the benefit of mom and dad, to give them some time together, without me around. And less for the benefit of Donnie or Rick and me.

Dad was about to go into the hospital, and have a long grind ahead of him, with treatments.

The exact details are fuzzy. Bradburns or Alspaughs came to pick me up. Or mom drove me over to one of the homes. As I got ready to leave, dad said to have a good time, and then began crying again. Mostly likely, it upset me to see him upset. And I probably left the house in tears too.

Friday, February 15, 2013

February 15th

February 15th, 1973: "It looks malignant." That's what Dr. Bunting thinks. Dad goes into the hospital Sunday, and they will do some tests Monday and Tuesday. They will be performed by a doctor I wouldn't trust with a dog, let alone my father. But, if any lung surgery has to be performed, it will be done in St. Louis. Dr. Bunting has conferred with six well-known doctors in the country, and they'll do everything they can. I guess there is no God.

February 15th, 2013: Dad was "officially" in "trouble." The news just confirmed week-long suspicions.  Cancer treatment has come a long way in 40 years. But it's still a brutal disease. Even now however, as back then. To the best of my knowledge, if one is stricken with lung, liver, or pancreatic cancer, the odds are still stacked against that person.

Mom and dad had been talking to Dr. Bunting about strategy and types of treatment ahead of this news.  That information was given to me on an "as need" basis. I believe they were pretty honest with me about what to expect. I don't believe they wanted me to know the odds of him beating the disease, barring a miracle. Even though I was old enough to be fully aware of what was happening, and it crossed my mind dad could die. It only crossed my mind. Not my dad. No way. He'd beat it.

The doctor mentioned in the original post shall remain nameless. "Small Town Talk" is a great song by Rick Danko. In it, he sings something about "Believing half of what you see, and none of what you hear." Pittsfield is small town. Gossip existed. Kids listened to conversations their parents held at dinner, and other places. The physician in question was said to have been "knife happy," performing surgery when not really necessary. I'll follow dad's advice on this one, and be "Seen, and not heard."

As for the "six doctors" Dr. Bunting had talked to. I have no idea who they may have been. Or from where. And though dad was a human being who deserved a shot to live, he wasn't the president. He was a "regular guy,"  I would imagine the  resources were limited. I do remember the Mayo Clinic being brought up, however. I think Dr. Bunting was doing his best. Any action he took on the matter couldn't hurt. But, based on the diagnoses of where the cancer was located, not much was going to help. Dad could be treated, but not cured.

Another reference to God in the original diary, too. God was good when the news was good. God was against us when the news was not so good. I was writing for drama, and full of crap.

Dad was 57. I think mom would have been 37 at that point. And I'd just turned 14. My parents had to pretty much know he was living on borrowed time from this day forward.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

February 14th

February 14th, 1973: Same story as yesterday. But tomorrow is judgement day. Mom got some roses delivered to her from dad today. Mom said, "Virg, what are these?" Dad said, "Well, that's my Valentine's present." It was the first time I ever saw dad cry.

February 14th, 2013: The judgement day thing is in reference to the coming, next day. Test results would finally come back, and determine whether the tumor on dad's lung was malignant. I believe it was a foregone conclusion that it was. Maybe the tests would determine the type of cancer, etc. As I'm getting into recounting this, for this blog, it is obvious I will have some problems communicating some medical details. I just wasn't involved in those conversations.

Somewhere around dinner time, there was a knock at the front door. The house had three doors. Front, breezeway, and back. The front led into the living room. The breezeway to the kitchen. And the back to sort of a "mud room." Most casual friends used the breezeway door. A knock at the front door usually meant a stranger, or something more formal.

I was home from school. Mom was preparing dinner. Dad was home too. Either early from work, or the delivery person was running past their hours. I'm not sure who answered the door.

What I can clearly remember is confusion. This was atypical behavior of dad. He was not outwardly emotional, and had never done anything like this before. He wasn't a tough, macho type guy at all. But he didn't wear his feelings on his sleeve like I do. He didn't spend a lot of time hugging or kissing mom, and I don't remember hearing the words "I love you," with any frequency. To mom or me. He didn't have to. You could read it in his eyes. It's hard to describe. But there was genuine love. There was never a tense moment between mom and dad (that I saw) in their marriage. And I'm very perceptive, even as a kid. There wasn't even a "vibe" of problems. Because there were none.

Mom & Dad. "Moonlight Madness," 1965
So, there we were. All three of us in the kitchen. The roses ended up in mom's hands. Dad was either standing, or sitting at the kitchen table. Same with me. Mom was surprised. I was surprised, having never seen anything like this before.

It was almost surreal. Like a mistake had been made. The delivery man must have the wrong address. Then, dad gave her those roses, and mom asked that question... "Virg, what are these?"

Dad broke down. I'd seen what I thought was a tear in his eye a few days before. But this was the first time in my life I ever really saw him cry.

It was one of the most emotional moments of the whole, three month ordeal. Even without having kept a diary, I'd remember this scene for the rest of my life.




Front of 73' Valentine, made by Aunt Betty
Inside of 73' Valentine, made by Aunt Betty


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February 13th

February 13th, 1973: I couldn't help much today, because there was school. We're just hanging on until Thursday.

February 13th, 2013: A short original entry. A short follow up. Dad, and the rest of us, were still playing the waiting game, to find out if the spot on his lung was malignant. It had to have been a week of unrest for him. Mentally and physically. I can remember more silence than usual. A much darker, more somber "feel" around the house. But he wasn't complaining, or exhibiting the "why me" questions.

Tests must have been done. In Pittsfield, in Quincy, maybe both. A week seems long to wait for results like this. So important in the balance of someone's life. But maybe that's where technology was then.

Dad continued to work, mom continued to be "mom" and the homemaker she was. I continued to go to school. I didn't make note of it then, but I'm betting my friends at school were supporting me, and giving words of encouragement. I know they did. It just wasn't entered in my original diary, in detail, every day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 12th

February 12th, 1973: Since there was no school today, I helped out at the store. Seemed like any other day, really. My teacher, Mr. Willard, came in, and he and dad talked for awhile. I just have a feeling that everything is going to be o.k.

February 12th, 2013: I think I mentioned. I worked at the store some Saturdays, after school, or during the summer. I can't say I wasn't spoiled, because I was. In the end, I usually got what I wanted. Not always, however. And it wasn't just handed to me. I worked to learn to save for what I wanted, and the value of a dollar.

I was there on this Monday. Must have been Lincoln's birthday. I kept logs (see photo) of the hours I worked. I'm not sure of the date of this log. But it appears I was receiving twenty five cents an hour.

If I helped open the store, it was a real treat. Dad would roust me from bed, I'd watch him splash cold water on his face to wake himself up, and do the same to myself. Then, we'd eat breakfast at The Bowl around 6:30, before opening the store at 7 a.m. It seemed logical to me that, if I was up and with him, I was on "store time." I was putting myself on the clock at 6:30, for breakfast. It didn't take dad too long to see what I was up to. "No, boy. It doesn't work that way," he told me. But I remember him chucking and telling me, "But I think you're going to make it." He was not a crooked guy. But I guess he liked my creative method of time keeping.

One of my store time sheets
My responsibilities included waiting on customers, organizing the warehouse, and helping unload the trucks as they brought freight in once a week.

The store was the "real deal." Oiled, hardwood floors. All the hardware items you can imagine. And quality merchandise for the day. Black and Decker, Corning, Estwing, Rubbermaid... Dad took a lot of pride in the place. And he was fortunate to have two employees who were awesome. Donald "Peachy" Foreman, and Pat Orr. Wilbur Bartlett was a part time worker. And at one time, Bob Hyde replaced Peachy when he moved away for awhile. That's it. There was no turnover. It was a fantastic crew. Pat added the "woman's touch" but knew her stuff. Peachy was the guy who could invent, build, or fix anything.

This was during a time when many merchants displayed their wares on the sidewalks, in front of their businesses. At the end of the day, some of ours went inside the front door. But the larger stuff had to be pushed down the alley and into the the warehouse. When I was much younger, if I was lucky, and Peachy willing, I could catch a ride in a wheelbarrow down the alley. I loved it!

Right now, I can close my eyes and remember every nook and cranny of that place. Where all the merchandise was located. There were two sides. The original, south side. And the north side. Dad purchased that building when George Ed McGann built a new grocery store. We knocked a hole in the wall and nearly doubled the display area. I think this would have been 1962 or early 63'. Grandpa didn't live to see it.

They say the sense of smell is one of the most powerful. A hardware store has a distinct one. A real mixture. Of them all, I can smell the leather of the Yankee Doodle work gloves, and the rubber of the garden hose area.

Mr. Willard, Dale Willard, happened to be my social studies teacher at the time. A great teacher, and a buddy of dads. He came in to chat with dad. The front door of the store fed to an open area. There were three aisles to walk. Left, middle, and right. Along the right aisle, not far from the front, were clothes hampers. Dad and Mr. Willard sat there on them and talked. About things in general. And about dad's situation. I remember going about my work, but hovering nearby them when I wasn't with a customer. I could hear parts of their conversation. Dad's tone and words seemed matter of fact and, "I'll deal with it."

A few keepsakes from the store

Monday, February 11, 2013

February 11th

February 11th, 1973: Today, we didn't do much except sit around. Every now and then I would cry. And for the first time in my life, I saw a tear in dad's eye. To make matters worse, there was some deal on t.v. about skin cancer. Which in no way relates to dad's trouble, except the word "cancer." We ate at Aunt Betty's (dad's sister) tonight. The only encouragement I got today was, when as a joke, I told myself everything would be all right if "Crocodile Rock" was on WLS. Maybe God heard me say that, because it was playing.

February 11th, 2013: I'm sure dad had a ton of weight on his shoulders. And a lot of worry on his mind. But if anything serious was being  discussed in those early, waiting for news days, it was between him and mom. I was too young to be involved in detailed conversations of what was going on. I wouldn't have understood most of it, and it probably would have upset me further.

It makes me think of one of dad's favorite sayings. "Children are to be seen, and not heard." I'd disagree with him on that one now. Children have a lot to say. And some of it could be important and beneficial.   There's a lot more going on in "small minds" than adults realize. It's just that kids may be reluctant to share their thoughts.

I wonder if dad was second guessing himself about his long time smoking habit? How he could have contracted the disease. What was ahead for him?  Did he have hope, or did he already figure the worst? Whatever it was, he wasn't showing it.

Aunt Betty had us over for dinner every so often. She didn't live far from us. And she lived in the big white house on Washington Street that was once grandpa's. I'm proud of my middle class roots. I grew up in a two bedroom ranch, with one bathroom. But the hardware business must have been pretty good to grandpa. The house Aunt Betty occupied was pretty luxurious. Two stories, lots of rooms. Aunt Betty lived downstairs, the upstairs was rented out. It was located across the street from Illini Hospital. That wound up being convenient. Dad would spend a lot of time there in the coming weeks. And he'd eventually die there.

Aunt Betty was single. Never married. Her and dad were pretty close, but I do remember a few "ups and downs" between them. I'm not sure of their age difference. but they were different people. Dad was very smart, but the blue collar type. A high school education. Aunt Betty was the college educated, world traveler. She'd done work with the Red Cross in World War II, and served on the board at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. She'd moved back from the east coast to help with grandpa as he got older. When he died in 1963, she took over the house. She worked at The Pike Press, the weekly paper in Pittsfield and Pike County, and had some ownership in it. She helped nurture my interest in photography. Aunt Betty was independent and strong willed. I may have inherited those traits from her. She was a fantastic cook. I missed the boat on that one.

The "Crocodile Rock" thing... I used to play a game with myself. I'd try and guess what song would playing on the radio BEFORE turning it on. WLS was a Chicago AM station. 89 on the dial. It was great, and a mega-watter. I listened to it all the time to satisfy my musical cravings. Elton John's song was a smash hit at the time. So, it wasn't that big of a reach to have it be playing when I flipped the power on. Still, it was a spirit booster at the time.

I had also made my second reference to God in my original diary. I always was, and am, spiritual. But I was not raised as a church goer. I think it bothered mom, but dad wanted to rest or play golf on Sunday mornings. Not get up and go to church. I don't think he was an atheist. But I can't say for sure. My references to God, and some of the words I chose in my original writings, may have been more for drama than anything else. And that is a bit embarrassing.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

February 10th, 1973: I cried most of today. And helped out up at the store. Dad is playing his trombone for the last time tonight, until we know more details.

February 10th, 2013: Dad worked his usual 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift at the hardware store. I was up to help out, as I did every once in awhile, on weekends, school breaks, and summer vacation. I don't remember any specifics on from this day. But I'm guessing the mood was a bit more somber than usual between dad and his two workers, Pat Orr, and Donald "Peachy" Foreman. And there may have been some friends and customers who made stops in to say hello. Word travels fast in a small town.

Dad was a pretty good trombone player. Good enough to pay musicians union dues. I think he began playing in junior high school, in Quincy. I'm told he was good enough that, if he'd wanted to pursue it professionally, he might have gone somewhere with it. But the hardware store was his life. Golf, and the trombone were his two main hobbies.

He was into big band and swing. Stan Getz and Woody Herman were two he liked. I also remember healthy doses of Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole. and Glenn Miller.

He'd played with many people, and many places, through the years. The black and white photo that accompanies this entry shows, from left: Virgil Kriegshauser on trombone, Lew Grigsby on trumpet, Gerald "Doc" Shaw on upright bass, and Maurice "Chick" Robinson on piano. The photo is from 1948.

Dad, left, with friends. 1948
In 1973, and for a few years prior, dad was playing one Saturday night a month at the Virginia Country Club, in Virginia, Illinois. He was playing with two other guys. Don Quy on organ, and John Hogan on drums. They went by the name of the Don Quy Trio. Me, being me, suggested they play off Mr. Hogan's name, and go by "Hogan's Heroes." That didn't fly.

Mom didn't mind giving up her husband to his music most of the time. But they also played on New Year's Eve. I remember some teeth gnashing over those gigs, as mom and I spent that night at home, without dad.

I only got to see him play a few times. Three at the most. Virginia was probably an hour and a half from Pittsfield. They played late, he got home late. Too late for a kid my age. But there were one or two times when I got to be there for part of the evening. It was a real privilege to have dinner with the adults, then watch those guys play. They were really good, and I could see how much joy dad got out of playing.

The trombone is a Conn. It sits in a corner of my apartment. I don't know how old it is, or it's pedigree. But that Saturday night, February 10th, 1973, was the last time dad played that horn.

I carried it to "Thursday Night Jazz," here in Galesburg, around 1997 or 1998. I'd told Scott Garlock, a music professor at Knox College, about the horn and dad. He made music with it for the first time since 73'. He says there's a small glitch in the slide, but it was very nice of him to bring the horn back to life again. That was the last time it's been played.

Dads trombone

Saturday, February 9, 2013

February 9th

February 9th, 1973: Tonight, my mom got the shocking word from Dr. Bunting about dad. He has cancer. Yes, he has a tumor on his lung. And his liver is enlarged. He will go back next Thursday for more x-rays. Meanwhile, we just pray to God that the tumor is not malignant, because I love my dad very much.

Dad and me. 1966.


February 9th, 2013: The 9th fell on a Friday in 1973. Everything in my life had been "normal" up to this date. I don't know whether dad had discussed his condition with mom or others. Whether or not he confided to friends that something wasn't right with him..

I think I remember mom telling me that dad was going go stop by to see Dr. Thomas Bunting, our family physician, after finishing his work at the hardware store. I doubt she told me that it might be serious.

Looking back, there must have been some tests conducted before that Friday. Because when dad did come home from the doctor's office, Dr. Bunting showed up too. The doctor wouldn't have followed dad home to talk to dad, mom, and me, if it wasn't clear that something was not right. If there were previous tests, I wasn't told of them.   It all came crashing down on me when dad and the doctor showed up together.

We sat in the family room. Dad was most likely in his rocking chair, a chair he'd been allowed to bring home from the Pittsfield fire department, where he'd been a volunteer firefighter for years. He may have been retired by 73', but he'd once been the chief. Dr. Bunting, mom, and I scattered around the room in other chairs.

 The meeting didn't last too long. A half hour, 45 minutes. Dr. Bunting laid out the facts to all of us in a direct manner. The type of cancer he likely had. The treatments available. What dad would be facing... At one point, dad asked the doctor what kind of time frame he'd have for living, if he was indeed cancerous. Dr. Bunting responded something to the effect of, "Several years on the good side. As few as three months on the bad side."

 Dad was born in 1912, in Quincy, Illinois. The oldest of two children. His sister, Betty, also lived and worked in Pittsfield. Grandpa and dad both worked at the Gardner-Denver plant in Quincy. At some point, Grandpa moved to Pittsfield and opened the hardware store. As I understand it, dad followed a couple of years later. They had owned and run Pittsfield Hardware together. Dad was in his 37th year.

Grandpa died in 1963. Dad kept the store going. It was a good business, supported by loyal customers. If things hadn't played out the way they did, I'd have likely been selling nails and hammers for a living. Not making photographs.

Dad was 57 years old. Other than vacations, hardware shows, and maybe a day or two with a bad foot, I don't think he missed a day of work. He was somewhat overweight, enjoyed a couple of Falstaff beers most evenings, and probably smoked a couple of packs of Salems a day. He wasn't physically active, other than enjoying his golf. I can remember us tossing the football around in the back yard. He'd huff and puff after awhile, but go as long as he could. It was more demanding than when we were racing h.o. cars in the basement. When we'd vacation to the Rockies, his sightseeing was done from the window of the car.

So. He liked his beer and smokes. I never saw dad drunk, or out of control. He never was physically or mentally abusive to mom or me. He loved us both. And though he wasn't overly, or outwardly affectionate in the traditional sense, there was no doubt we were two of the most important people in his life. Dad also had a daughter, from his first marriage. She is 20 years older than me, and lives in the northwest.

Dad met mom at Miles drugstore on a coffee break from the store. She was a much younger, good looking, Pike County girl with farm roots, working the soda fountain. She'd been married for a short time too. She was 21 years his junior, and he swept her away. I think they were married in 1957. I was born in 1959. A 21 year age difference in a small town in the late 50's. I'll bet that was scandalous! Dad was the glue that held us all together. Strong, and direct. He pulled no punches, and told it like it is.

In 73', for my 14th birthday a few weeks before, I remember mom commenting about how short of breath dad was, as he made 2-3 trips to unload a set of weights and barbells, my birthday present, from the car into the house. Knowing dad, he probably hadn't felt good for awhile, and put off going to the doctor. I'm guessing many of us, me included, don't want to confront the possibility of a serious illness. Prolonging facing it as long as possible.

Vintage Virg. Dad and his rocking chair, 1970

There weren't too many, if any, tears, shed that Friday night in 1973. There was more of a feeling of shock and disbelief. Also, at this point, it was not know if the growth was malignant. But the signs didn't point to anything good. I think all three of us were very scared.







Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On the Fence

I'm on the fence on this blogging thing. There's a peaceful, but uneasy feeling about it.

facebook is fine. It's easy. Quick hits, short sentences, and the interaction with lots of friends. Blogging takes time, effort, and is a lot more solitary. I could probably use my time more wisely.

And, who cares what I have to say? With facebook, I seem to amuse some, annoy others. But, it's a way to express ones self, and put something out there for all of us to laugh about. Or think about. I love being connected, or reconnected with people I care about, all over the world.

Blogging seems self-indulgent, self serving. The smart people call it narcissistic. "Exactly," says my friend, Mark Dial. "Anybody who uses social media has those tendencies," he tells me. Though I love to interact, despite what others might think, I don't like to be the center of attention.

I journal. Making my living as a photojournalist, I love photography. And I don't mind writing from time to time. Especially if it's something interesting to me. Or something others may find interesting. I've taken notes on nearly all of my motorcycle trips. Also, on a trip to Europe to see the Formula One race in Belgium, back in 2000.

My interest in journaling began around age 11-12. It was a stop in Aldrich's drugstore, in Pittsfield to purchase candy, that a book got my attention. Next to the candy were razors, shaving cream, etc. Personna, a blade/razor manufacturer, had a package deal. Included with the razor was a copy of "Instant Replay," a book written by Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers. I loved the Packers. The book was Kramer's day by day account of his last year with the team, culminating with a Super Bowl win. I read that book, and loved it.

My well-worn copy of Instant Replay

A couple of years later, something bad happened in our family. On February 9th, 1973, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. For whatever reason, I began taking notes. At first, on a daily basis. Then, I got distracted for a period of time in March, I think. I'm not sure why I began taking notes. To cope with the situation, maybe. But I know Kramer's book was an influence.

I scribbled my thoughts and observations, long hand, on notebook paper. A good printer, but a poor penman, they were generally short entries. Written from the perspective of a 14-year-old, refusing to acknowledge his dad was really sick.

This went on for three months. On May 9th, three months to the day after he was diagnosed, dad died.

The notes survived. Packed away most of the time. They've never been read or shared with anyone. Not even mom.

My memory is really good. There are situations and things said during that three month period of time, that I didn't bother to write down. In 1993, there was an attempt to go back and "fill in the blanks," and add to the original notes. That project was abandoned.

It's been 40 years now. If nothing else, this blog will serve a purpose to see this project through. My hope is to type on a daily basis, beginning Saturday the 9th. Giving my original, 1973 account, filling in the blanks from back then, and adding thoughts from 2013. I was 14 then. I'm 54 now.

Why go public? It's certainly not for sympathy or attention. I just wonder if people may find interest in reading about it. Simple as that. What is the point of journaling, if all those notes and thoughts wind up in a steamer trunk in the attic? I don't make photos, and then stash them in the closest. Why journal if not to share? I'll put it out there. Read along if you care to.

The original notes from 1973

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Super Bowl

There is big football game tomorrow. A "world" champion will be crowned. Even though it's an American sport, and no international teams compete.

Wretched excess. Glitz. Huge money. A halftime concert. Between three and four hours of being bombarded with it all. Oh, there'll be 60 minutes of football in there, too. That's why we watch, right? Not the commercials. And not an excuse to gorge ourselves into a stupor.

It really was, just a football game at one time. Most sports were just that. Games. Until someone figured out it was the business of sports. Not the sports business. Someone figured out what we really wanted, and gave it to us.

If my facts, and memory, serve me correctly, the first Super Bowl was not sold out, and was carried by two, if not three, of the major networks.

And, even though I was a Packer fan in those for those first two games, I was also too young to be interested in sitting in front of the television for the afternoon. Afternoon, with emphasis on afternoon. A prime time slot, and more revenue for the networks and NFL, was still years away.

I think dad watched the first and second ones. I finally had the patience and interest to join him and watch the Jets defeat the Colts in the third game, in 1969. Memory is fuzzy on this one.

When Bart Starr and Jerry Kramer retired from the Packers, I jumped on to the Cowboys bandwagon in 1970. They were up and coming. Those blue stars on those silver helmets were a draw.

The fifth game, in 1971, was my breakthrough game. Old enough to be a huge fan, to follow, and understand the game in detail. My Cowboys played the Baltimore Colts. My buddy, Donnie Bradburn, was a big Colts fan. There was a lot of trash talking and taunting between two 12 year olds that week at school.

Jim O'Brien, of the Colts, made that field goal with 16 seconds left. The Cowboys and I were screwed. I was so disconsolate, dad took mercy and loaded me and my mini-bike into the back of the station wagon. Even though it was January, there was no snow on the ground. We went over to a big, open lot near Higbee Junior High School, and I rode around to take away some of the hurt.

I had to face Donnie the next day at school. I don't remember any black eyes. In fact, I think he was generally a very good sport about it.

Two pages from my scrapbook. The 1971 game


The Cowboys beat Miami the next year, 1972, and I was a happy boy.

The 1973 game, between the Redskins and Miami, was memorable too. Not for the game, however. My friend, Jim Barrow, came to the house to watch the event. As dad sat in his rocking chair, Barrow and I were sprawled out on the floor. A commercial came on regarding home owner's insurance. A house was shown, fully engulfed in flames. "Just a little smoke damage," Barrow deadpanned. Good humor for an 11 year old.

And the beat went on... The Cowboys got to the big game a few times more. Only to be smashed by Pittsburgh. I got older. More interest in cars, music and girls, led to indifference to the game.

There have been a few great Super Bowls. The Rams vs. Titans game was awesome. And, the Giants ruining the perfect season for "coach hoodie", "pretty boy" and the rest of New England was epic! But there have been more "clunkers" than great games.

I threw the Cowboys under the bus soon after the end of the Emmitt Smith era. Michael Irvin, Jerry Jones... how could anyone cheer for a team of thugs and felons? I've generally lost interest in all professional sports.

And now, the game has become what it has. Approximately 3.8 million for an ad. "Nosebleed" seats going for $2,000. Do you really believe it's about the game and the fans?

And push for big time, halftime entertainment in the last 10 years or so. The Rolling Stones played the 2006 game in Detroit. The original "bad boys" of rock and roll. They rolled over, played for the money, and sold out for Corporate America, 37 years after they played a free concert, with security provided by the Hell's Angels. That is a long, hard fall. Money talks.

Tomorrow. To watch, or not to watch? If my laundry, taxes, and everything else is caught up, why not? It would be "Un-American" not to do so. And I'd miss all the cool commercials.