Learning to Fly

My heart pounded as I swerved into the parking space. “Is there a fire?!” I shouted running up to the front window of the fire truck.

“We got a call about condo 108.”

“My dad?!”  I flew up the steps, my mind suddenly racing. Everything’s fine over here, Debbie, Dad had just said an hour earlier. We had been to the doctor that day. He was okay, his doctor had said. His cough had mysteriously vanished for the hour and a half we were in her office—no crackling in his lungs, she had said. It came back as soon as we were in the car but we took a drive to look at our old church. We did too much; he was still weak from his trip to Arizona.

Faith Church on 78th and Hope

Faith Church on 78th and Hope

We had lunch at Solly’s. He shouldn’t  eat butter burgers and fries!

Dad! I heard myself yell.

“She’s got a key.” Someone said from the crew of firemen standing outside his door.  “We can hear him in there and we heard your voicemail on his phone so we knew you were on your way. We were just ready to break his door down.”

Break his door down?! That would not have gone over well with the man who still uses throw rugs so he doesn’t wear out his carpeting. I tried to steady my hand on the key as I turned the knob and opened the door. There he was, lying on his back, across the red runner. He couldn’t get up but his eyes were as bright as the rug. “Hi, sweetheart.”

“Oh, Dad.”  His legs had given out, again. Dehydrated. No need to go to the hospital, he convinced the firemen, since he’d been to the doctor that day. After sitting up and drinking some water, the guys helped me get him to bed. His doctor started him on an antibiotic and I stayed with him for the next ten days.

“I do feel I’ve done a good job taking care of myself up to this point.” Dad told me just a few days later. “I can’t do no mo’.” He said then. “I’m done.”

“Oh come on, Dad. I think I’m going to give you a couple sips of wine tonight. That might help your appetite.”

“Or my attitude.”

“You’re like a cat. You’ve got nine lives.”

“Which one am I on?”

“I don’t know, the fifth or sixth.” I’ve worried at least that many times that Dad wasn’t going to make it. We didn’t think he was going to recover from his heart valve surgery in 2007. His valves were better but his lungs took a beating. He fought his way back. Then they told him if he ever got pneumonia that would be it for him. He got pneumonia and proved them wrong. (Whenever he’s in the hospital, he finds people to share his faith with. That always gets him back on track. He inspires and ticks people off equally.) Mom died not long after that—that hit him really hard. And then he got pneumonia again, and then again. Now he has fluid in his lungs that they can’t do much about but on he goes. I think that puts him on his sixth.

He wasn’t as fortunate as us with his own father who died at sixty-seven. The last time he saw him alive was in 1967.

“When Wenzler Architects was selected by the state to design the Fine Arts Center at Steven’s Point, I thought it might be a good time to learn to fly. That would turn a three-and-a-half hour drive each way into less than an hour.

“By this time in my career, I had developed a pattern for “programming” a new project. For academic projects, I would spend a number of days on the campus, in the classrooms with faculty and students. In addition to this effort to understand the project, there were many meetings with the client.

“I had completed this stretch with Steven’s Point—living in the dorm and staying on campus—and felt I had a very good grasp of the project. I was ready to find a concept for the design. This usually included spending nights alone in the office where I could think and sketch and try out ideas. This particular time, it was a Saturday afternoon when—bang—the Lord had given me the solution. I had the sketch and was sure it was the right one. The complicated part of the project was the theatre, so I called the chair of the theatre department, told him where I was at and asked if I could come up and show it to him. He said, ‘Come up. I can’t wait.’

“My Dad had recently had a stroke and was in the hospital at Milwaukee Lutheran. I stopped there on the way to the airport to show him my sketches. He wasn’t talking anymore by that point but he sure could see and respond. I showed him the sketches and explained the ideas and he smiled his approval.

Steven's Point sketch

“I had arranged to rent a Bonanza at the Waukesha County Airport to fly up and was checked out for night flying but was still only flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules). I got to the airport and took off. I met the chair and committee when I arrived at the University, went over my plans and they were excited.

“I flew back to Waukesha after my meeting and drove home. It was a wonderful day and on the way, I was thinking about my visit with my dad and how grateful I was for our time together. I never got to see him alive again, but I was thankful I got to see him and for all the encouragement he always gave me. That was the last time I saw him alive.”

Steven's Point Exterior

Steven’s Point Center for the Arts

*******

 “I figured it out.” Dad said as he was beginning to get his strength back last week.

“What’s that?’ I asked.

“I’ll give my key to three neighbors. And, I’ll get one of those call things that you can wear on your belt. I saw it advertised in the AARP Magazine. Then I won’t have to move.”

“Okay, Dad, that sounds good to me. You’re ‘flying’ IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) now.”

Steven's Point interior

Steven’s Point Art Center interior

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3 thoughts on “Learning to Fly

  1. I can relate to your panic. I worry about my Dad constantly. He finally acquiesced to wearing a life alert necklace and he has neighbors who check in on him, so that helps relieve some of my anxiety. Seniors forget to hydrate and that makes them weak. I’m constantly reminding my father to sip water all day. He’s more concerned with filling the fridge with the water so that it will run more efficiently than in drinking it.

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