Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It Can't Be......16 Years....

Above is a photo of me and my dad, circa 1950. On this day in 1995, my brothers, sisters, and I were gathered in a hospital in Appleton, as my dad fought his last battle with Parkinson’s disease. We knew he’d lost the battle, and that it was just a matter of time.

Just before lunch time, my brother Pat got a call from his wife, who was also in a hospital, in Columbus, Ohio. Surprise! She’d just given birth to their third child, Breanna Rose. And a few hours after our new niece entered the world, my dad left. We were at his side when he gave one last, deep breath and surrendered.

The best and most predominant memories of my dad are not of his last few hours in a hospital, but as a strong, patient father who taught me so much. One of my best memories is the year I was a sophomore at Hortonville High, and it was the annual early spring walleye run on the Wolf River. Dad and some of his buddies had an elaborate “fishing shack” – a four-bunk-bed structure they built themselves, complete with full kitchen and detached outhouse – on land they’d leased along the river. During “the run”, we pretty much lived there for a month.

To get to the shack, you drove a few miles north (on “Interstate M”, as we called Outagamie County Trunk HiWay M), parked, and then had to walk in about 300 yards through waist-deep water along the riverbank. I didn’t have “hip boots”, so my method of getting there was a bit unorthodox. My dad would hoist me up onto his shoulders and carry me in. I was 6’2” and 235 pounds. My dad was the same height and 15 pounds lighter. No problem for him. After he and General Patton won the big war, he was a boxer in college, and he stayed in shape.

Back in the 60’s, the spring walleye run on the Wolf River started when the ice went out of the river, usually mid-to-late-March, and lasted three or four weeks. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch of time five decades ago, my dad hoisted me up onto his shoulders and we began the trek. When we were almost at our destination, dad missed a step. The current, which was strong in spring, regularly re-shaped the banks of the Wolf, and we both went into the icy cold water. We slogged the rest of the way to the shack, lit the stove, dried off, and caught a mess of walleye.

The next spring, I had my own hip boots. But it wasn’t because my dad couldn’t carry me on his shoulders any more.

Far as I’m concerned, he’s carried me on his shoulders every day since I was born in May of 1949. Rest in peace, dad.

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