Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30th

April 30th, 1973 & 2013: If you've been reading along, you know I failed to maintain my diary in the month of April in 1973, when dad was sick, and dying of cancer. But there were a handful of events, four or five, that I remember clearly. And though the chronological order of those happenings is somewhat jumbled, they are crystal clear. Even after 40 years.

Here's another one. A funny one, but a "racy" one. Read on if you care too.

As dad's condition diminished, he spent more and more time in bed, in his and mom's bedroom. His energy was all but gone. The cancer was spreading to his brain. He was not mentally "out of it" yet, but he was frail. Pitiful, actually. He'd once been pretty rotund.

There was a period of time in April when he was sent home from the hospital. He'd wind up back in the hospital again. And that's where he'd die. But this incident took place at home.

Not knowing how long he'd live, we'd had central air-conditioning installed at the house. The idea being that it would keep him cool and comfortable over the summer. This was quite a luxury. Before this, we had 2-3 window fans. In the summer, the big thing was to get our baths when it would cool down. Then, sit out on the patio in the summer evening before going to bed. Avoid the heat of the house as long as possible. Falstaff was consumed by the parents. Occasionally, a bullfrog would visit from mom's flower beds.

When I look back on those times, repeated over and over for many summers, I think of a line from a James McMurtry song. "Mama used to roll her hair. Back before the central air. We'd sit outside and watch the stars at night."

The second addition that spring, was an extension telephone. The one and only phone was in the kitchen, not far from the back door. The extra phone was put in mom and dad's bedroom. Again, it looked more and more like dad would be spending time in bed. If the phone rang, and he were able to talk, or if mom or a caregiver were in the room... it would save many steps, and a rush to the kitchen phone.

One evening the phones rang. It was Aunt Erma and Uncle Ray, from Macomb, calling to check in. The conversations went on. Everyone talked. And with two phones, more than one could listen and chime in.

Dad was using the phone in his room. Mom had said her piece and was off doing something. I was on the kitchen phone, listening to the banter between Uncle Ray and dad. Their talk had been serious, but as things were winding down, the subject matter went in a different direction. Uncle Ray obviously believed I'd already hung up the phone in the kitchen.

"Are you still getting a little pussy?" Uncle Ray asked dad. There was a pause. I don't even know that dad knew I was still on the line. "Well, age starts to take care of that too," dad answered, something along those lines.

I hung up the phone with the stealthiness of a cat burglar. Very gently laid it back in the cradle. Not a sound.

Soon after the call ended, dad got out of bed for some reason. I was in the kitchen and headed to my room. He was in his room and headed to the kitchen. We passed in the dining room. There was enough light that I could see him looking at me, a wry grin on his face. He knew I'd heard the conversation. I said absolutely nothing. Neither did he. A silent exchange. A knowing moment. Funny stuff.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 27th

April 27th, 1973 & 2013: Though I'm not sure of the exact date, somewhere near the end of April, dad was discharged from the hospital and sent home. There was nothing more that could be done. Whether the decision was made by dad, mom and dad, mom, dad, and Doctor Bunting, I really don't know.

As dad came home, arrangements had been made for him to have care during the day, while I was at school, and mom was at the hardware store. She was spending more and more time there, having gotten a "crash course" in running a the business from dad when he was diagnosed. The "hands off" approach she'd had in all those years before were going to come back on us the next couple of years after dad would die. Mom tried, but she was in over her head. The store eventually was sold. Around 1976, I believe.

The lady who would look after dad was Margaret Dixon. She lived right across the street from us, one door north. She was a retired nurse. Mrs. Dixon lived alone in a small house. She kept her property neat as a pin. Margaret drove an Edsel or Studebaker, I think. Her dog's name was Pepper. Margaret had a gravelly voice. She was single, in a neighborhood full of kids. But she fit right in and tolerated all the commotion over the years. She was a perfect fit for looking after dad. I don't know what her compensation was. She might have given her services for nothing. It wouldn't surprise me.

It was right around this time that I was finally made to understand where this was all headed. And in no uncertain terms. It took Aunt Betty to do it.

I was riding with her, in her car. She'd come to our house to pick me up. It was late afternoon or very early evening. I remember it was warm, and the spring had that great quality of light that time of day. Mom must have still been at the hardware store. The fact that I was not riding my bike makes me think something was up. Aunt Betty, mom, and I were likely going to meet at Aunt Betty's house, which was directly across the street from the hospital, and go visit dad a day or two before he was released.

I can remember the exact location. We'd just turned off Clinton Street, heading East on Washington Street. We were in front of the hospital, about a half block from her house. The conversation had centered on dad during the short car ride. Aunt Betty wasn't trying to be mean at all. I must have asked a question that opened the door for her to lay it on the line.

"Kent. Your daddy is going to die."

I don't recall crying. But the conversation ended. We were at her house by then anyway.




Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24th

April 24th, 1973 & 2013: As the month of April wore on, dad continued to wear out. My last blog mentioned all the rain we were getting in 1973. It created an epic flood, at least for that time period. 40 years later, history repeats its self. By this time in 1973, though, I remember some really nice spring days. Water was rising in the two rivers that separate Pike County, but there was a mix of sunshine too.

As dad's condition worsened, he spent more and more time in Illini Hospital. The hospital is located on Washington Street, not all that far from our house on Prospect Street. From our driveway, to Clinton Street, and North on Clinton three blocks.

I'm not certain, but I recall dad bouncing back and fourth from the hospital and home for a good portion of that month. I can't recall how much time he was able to spend at the hardware store, but I don't think much. I didn't keep a diary in April. But by this time, anyone with any intuition would recognize dad was winding down.

When he was at the hospital, there was one room in particular that dad seemed to be assigned to. It was on the second floor, and it was the most southwest room on the floor. Right in the corner. It was a big, airy, bright room. The windows were big, and you had a good view of the surroundings. Right out the windows was the big, green, hospital lawn. Across Clinton Street was George Webel's big white house. Doctor O'Connell's veterinarian clinic was to the southwest. Across Washington Street was Marshall and Jane Chassion's huge brick house, complete with its own little patch of woods, running along Clinton Street.

This room sort of became dad's room. On occasion, he had a roommate. But most of the time it was just  him. There were the two beds. A north and south. Dad was in the south bed, further from the door and hallway.

During his brief, early hospital stays, he was also on the second floor. Also a south room, but located more towards the middle of the building. I think a nurse's station was nearby. This room was smaller and darker. It was in this room I can remember a situation from earlier on in dad's plight. He was sitting in a wheelchair, about to be taken out of the room for tests or something. As they were about to wheel him out, he said something to me, I don't recall exactly what it was, and he teared up.

The big room, where he spent most of his time, belied the worsening situation. As hospital rooms go, it was actually "cheery."

This was the room dad received a steady stream of visitors. Dad had many friends. Dad and his friends often played practical jokes on each other. "If you're going to dish it out, you have to be able to take it," he told me many times.

A couple of years earlier, in January of 71' or 72', the second floor of the hardware store building caught fire. It was in an office we rented out. Water came down through the ceiling and caused quite a bit of damage in the store. Most items had to be individually cleaned. Some were lost. John Blake, a friend of dad's who owned The Bowl, came in the store soon after the fire. Water was everywhere. Blake handed dad a half dozen kitchen sponges to clean up the mess, tongue firmly in cheek.

On this spring day in 1973, at the hospital, I happened to be in the "big room," hanging out with dad. There was a knock on the door. In came Roger Yaeger and Ben Johnson. Yaeger's family owned Floyd's Jewelry. That business was two doors down from the hardware store, to the north. Ben Johnson owned a Massey Ferguson implement dealership west of town. They were good guys. Johnson, in particular, was (and still is) a real character. Ben could tell a joke a day for a year, and you would not hear the same joke twice. Most of them were raunchy.

Yaeger and Johnson came bearing gifts for dad this day. A Playboy magazine and a colorful flower. The flower was in a vase. The vase was an empty Michelob bottle.

The laughter made the room even lighter.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

April 11th

April 11th, 1973 & 2013: The original diary, journaling dad's fight with cancer, came to a halt in the early part of April, 1973. I'd grown bored of writing. Or, my defense mechanisms took over, and I didn't care to chronicle what was happening to him. What we were seeing him become. However. There are some specific incidents I remember from that month. 40 years later, I'm finally getting them recorded in these sporadic, April blogs. My original diary picks up again in early May.

The rain... All this rain in the past couple of days reminds me of another scene that took place in our kitchen. Pittsfield and the area had been getting plenty of rain in 1973, around this very same time. In fact, it eventually led to a big flood that spring. One of the worst in many years. Not as severe as the 1993 flood. But close.

Dad's condition was really worsenening. And it was getting worse, day by day. April was a month where he was in and out of Illini Hospital. By this point, I believe the cobalt treatments were near complete, or completed. They'd been a complete failure. He was losing weight and energy by the day. This is not exaggeration.

But, during this one rainy spell. It must have been early-mid April, just like now, he was home. The kitchen was yet again, the scene of this incident. Dad was in his robe, looking skinny and gaunt. The kitchen sink was a two bay sink. Located at the southeast corner of the room, it was set right in the that corner of the countertop. You could stand at the sink and have a nice view out two windows. One faced east, to a big, blue spruce tree. One faced south to the patio.

Dad was standing there at the sink, kind of hunched over. His head was bowed down some, but he appeared to be looking out the windows. From where I was sitting, at the kitchen table, the scene looked like that famous black and white photograph of John F. Kennedy, also hunched over, silhouetted against the windows of the oval office.

I wandered over to him. He'd been standing there for a couple of minutes. I'm not sure where mom was at this time. I saw why he was facing away from me. He had tears in his eyes.

"What's the matter, dad," I asked? "Nothing," he answered. "I just wish it would quit raining."

Gloom. Gloomy outside. Gloomy inside.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April 2nd

April 2nd, 1973: Dad went to see Dr. Bunting about his neck today. But Dr. Bunting swears up and down that it's not malignant. But he did give dad all kinds of pills. And dad just rested tonight.

April 2nd, 2013: I sounded like a "broken record." Always and still the optimist. Even though there was a lump in dad's neck. It didn't grow by magic. It was very likely cancerous. Had to have been. The disease was spreading upwards in his body.

Dr. Bunting would certainly not deceive my dad, or parents, with a diagnosis. The only thing I can think of, and it's taken me 40 years to put two and two together, is that my parents may not have been telling me the whole truth. Telling the truth was probably dad's number one rule in life. Certainly in the top two or three. But being too truthful with a 14 year old kid about the fact that cancer is killing you, would probably cause more trauma than necessary for the kid.

Later in life, even now, sometimes it takes awhile for me to figure things out on my own. Despite the cynicism and sarcasm, there's an optimism. I hope for the best. It's a natural defense mechanism to filter out the cold, hard facts in some situations. I was a lot more innocent then than now. My parents were probably not telling me the whole truth. Whatever they would say, I hung on every word.

It would take a blunt statement from Aunt Betty, in the next few weeks ahead, to make me understand where this was headed. I don't fault my parents if the "white lies" route was the route they were taking at the time. All I have to do is put myself in their shoes. Who knows what is right or wrong in those circumstances? No parent would tell a six year old they were dying. If I'd been 17 or 18, I would deserve the truth, and probably know the truth. 14 was an awkward age for me to fully comprehend what was happening. Maybe I really knew? I can't answer that question 40 years later.

I must have known enough. I was figuring it out. We were watching dad decline day by day. There had been a lapse of seven days of not making diary entries while we were visiting Lynn. Then, there was a more recent lapse of five days. In the past, I chalked those lapses up to denial or laziness. Likely, laziness.

But my original diary entry on April 2nd, 1973, would be my last one until May 2nd. A whole month.

This couldn't be laziness. I think this is the point where my mind involuntarily shut down my desire to put my thoughts and observations in writing. It was becoming really real. More sad and painful. Subconsciously, the defense mechanism kicked in. Not even wanting to write a diary like Jerry Kramer's "Instant Replay" was worth it.

Dad was soon to begin a series of extended hospital stays, becoming a physical wreck. And when the disease finished his body, it took his mind.

There are some details, incidents, and stories I remember from April of that year. Not the specific days they occurred, but what happened. A couple are actually pretty humorous.

In the next four weeks. Between today and May 2nd, I'll write 3-5 blogs and describe what was going on during that month of April.


Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1st.

April 1st, 1973: We drove to Macomb today, to see Uncle Ray. And, I might have seen him for the last time. He has to go through 20 cobalt treatments. And with his age and his weight against him, I don't think he can take them all.

April 1st, 2013: There had been no diary entries since March 26th. I'd let five days pass. Skipping days of journaling was getting to be a habit. And it was about to get worse. That was, and is, a shame.

Uncle Ray had been diagnosed with cancer at not all that long ago. After dad's diagnosis. I've talked to his son Jon. Jon told me a charcoal sized, coal black, chunk of tissue had been removed  from his throat early on, after the diagnosis. Uncle Ray had been a long time cigarette smoker, had quit them, and taken up a pipe. He was a small man. Short and thin. Frail looking, but I think he could be tough if pushed. I've mentioned him before. A World War I veteran.

I didn't make any specific notes about what the day was like in Macomb. How long we stayed, or of any incidents involving sad moments or sad words.

Reading my original entry makes me think I was trying to be "grown up," and face the fact that we could lose Uncle Ray. It was still that mentality of something happening to the "other person," not someone in my immediate family. Uncle Ray had 16 years on my dad. That would have put him around 73 at the time.

Uncle Ray outlived dad by 10 months. Just like I suspected, he was a tough old man.