Monday, March 31, 2014

The City Stadium, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Home of the Green Bay Packers from 1925 to 1956.

Located between Green Bay East High School and the East River.

The stadium originally seated 6,000.  Was eventually expanded to 25,000 but quickly lost its charm after World War II.

The Green Bay Packers.  Other Homes of the Packers, 1919-1964.

Friday, March 21, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (March 21, part 2)

On Friday, during the return trip from Warren to Middleton, I spent most of my time in the passenger’s seat writing down my thoughts about the past few days. I used the backs of picture postcards I bought at the first rest area we stopped at. 

“What are you doing, Dad?” Eddie asked once he and Andy and Mom finished a round of 20 questions. 

“I’m writing some postcards,” I answered cryptically. 

“Who are they for?” he wondered. 

“They’re for all of us. I’m writing about Grandpa and everything that’s happened recently,” I explained.

And so, I’d like to share these thoughts with you. You may not understand all of the references or recognize all of the names, but I think you’ll enjoy reading these reflections nonetheless.

I left the house at 2:52 Tuesday afternoon, coinciding with the boys’ dismissal from school, timing my travel preparations and houseorderly tasks to perfection. I found Eddie standing expectantly along the curve of Elm Lawn School’s semi-circular driveway.

“Where’s your brother?” I asked him, a trace of annoyance in my voice.

I scanned the area looking for a blue-and-yellow Michigan jacket.

George Mavrolis, the school principal, approached and made a comment about the unseasonably warm weather. He then asked Eddie if he knew when the first day of spring was, but Eddie seemed not to hear him and continued to gaze at some unfocused distance.

“Eddie, Mr. Mavrolis asked you a question,” I prompted, my words accompanied by a little nudge to his shoulder.

Eddie refused to make eye contact but managed to mumble the correct answer. 

I was on the verge of asking George if Andy’s class had been dismissed, but two things stopped me from forming this question. First of all, I didn’t want George to think that Andy had fucked up (again), to put it in the crude vernacular. Then Andy walked out of the school. 

After a quick stop home so Andy could drop off his trumpet case and pick up a couple pillows, we drove to the Loraine Building just off the capitol square. All three of us rode the elevator to the ninth floor to retrieve Mom and escort her to the van. JoAnna’s desk is located just outside the Attorney General’s office, which provides a spectacular view of the capitol. 

We merged onto the interstate at 4 o’clock and remained in motion, for the most part, until 10:00. We chose the direct route through Chicago, which resulted in stop-and-go delays along a stretch of the Kennedy Expressway from two miles west of O’Hare until a mile or so past the I-94 interchange. I felt stressed and eager to give up my turn at the wheel. Occasional yelps and squeals from the boys only served to exacerbate my anxiety. A few times I turned my head and barked a staccato “Boys!” over my right shoulder. 

We switched drivers at the first rest area east of Gary on the Indiana Toll Road. Since it was too dark to read and I wasn’t in the mood to continue listening to The Good Mother, I turned my thoughts toward our destination and started to fret about our arrival time, doing some math, mostly subtraction, in the process. 

Let’s see. We left Madison at 4 p.m. The visitation at the funeral home begins at 2:00 tomorrow afternoon. That leaves us with 22 hours. Minus one for the change in time zone. 21. With the delay through Chicago, the entire trip will take 12 hours. 9. Before I worked my way through these calculations, I had a panicky vision of pulling into the driveway of 4 East Third Avenue at quarter of 2, the four of us racing unsuccessfully against time to get into our dress clothes and drive to the funeral home before the first mourners arrive. 

We stayed at a Motel 8 literally a stone’s throw from the Wauseon exit of the Ohio Turnpike, 356 miles under our belt, which erased my fears of a chaotic tomorrow. Andy quickly slid into a pouty mood when his parents took control of the TV, JoAnna and I preferring to unwind to scenes of urban realism (Law & Order) instead of cartoon fantasies. 

At 5:30 a.m., the alarm quickly buzzed its way into my consciousness. It took us an hour to rouse ourselves, get dressed, and pack the van. I returned the room key to the office and helped myself to two cinnamon rolls, the most appetizing continental breakfast choices. I would have eaten one myself had some coffee been brewed, willing to make a rare exception to my now-in-its-second-year java prohibition. 

We arrived in Warren at quarter to 12. JoAnna became weepy when she embraced Mom, but Mom kept her composure, which I felt was a significant sign of things to come. Ruth Benander, Dad’s sister, had arrived the previous day, flying into Jamestown from Chicago via Pittsburgh, after a bus trip from Rockford to O’Hare, a tiring trek for anyone, let alone an 85 year old who had just lost her sister-in-law, her dead husband’s twin, and her beloved younger brother in a 2-week period. She looked worn down, deeply tired, the flip side of her sunny appearance and vivacious manner when JoAnna and I saw her at Charles’s wedding during the late afternoon of February 28th, a few hours before she learned of Ruthie’s death. 

We changed clothes at the house rather than drive the seven miles to Larry and Kim’s camp, where we’d be spending the two nights of our brief, “unscheduled” visit. A single question looped through my mind at this time. How am I going to react once I see Dad’s made-up, withered body lying in a casket? 

Not as strongly as I anticipated, it turned out. We all approached the open casket cautiously, Dad’s presence like the subtle pull of the moon. I briefly studied his face: the unnaturally orange skin tone, the larger-than-I-remembered nostrils, the lips sewn shut, pursed into a position that the Parkinson’s Disease had made it impossible for him to do on his own. I walked away knowing that I’d never be able to obliterate this sad image from my mind but fiercely determined to focus on images of happy and proud times: Dad’s authoritative yet kindly presence in the pulpit, his ear-to-ear grin while water-skiing behind Uncle Harry’s powerful Chris Craft, his joie de vivre in the company of friends like the fellow Lutheran pastor and his wife Warren and Anna Hollertz. 

I nervously awaited the first guests to arrive at the funeral home, occasionally feeling a trickle of perspiration run down the side of my body, soaked up by my t-shirt before it reached my waist. I hoped to first greet people I didn’t know (or didn’t remember) to help me finetune my emotional thermostat. This approach was quickly overruled as soon as I caught a glimpse of the first arrival. Yolanda Peroski (the mother of Mardi, one of my best friends from high school) walked straight toward me, bypassing Dale at the head of the reception line. As soon as she embraced me, my self-control collapsed and I blubbered some incoherent remark in response to her expression of sympathy. I quickly regained my composure, not because I was embarrassed by the tears reddening my eyes, wetting my face, and thickening my voice, but rather because this emotional bubble burst of its own accord and allowed me to proceed through the rest of the afternoon (and evening) in an almost serene state of mind. 

Mom gave her children much to be proud of. She conducted herself with great poise and dignity, graciously acknowledging the many heartfelt expressions of sympathy. She never once lost her composure and always had a ready word to diffuse any discomfort or tension that might have tried to creep into the room. 

During the two hours of the afternoon, the people seemed to come in waves. At one point, the three main rooms of the funeral home were filled with people and the sound of overlapping conversations. Then, as if Mark Patterson, the funeral home director, had waved a magic wand, the rooms cleared, allowing the family to break formation, sit down, bend or twist at the waist to relieve lower back pain, get a drink of water, and talk quietly among ourselves. 

The boys, not surprisingly or unexpectedly, were not able to last through the entire afternoon visitation. I think Eddie found it too creepy being in the same room with a dead body, even if (or, more likely, especially since) it was Grandpa’s. Barb volunteered, perhaps a tad too eagerly, to take the boys home. She seemed surprised when JoAnna and I informed her that they could be left on their own for an hour. 

“I think I’ll have some tea before I come back,” Barb announced, as if to tell us not to expect her immediate return. 

Warren and Anna Hollertz arrived around 3 o’clock, and after working their way through the reception line – you could see Mom’s face visibly light up when she greeted them – they talked with Ruth until 4:00. They joined us for a portion of a well-deserved intermission at the house. The food – cold cuts, buns, pasta salad, fruit salad -- was all donated by considerate well-wishers. Feeling a need for some fresh air, JoAnna and I excused ourselves to take a walk, enjoying a taste of mid-March, later-afternoon balminess. Our route followed a wide, narrow rectangle: Conewango Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street to Water Street to Fifth Avenue, and back across the creek to Conewango. Then we joined the others at the dining room table. 

The first hour of the evening visitation provided us with a mostly steady stream of hands to shakes and sympathies to acknowledge. If I choked up at Yolanda’s appearance, how sloppy am I going to be when Barb and Mardi arrive? I wondered. As it turned out, they showed up separately and both received a clear-eyed, catch-free greeting from me. With no guests to greet during the second hour, Barb and Mardi and JoAnna and I shot the breeze until it was time to leave. 

Time to backtrack, to rewind the tape two hours and twenty minutes. The phone rang as we were getting ready to leave for the evening visitation.. Standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, I was able to pick it up on the first ring.

“Hello,” I announced cheerily.

“Is Marion there?” a familiar voiced asked.

“Yes, she is, but we’re just about to leave the house for the funeral home. Is this Gen?” (Gen is Mom’s younger sister. She and her husband Ed live in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.) 

She seemed both surprised and disappointed that I had been able to identify her voice, as if I had uncovered a secret before she could spring it on us. And this phone call was all about a BIG surprise. 

Less than ten seconds after I handed the phone to Mom, we heard her exclaim, “You’re in Warren!?” 

Gen was calling from the room that she and Ed had just checked into at the Holiday Inn. Earlier in the week, Gen had informed Mom that they wouldn’t be able to attend Dad’s funeral, no doubt already having planned this sisterly bit of subterfuge. JoAnna and I haven’t seen Gen and Ed since Larry and Kim’s wedding almost 12 years ago. Gen has a prominent widow’s hump due to her osteoporosis, but otherwise looks great. She still colors her hair, which helps to solidify her status as Marion’s younger sister. Despite his heart problems, Ed looks to be in good shapes for his 75 years. He’s still as quick as ever with an amusing story or a witty aside. After the evening visitation, they joined us for another of our relaxed family gatherings around the dining room table. We adjourned around 10:00, and an hour later, Mom and Dad and the boys were at the cabin, in bed, with the lights (and TV) off. 

When I called home the previous Sunday evening to learn the specifics of Dad’s funeral arrangements, Mom asked me to read two scripture passages at Thursday’s service. How could I refuse? Immediately, though, I had to ask myself: Emotionally, am I going to be up to the task? 

Before going to sleep Wednesday and right after waking up Thursday, I carefully practiced reading both passages, Philippians 4: 4-7 and I Corinthians 13 (the entire chapter), concentrating on the longer passage. Sometimes I reread a certain phrase or sentence until my tongue and lips could form the words effortlessly. “Childish speech” provided the biggest challenge, saying these two words in succession without sounding like my speech was slurred. 

The funeral was scheduled for 11:00, but the family had to be at the church at quarter to ten since there was a final visitation and viewing of the body one hour prior to the service.

An impressive contingent of ministers, numbering more than a dozen, attended the funeral. Jim Seeley, on of my best friends was grade school, was part of this group. We had a chance to reminisce about the grief we used to give our Sunday school teachers and the wiffle ball games we played at the Jefferson Street schoolyard. I neglected to mention our Saturday afternoons at the bowling alley with Dave Blair and Bob Feldman, which we dubbed “Beat the Jelly”, a reference to Jim’s protuberant stomach, a shape he has maintained through the years.

Mom had selected Roger Thelin, Howard Ford, Tom Scarcella, as well as her three sons to serve as pallbearers. Later, JoAnna would comment on how unusual this arrangement seemed, that the immediate members of the family generally do not serve in this capacity.

“It would have been nice if we could have all sat together as a family,” she said.

As it turned out, there was not enough room for me to sit in the family pew.

As we wheeled the casket to the front of the church, I could feel a succession of small tremors of emotion inside of me. I was unable to sing along to the first hymn, “Amazing Grace”. In fact, I found that I couldn’t even mouth the words. 

The scripture readings took place early in the 45-minute service, after a choir anthem. I read the two selections with surprising assurance, although halfway through the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, I felt another one of those emotional bubbles start to rise up my throat. I was able to swallow it unobtrusively, my voice remaining unbroken, although it must have had a quivering pitch for a brief moment. When I returned to the pew, Roger Thelin leaned toward me and whispered, “Great job,” as my body convulsed slightly while it briefly wrestled with a strange mixture of relief and grief.

During the bishop’s homily, I felt a stab of emotion when he made reference to Dad’s retirement party at this same location in 1981and quoted one of the parishioners as saying, “We are going to miss him. We love him so much.” To my ears, the sharp sound that involuntarily escaped my throat seemed to echo throughout the church, carrying with it a jagged note of pain.

A luncheon was held in the church’s fellowship hall immediately following the service. Once people had finished their meal, Mom visited each table and chatted amiably with our guests. She seemed to know every move that was required of her in this difficult situation, as if offering help and giving advice were, like Abby and Ann Landers, her life’s work.

Drained by the intense emotionalism of the past 24 hours, I was relieved to return to the house and unwind. I did so in grand style, falling asleep on the recliner in the living room for two blissful hours of unconsciousness. I woke up refreshed. The family, all ten of us – Mom, Larry, Kim, Barb, Dale, Ruth, JoAnna, Andy, Eddie, and me – went out to dinner Tootsie’s Restaurant at the Holiday Inn. For Mom, this was her first evening out in more than three years, perhaps even twice that long if I really think about it. Dale surprised everyone by volunteering to pay the tab. Larry and I couldn’t even talk him into a three-way split. Later, JoAnna and I wondered if this outcome had been prearranged. Mom had a certain determined look on her face toward the end of our meal, I noticed, as I was keeping an eye out on the waitress for our bill. 

The evening ended with one more gathering around the dining room table. 

Dad will certainly be missed, but his death was a welcome blessing. Parkinson’s had reduced him to a mere shell of his former self. During the last ten days of his life, he couldn’t sit up, eat solid foods – had become as helpless as the day he was born, had come full circle in his 83 years of life. The visitation and funeral helped me, and the rest of the family, I’m sure, to put a big exclamation point at the end of his life. As we heard so many times on Wednesday and Thursday, Dad touched many people’s lives very deeply. 

The boys and I will be back in Pennsylvania at the end of this week. Mom will no longer be housebound, all her days taken up by her duty as Dad’s caregiver. For the first time in a few years, she’ll really able to focus her attention on the boys.

Hope all is going well with you in Arizona. We send you our love.

On This Date in 1999 (March 21)

With the beautiful weather yesterday, our thoughts turned to baseball. I took the boys to Dunham’s, a sports store, to buy Andy a new glove. His current one will be given to Eddie once it’s restrung. Andy also needed a pair of baseball cleats. The ones he wore last summer are a size 6. He now wears a size 9, but I bought him a size 10. There will probably be at least one shoe size of growth between now and August. Eddie also needed new baseball cleats – Andy’s old ones are too worn for hand-me-downs – which I hope he’ll also be able to use for soccer. After this shopping trip, we found ourselves an open baseball field at the old Elm Lawn schoolyard, just a few blocks from the house, and warmed up by throwing the ball around. Eddie no longer flinches when a ball is thrown at him. I threw batting practice to both boys, Andy quickly regaining a mid-season swing. He hit a few sharp line drives to left-centerfield that would have gone for extra-base hits in any of his games. Eddie was a little slow in getting around on the ball, all of his hits going to the right side. Andy volunteered to pitch to me. “Don’t swing hard, Dad,” he cautioned. Ever since my softball days in Oshkosh, I’ve been known for my nasty line drives up the middle. Andy’s has been on the receiving end of a couple of those, so he’s always a little gun shy when he pitches to me.

We talked about using the batting cages at Vitense Golfland but ended up playing miniature golf instead. I had a two-stroke lead over Andy going in the “back nine”, but he erased that advantage and went on to beat me by at least three strokes. Once we returned home at 3:30, JoAnna having finished whatever she needed to do at the campaign office, I picked up the numerous dead branches littering the front and back yard. Middleton must have had some high winds during our brief absence. I also checked the lawn for areas that will need additional reseeding this spring.

During the early evening, leftovers on the menu for supper, JoAnna went to the health club and Andy and I played catch in the open lot next door to us. After I skyed him a series of high pop-ups, Andy threw about 20-25 pitches, just to start the process of getting his arm limbered up.

We have more sunshine today, so from inside the house, it looks very pleasant outdoors. That’s not the case. Blustery conditions have kept the wind chill in the teens range so far today. I still plan to walk to work, though. Later today, Andy has his first soccer practice of the season – indoors, fortunately. 

Before I know it, the boys and I will be on the road, making our way to Pennsylvania again. I’ll probably start packing on Wednesday evening so that everything will be ready to put in the car on Thursday. Following last year’s itinerary, I’d like to leave Middleton at noon, which means getting the boys out of school early. That will make the trip through Chicago less grueling. 

Time for me to take a shower and get something to eat if I want to avoid feeling rushed later this morning. 

We send you our love. The boys and I are looking forward to our return engagement. Andy offered a suggestion for our itinerary during the week. “We should take Grandma to the mall in Jamestown.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (March 20)

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning, not a cloud in the sky, a blinding sunshine warming the earth, a work-in-the-garden kind of day. But, of course, it’s too early for that. Instead, I’ll concentrate on the list of chores I’ve prepared for myself. Write letters, finish yesterday’s pile of laundry, organize the hallway between the kitchen and the garage so it doesn’t look as though a tornado just passed through, transfer the scattered gloves and mittens and scarves to the chest of drawers in the garage, a piece of furniture that I bought when I first moved to Oshkosh.

JoAnna is spending the day at Shirley Abrahamson’s campaign headquarters. I know she has a lot to catch up on. Andy is sitting at the kitchen table doing his math homework, and Eddie is playing with his Lincoln logs, organizing them according to some complex plan inside his head. Although we brag about his artistic side, I think Eddie could easily move toward a career in engineering or architecture.

As I mentioned during our phone conversation yesterday, we made great time on the return trip to Middleton. We crossed the Indiana-Illinois border a few minutes before 2:00 p.m. and pulled into the driveway at 5:20. It was one of our easiest road trips.

I always seem to get the job of unloading the van. I pleaded for some assistance and initially my family responded. Very quickly, though, I saw JoAnna writing down her ten voice mail messages, Andy shooting baskets in the driveway, and Eddie watching TV. JoAnna went to the health club, and, feeling sluggish, I decided to work out on the Walkfit. For supper, the boys ordered pizza and JoAnna returned with the order I called into Grand China: shrimp fried rice, steamed potstickers (a meat-filled Chinese pasta is the best way to describe this entree), and crab Rangoon.

The visit to Warren almost seems like a blur now. Yesterday I spent most of my passenger time in the van transcribing my reflections of the funeral home visitation and Dad’s funeral on the message side of Ohio and Indiana picture postcards, six of them altogether. After reading Dad’s 1943 autobiographical sketch, I truly regret that I wasn’t more insistent that he write about his life experiences. Sometime during the late 1980s, I think I gave both of you blank books with the encouragement to write about your lives. I now repeat this encouragement, Mom. Your reminiscences will be something the boys will treasure when they are older.

I didn’t say this as articulately as I wanted to when we said our goodbyes Friday morning, but I just want to let you know you proud we our of you, Mom. You conducted yourself with such dignity and poise during the visitations and funeral. You were very gracious when accepting the many expressions of sympathy and made everyone feel at ease. I know you were an inspiration to the rest of us. I was concerned about how I was going to react once people started arriving at the funeral home. Let me start out with people I don’t know or can only vaguely remember, I said to myself. So who is the first person I see at two o’clock Wednesday afternoon? Yolanda Peroski. When we embraced, I lost my composure and blubbered some response to her expression of sympathy.

Later I wondered if some of my emotional reaction had to do with the fact that I didn’t take the time to visit her this past Christmas. After that, though, I was fine. The other challenge during our visit was reading the two scripture passages without being overwhelmed by another emotional bubble. Halfway through the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, I felt a pull on my vocal chords. Fortunately, the tension was quickly released. I did feel my body start to quake a little bit after I returned to the pew.

Overall, I felt that the funeral arrangements were handled very well. It helped me, at least, to put a big exclamation point at the end of dad’s life. What was evident at the retirement party for Dad in 1981 was again very much in evidence this past Wednesday and Thursday. Dad deeply touched the lives of many people.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Paul Bunyan and Babe, his Blue Ox, Bemidji, Minn.

Below:  That's my dad and me at Paul's right leg.  (Photo taken in July 1951.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Library Theater, Warren, Pennsylvania: When a Quarter Bought You 2 hours of Big-Screen Entertainment

When it was new

The Library Theater:  Still lookin' good

What's In Your Character?

This vintage American scale could be yours for $379.99!

Or more.

Grandpa Nelson's Milk Wagon (1910)

Rockford, Illinois

The Swedish Element in Rockford, Illinois

Some History Concerning Early Swedish Immigrants in Rockford

The Herman Nelson mentioned in these two accounts is not my grandfather.

Kinzua Beach Ninjas

Summer 1995

As my sister Barb reported in a letter dated July 7th.  Kim, Andy, Eddie, and I went to Kinzua Dam on Wednesday. When we got there, Andy announced that he wasn't going into the water. Yet after 2 1/2 hours, Andy was hardly out of the water. Needless to say, the boys had a ball. Kim mentioned she wanted to take the boys back to Kinzua Beach next week when I have to work.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (March 12)

Since I’m working on Sunday, I decided to take the afternoon. On the way home, I stopped at Pasqual’s and ordered a Fiesta Quesadilla to go, one of my favorite entrees. I planned to sit at the kitchen table and savor every mouthful while watching the NCAA matchup of Wisconsin vs. Southwest Missouri State. By the time I tuned in, the first half was already half over and the score was only 6-4, Wisconsin trailing. Things only got worse from this point. The Badgers must have left their offense in Madison. It took them most of the first half to score ten points. They made only 3 of 19 field goals, 0 of 9 three-point attempts. It was too painful to watch. I turned off the TV and started to tidy up the house, put a load of whites into the washer, cleaned the dirty dishes left over from breakfast, and made a mental list of what I need to do to clear the clutter off my desk.

The boys just returned home from school. Andy immediately tuned in the Badger game, even though I told him he wasn’t going to like what he saw. Eddie probably tuned in the Cartoon Network on the kitchen TV.

Andy and I had a conference with his teacher after school on Wednesday. He’s been slackin’ off, not writing down his homework in his assignment notebook, bringing home mediocre grades on tests – very similar to what happened last year at this time. His teacher is especially concerned because the last quarter of 5th grade focuses on getting her students ready for middle school, accepting responsibility, not always having to be told what to do. I see Andy starting to wander down the road I chose, where the destination is whatever you can get away with, not reaching your full potential. I’m not overly concerned, though. In spite of all the detours I took in my life, I’m very happy with where I am now. I certainly have taken it to the limit in Wisconsin as far as my career is concerned: Librarian of the Year, Wisconsin Library Association President, teaching as a second career. Of course, my accomplishments don’t even come close to what JoAnna has done. The main reason JoAnna was offered the position of Department of Justice Legislative Liaison was that the current Attorney General, Jim Doyle, plans to run for governor in 2002 and wants one of the state’s most astute political operatives on his staff.

Funny thing. After ten weekends of basketball, I was looking forward to this activity-free weekend. At least that’s what I thought. Now, believe it or not, I almost wish Andy was playing in another tournament. His game improved so much over the last few weeks of the season. It was so much fun to watch him play.

JoAnna and I attended the world premiere of the movie The Deep End of the Ocean on Tuesday evening. The author, Jacquelyn Mitchard is from Madison. The book was Oprah Winfrey’s first book club selection. The premiere was a benefit for the Dane County public libraries and probably raised more than $20,000. A reception and silent auction was held at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Unitarian Church from 5 to 7, followed by a showing of the movie at a nearby theater at 8. We gave the movie a thumbs-up. JoAnna had read the book and I had listened to the book on tape version. We both thought that the movie was very true to the book. No Hollywood liberties taken here. You might want to give the book a try, Mom. I can’t guarantee you’ll like it, though. The subject matter, three-year-old kidnapped son who is “rediscovered” nine years later, is not for readers who like their fiction light and easy to digest. 

[Letter not completed and sent as Dad died on Sunday, March 14th.]

Monday, March 10, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (March 10)

I spent an hour on Tuesday morning shoveling six inches of snow off the driveway and, thanks to a speeding snowplow that threw up a big spray of white, more than ten inches off the sidewalk. Wouldn’t you have loved to join me? Don’t you miss Wisconsin in the wintertime?

Due to the late-night/early-morning timing of the storm, the boys got a bonus holiday. School was canceled as high winds blew the snow all over the place. At first, a two-hour delay was announced, but that was changed when some of the snowplows in the rural areas of the school district couldn’t clear the roads. Since the streets were passable, both JoAnna and I went to work, as the boys can be trusted to stay home alone. But not all day. At one o’clock, I returned home, where I planned to stay for the rest of the afternoon, but the boys, feeling a bit bored – even playing in the snow wasn’t enough to keep them interested – wanted to go to the library. As a result, I lost only two hours of the workday.

Tuesday evening, JoAnna and I attended a reception at the Unitarian Church for Madison author Jacquelyn Mitchard and the world premiere of the movie The Deep End of the Ocean, which is based on her best-selling novel. The two events were packaged as a fundraiser for Dane County libraries. For JoAnna and me, this was our first “date” since Christmas vacation, when we saw You’ve Got Mail during our visit in Warren. Andy’s basketball season really steamrolled over our weekends. We both enjoyed the movie very much. It was very true to the book, well acted (with the glamourous Michelle Pfeiffer believable in the role of an everyday suburban Mom), and nicely paced. I would venture to say that the majority of the 500 people in the theater gave the movie a thumbs up, even though, as reported in the Capital Times today, Roger Ebert gave it a thumbs down. But then he’s probably still grieving over his partner’s death and not seeing or thinking straight.

So if I had decided to work all day and then attend the evening festivities, the boys would have been on their own from 8 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Can you imagine what the house would have looked like?! As it turned out, he boys were still up when we returned, empty cans of Mountain Dew on the kitchen counter. No wonder they had trouble settling down. They were chattering like squirrels during their first five minutes in bed. Both JoAnna and I had to bellow a “Quiet!” before they finally piped down. 

According to the letter I received from my mom yesterday, Dad is now getting hospice care. In order to be eligible for this service, a doctor has to certify that the person has less than six months to live. Mom indicated that Dad has taken a significant turn for the worse over the past few weeks, to the point where it was getting too much for her to handle. He can’t eat solid foods anymore. He’s completely bedridden, unable to support or balance himself, even with the assistance of a walker. Now at least there will be someone visiting the house who can give Dad a bath and closely monitor his condition. 

My brother Lar called earlier this evening with a medical update, so to speak. Dad’s condition is so precarious right now he could die at any time. Mom and Lar have purchased a casket and consulted with a funeral home director. It’s very likely he won’t survive to the end of the month, when the boys and I plan to visit. This month, there are probably two trips to Pennsylvania in our future.

While JoAnna is in Tamaqua for Julianna’s christening, the boys and I will be whooping it up in Chicago. We have tickets for the Bulls (April 2nd) and the Blackhawks (April 3rd). Also on our itinerary are the Art Institute, Adler Planetarium, the top of the Sears Tower, the Museum of Broadcast Communications, a trip on the double-decker buses that traverse the loop, and who knows what else. Andy is so excited about this trip that he has started to collect a notebook of information he printed from the Internet: pictures, maps, historical information, descriptions of various sites.

Last December you got JoAnna hooked on Law & Order. Four months later, I find myself addicted. We just watched an episode on NBC at 9 o’clock, and the opening credits of a rerun on A&E just concluded. In fact, we’ve developed a new bedtime ritual. Instead of watching the news and Seinfeld, we usually sack out in bed and watch Law & Order, followed by Golden Girls on Lifetime.

Just wanted to get a quick letter out to tell you about my dad. According to Larry, Mom is taking things in stride. The past two years have been very difficult for her, watching her husband of more than 50 years waste away. His death will be a blessing in a way.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

On This Date in 1999 (March 5)

Sandy and Charles

I think Andy’s basketball season last one weekend too long. His team is scheduled to play in a tournament this weekend, starting late this afternoon. On Wednesday, we learned that only four other teams will be participating. It hardly seems worth the effort. All the teams play against each other, and then the top two teams will play a championship game on Sunday afternoon. Although Andy plays only one game today, three games are scheduled for tomorrow. At 10:00, noon, and 3:00. After last weekend’s exciting Tri-County tournament, which Middleton won convincingly, anything else seems anti-climactic. If the boys make it to the championship, I won’t be able to see the game, as the library initiates Sunday hours on the 7th. I scheduled myself to work the first three Sundays of operation, both to work at the reference desk and get a feel as to how things go. We are expecting to be extremely busy. People in the community seem to be very excited about these expanded hours.

Sitting:  Carole, JoAnna, Paul

Standing:  Ruth, Mim

On Wednesday, just before taxiing Andy to basketball practice, he asked me, “Dad, how many times a week do we have supper as a family?”

“Oh, probably two or three times,” I answered, without giving my answer a whole lot of thought.

But I did wonder, “Why is he asking me this question?”

Later that evening, I picked up a copy of the Elm Lawn newsletter that he brought home. It was just a single sheet of paper with short articles printed on both sides. The one that caught my eye: How Often Families Eat Dinner Together.

Nights per week:
  • Seven 22% 
  • Five or six 30% 
  • Three or four 26% 
  • One or two 17% 
  • None 5% 

So then I thought about it. Today (Wednesday) is a no. JoAnna’s at an Airport Commission meeting, and I got home from the library too late to fix a meal for the boys and me. Tuesday is my evening to work. I usually spend two hours at home in the middle of the afternoon to break up a long (11-hour) workday, but since I have to be on the reference desk at 5:00, a family supper is not an option. On Monday, JoAnna fixed chicken cacciatore in the crockpot – and almost didn’t make it home in time. Though a bit rushed, it was a family meal. ONE. JoAnna and I attended my cousin Charles’s wedding late Sunday afternoon, leaving the boys to fend for themselves. Following Andy’s championship game on Saturday afternoon, the family went to Culver’s for an early supper before 5 o’clock mass at St. Bernard’s. TWO. Friday evening, in Mount Horeb, where the basketball tournament was held, JoAnna and Eddie and I went out for supper at the Main Street Bar & Grill between games. The coaches wanted to keep the boys at the school. Outside of Crandall’s take-out, it was the first fish fry we had in quite some time. Thursday. I can’t remember that far back. Wait a minute. I think it’s coming into focus. Another crockpot meal. Stew meat simmered in cream of mushroom soup served over noodles, family style – literally. THREE. 

Sitting:  Shirley, Ruth, Carole
Standing:  Don

Perhaps you’d like to read more about last weekend’s basketball tournament. The four best teams in the two 5th grade leagues were matched up. Middleton handily won both its games Friday evening, 51-37 against Stoughton, and 37-28 against Waunakee, two victories which put them in the championship game against Sauk Prairie, the team that tagged Middleton with its only loss, one of their first games of the season. There was electricity in the air of the gym Saturday afternoon. The bleachers may not have been packed, but both teams drew large and vociferous contingents. Except for the last minute of the game, it was a see-saw battle, the fans loudly applauding each team’s good plays and generally screaming encouragement. With Middleton leading by two points with 1:00 showing on the clock, our guys scored six unanswered points. Andy scored a critical basket on a fast break, which put Middleton up 31-25 with 20 seconds left. The crowd acted as though it was at the Kohl Center for the NCAA finals. But it was one of the most truly exciting sports contests I have ever watched, and I don’t just say that because Andy was part of it, although I can’t deny that our son’s presence certainly gave the game an extra edge. Everyone was breathless by the time the final buzzer sounded, the fans more so than the players. I wish someone had videotaped this game. Even after-the-fact, you could have felt the intensity. You would have also been very proud to see how well Andy played. He has very noticeably improved his game this season. 

My cousin Charles, Lila’s son, who is 62 years old, got married for the second time last Sunday at Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison. JoAnna and I were expecting a short, informal service, but it turned out to be a musical extravaganza. Charles is an accomplished organist and composed much of the music for the ceremony. My cousin Mim, from Beloit, sang five different songs at various intervals. (She also sang at our wedding.) There was a reception in the church basement afterwards. Both Lila and Signe (two of my dad’s sisters) did not recognize JoAnna or me. In fact, Lila chillingly reminded me of my dad. Her face has the same mask-like appearance that my dad now wears because of Parkinson’s. Lila must be similarly affected. Ruth, my dad’s youngest sister, is, at 84, as spry and vivacious as ever. She’s the only child of Herman and Anna who still has all her marbles, so to speak. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful. As they say, sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. 

Genevieve and Tom

According to Mom’s recent letters, Dad’s situation continues to deteriorate. He is sleeping more now, which, in a way, is a blessing for her. He’s very contrary; he won’t listen to her when she tells him to do something and will occasionally try to hit her. Once in awhile he’ll lose his balance because of this uncharacteristic movement and fall. Being a fulltime homecare provider is taking an even bigger toll on her now. It may sound like a horrible thing to say, but she seems to be getting to the point now where she thinks Dad would be better off dead. And I can understand that. Physically and mentally, there is very little left of Dad. In her latest letter, Mom says she tries to concentrate on the 50 good years of their relationship and not the stress and sadness and loneliness of the past five. I’m sure Mom often feels like a prisoner in her own house. She doesn’t get a whole lot of help, even from Larry, Barb, and Dale. And maybe I’d tune out of this situation if I lived in Warren. 

Enough depressing stuff. 

The boys and I are doing an instant replay of last year’s spring break. Since JoAnna is unable to get away for an entire week, having just started her new job in the Department of Justice, I decided a visit to Warren was in order since we may not have an opportunity to do so this summer. We’ll leave Middleton around noon on Friday, March 26th – the boys being able to leave school early – and drive as far as a Holidome in South Bend or Fort Wayne. I’m sure it will be a quiet visit in Warren, which is now or has never has been a happenin’ place. The boys and I will sleep at Larry and Kim’s cabin, which means they’ll be able to stay up late watching TV without disturbing Grandpa. We’ll begin our return trip on Thursday and spend a couple day in Chicago. I bought tickets for a Bulls game on Friday, April 2nd. Plenty of cheap seats are available now that Michael Jordan has retired. I’d also like to take the boys to the Art Institute, which I think Eddie would really enjoy. Otherwise, our itinerary is still in the formative stages. 

JoAnna is flying out to Pennsylvania for Julieanna’s christening. She’ll leave Thursday after work and return late Sunday evening. The plane ticket costs $300, but then Madison to Allentown requires two stopovers, I think. At the same time, she bought our tickets for the Louisiana trip. The total: just over $1,000, which I think is very reasonable for the four of us. We leave on a Wednesday and return on Tuesday. This will be a short (thin?) vacation that will likely be sandwiched between the end of Andy’s baseball and the beginning of his football seasons. 

I got a call from Andy’s teacher yesterday. She was very concerned about the irresponsible attitude he’s been developing lately, over the last couple weeks, specifically. I mentioned that JoAnna and I were concerned, too. All of a sudden, he didn’t have any homework. “I did that at school,” he would say whenever we pushed for details. As it turns out, he was blowing everything off – not completing classwork, not noting assignments in his homework folder, not returning school library materials when asked. As a result, he was given an in-school suspension yesterday, with my blessing, on a day when the rest of his class went on a field trip to the Madison Civic Center to see a play about Thomas Edison. That consequence provided Andy with a much-needed slap in the face. I talked with Mrs. Ball again this morning, and she reported an immediate improvement in Andy’s attitude. I scheduled a conference with her for next Wednesday, since I felt very strongly the need for a face-to-face followup. Andy, of course, will be included in our discussion, since this is all about him.

The weather turned nasty today. We might have as much as five inches of snow on the ground tomorrow morning. The trip to Oregon, for game one of Andy’s basketball tournament, took twice as long as usual. They crushed a Madison team, 55-8, Andy scoring 8 points, coming this close (||) from a breakaway game for him, i.e. 16 points.