Lunch at Dad’s

I called him this morning and his phone was turned off. I’ve told him a dozen times he doesn’t have to turn it off when it’s charging but he doesn’t listen. It makes me crazy when I can’t get through to him. He didn’t answer his landline either so I was heading for my shoes—he never leaves the house before 9:00 a.m. I called his neighbor to see if he’d mind checking on him as I was one half making the bed and brushing my teeth, and one half telling myself I was overreacting.

“No problem,” Terry said. “I have a key.”

The phone rang as I was grabbing for my coat. It was Terry. “Debbie, his car is gone.”

“Oh….(Car accident on the way home last night? I ponder.) “….maybe he had an appointment this morning….thanks for checking Terry, I really appreciate it.” I texted dad, Call me.

“Dad! ” I say twenty minutes later into my phone.

“Hi, sweetheart, I had an appointment with the foot doctor this morning, then I stopped at the grocery store.”

“……..” Gosh, thank goodness, phew. “Wow, well you were busy! Charlie and I wanted to take you out to lunch but we can come there if that’s easier.”

“Great, I have lots of food to eat up.” He hates having extra food in the house as much as having extra money. We hang up and the phone rings again before I can put it down. “Debbie, can you stop and pick up two buns? I have Sloppy Joes but only one bun.”

Charlie and I walk in with a bag of buns just as Dad is lifting a cookie sheet with three pottery bowls of soup out of the oven. Keeping the soup warm?

“I called Kay (his cook) to tell her I was having guests for lunch and asked her how to turn my icemaker back on. She was the one who turned it off. She didn’t remember and told me to serve cold water.”

Charlie opens the freezer door and pushes a button. “You gotta hit the ‘on’ button, Grandpa.”

The table was set at the little bistro table in the kitchen with a third chair pulled in from the dining room. “Look at my dining room table and you’ll see why we’re eating in the kitchen.”

I know why but look anyway—one half taxes, the other half stacks of donation requests which make me crazy. “Doing your taxes? “I ask ignoring the requests for money. ‘All these good causes, how can I say no?’ Always his answer.

Have a seat,” he says. “If I was organized like you, Charlie, everything would be ready.”

“We’re ten minutes early, Dad.” I watch him lift one hot bowl at a time with hot pads off the cookie sheet then precariously place each one unto a placemat.

“What else do we need..?”

“Butter, pickles?” I ask.

“Oh, right, butter and pickles. How’s the soup?”

“Cold,” I say giving it a taste.

“I was worried about that.”

We microwave the soup for exactly three minutes and after lunch divide a chocolate chip cookie three ways.

“Thanks for coming by.” He says giving my son a big hug. “It was so good to see you, Charlie. Give my love to Lauren. We have to get her up here.”

I look at the two of them and know I have just had a priceless lunch.

My dad and son

My Dad and Son

Charlie and I open the door to leave and see a seven inch stack of mail with a rubber band around it at our feet.

“That’s a lot of mail, Grandpa……you won’t get bored.”

“That’s right,” Dad says with a chuckle as he walks away. “I won’t get bored.”

Tater Tots on Tuesday

Anyone who’s lived in the Midwest knows how brutal the winters can be. Dad’s doctor started recommending he spend the cold months in Tucson with my sister. This is the second winter he’s gone and the trip was hard on him.

There are other things to consider besides cold weather and I was relieved when I heard he’d be coming home a week early. Two weeks ago, when I found out that he was in the hospital after his legs had given way and he’d fallen, I was afraid he wouldn’t make it home. I picked him up at Mitchell Field last Friday and the first thing he told me was how pleased he was with the airport wheelchair service. He thought he’d be able to travel anywhere in the world.

It’s good to have him back in his condo—just three blocks from my office and three miles from where my husband and I live. And it was special to be together again this past Sunday with Dad.

Today, when I was making his lunch, he was crushing his pills and said, “There will be no pills in heaven!”

“Or grief or anger,” I added as I put extra butter on the bread for his sandwich. He’s down to 130 pounds.

“I really don’t have any anger,” he said after a  moment’s thought. “When the Lord is ready to take me, I am ready to go.”

“What about patience?” I asked and he smiled. “You might want to focus on that or you’ll have to stick around until you get it right.” I smiled.

“You know, I’ve lost twenty pounds since my surgery in 2007.”

“You’ve also lost four inches of height, Dad.  You don’t need the weight.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about that. You always make me feel better.”

(No, Dad, you always make me feel better.)

I had called him on my way to work after a meeting this morning. He told me his congestion was back and had let his doctor know but they hadn’t yet called him back. “Are you taking your Mucinex?” I asked him.

“No, I stopped that.”

“Why?”

“Because I had put myself on it and then I took myself off it.”

“Well, put yourself back on it.”

“Can I talk to my doctor first?”

“Sure, if they call you back. If they don’t, take it.” He chuckled.

“Well…I left it in Tucson.

“I’ll pick some up.” Walgreen’s didn’t have any on the shelf so I went to CVS and picked up two bottles. I was leaving the store when I saw his text asking me if I could pick up his Warfarin prescription and turned around to head back to the pharmacy.

I get immense joy out of solving the little challenges my Dad faces these days. There is always an answer if you take the time to look—even if it might be that you’ve only found some distraction from the fact that you are facing your parent’s mortality. As with my mom, I try not to think about losing him.  He is full of life, in spite of the fact that he weighs 130 pounds, has no appetite, hobbles and coughs. He’s a fighter, a soldier, and carries around a copy of “Onward Christian Soldier” with him in his briefcase.

I love him.

Tonight after work I went by and made a Tater Tot casserole like my mom used to make for our family because he likes it. I made enough for our family because that’s the way Mom made it though it was just the two of us. I lit candles and he said the prayer. When we had finished and the dishes were done, the leftovers put away, he worked his way over to his chir with his new walking stick, slowly lowered himself into it and told me to sit down. “I have something serious to say to you.” I took a seat on the couch beside him. “I know I am getting weaker and won’t be able to stay here in the condo much longer.”

“Oh, I’ve thought about that, Dad. I think we can find someone to come in and help out a little more. They could prepare all your meals and just watch over things.”

“Well, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“One day at a time, Dad.”

“Okay. You always make me feel better.”

No, Dad, you always make me feel better.

Lunch at the Counter

My family is big on rituals. Growing up, it was the Meadow Inn on Friday nights, Solly’s Coffee Shop on Saturdays and Marc’s Big Boy on Sundays after church. We didn’t always go out to eat but when we did, that’s where we’d go. When Mom and Dad went on a Saturday night date, it would be to Jake’s for steaks.

Friday nights during high school, then in college and afterwards, we’d meet up at Kalt’s on Oakland Avenue. (My brother had his wedding rehearsal dinner there and I had my first one there too.) We would sit in the dark wooded and mirrored lobby with the aromas of fried fish wafting through the air, accompanied to the sounds of conversations and laughter coming from the long bar around the corner, as we waited for our name to be called.

We were always greeted by Henry—Mr. Kalt’s son—with menus we didn’t need because we all had fish fries. Henry would escort us back through the restaurant of tables with the red and white checkered tablecloths, to the back room where he’d slide three of four tables together in order to seat us all. Before long we’d have our drinks and a couple orders of onion rings, yelling down the table in cross conversations, as we waited for the fish to arrive.

Kalt’s Restaurant was next door to the J. Pellman Theatre. It was kind of a Milwaukee version of Sardi’s—a spot where all the performers gathered after shows and caricatures of famous people hung on the walls. No matter what, that’s where we’d all meet up at the end of the week. And I always looked forward to it.

Poor Todd. He married into it like it or not. We have developed our own personal rituals like Beans and Barley and Colectivo—a little healthier. But yesterday, we went to Solly’s.

It’s nostalgia. As you wait for a seat at the counter, you can see the guy in the back, grilling, throwing huge slabs of butter on the burgers and salting them with a large metal shaker. To some, it’s an acquired taste. I usually order a salad but the shakes and fries are awesome.

Solly’s opened up in 1936 as a family run restaurant by Kenneth Salmon, a.k.a. Solly. It’s still owned and run by his family. Ladies in their seventies wait on you and you feel bad that their legs must hurt.

I guess for me, walking into the room with counter seating is more about the memories than the food. Long ago, after I finished my Saturday morning piano lessons at the Wisconsin College of Music, I’d wait, sometimes an hour or more, for my dad to pick me up after whatever meeting he had that morning. I’d entertain myself on the front steps of the grand old building, by running up and down them, heading back inside to bother the receptionist for a while, then out again to look down Prospect Avenue for Dad’s orange convertible Carmen Gia. When he finally did show up with his briefcase on the passenger seat, he’d apologize, tossing it in the back, saying the meeting ran longer than he had planned and then we’d head to Solly’s.

Years later, when the doctor told Mom there would be no more Chemo because it wasn’t working any longer, she sat quietly for a moment before picking up her purse and coat and heading out the door with my dad and sister. When Dad asked her what she’d like to do, she stopped, turned to him, and said……..…“Well, let’s go to Solly’s.” She was too weak by then to sit on one of the counter chairs that have replaced the old rotating pedestals that were great for doing three-sixties, so they sat and had their burgers and fries and malts together in the car.

Dad’s been going there since 1946 and still eats there several times a month. People know him by name and if he happens to forget one of theirs it’s okay because the name of each of the waitresses is stitched  into their shirts. He says it’s his home away from home.

Solly's burger

Be advised if you go there, you’ll probably over-tip.

 

 

 

Afraid of Balloons

Some people wait for years to replace a beloved pet. Not us.

When we had to put down Pisgah—my fifteen year old Cocker Spaniel—I couldn’t go back  home without her there to greet us. She had been through my first marriage with me. After my divorce, she was with my son Charlie when I couldn’t be.

20131216_211037_resizedShe was my jogging buddy—always beside me, leash-less. When her years began to add up and she started to lag behind, her long silky ears flopped all the more from the extra effort. She began to surrender on her squirrel chases. She became deaf and found her way by scent.

In spite of it all, as she aged, people would still ask if she was a puppy.

20131216_211355_resizedAfter a bath one night, she shivered and was short of breath. I thought it was from the cold but it didn’t stop. We soon discovered that her heart was enlarged. It couldn’t contain all her love.

20131216_211054_resizedTodd stood by my side as I held her in my arms and she looked up at me. The vet gave her the shot that put her into a sweet, deep sleep.

It was too hard to walk back into our house after that so we went for lattes. We came up with the idea to take a drive to the pet store where my brother had found a puppy.

We walked in and I immediately noticed a teddy bear. He sat up with a stick-straight dancer spine and looked me square in the eyes. Hopeful anticipation…..Please love me ma’am (get me out of here!). I asked to hold him and the salesperson took him from his cage and set him down in an observation pen.

20131216_211644_resizedI watched him play, rubbed his belly, let him lick the tears that were still fresh in my eyes, and tried to stop him from gnawing on my fingers with his sharp teeth.

20131216_211454_resizedBy the time Todd found out we couldn’t afford him, it was too late. Without any research, we made an impulse buy and busted our budget. We were so sad and Sam was such fun. We returned home with a big pen and all the dog accouterments—poorer but puppy rich.

20131216_210942_resizedI sobbed through that evening, playing Puccini in Pisgah’s honor while Sam scooted around.

20131216_210735_resizedHe chewed the legs of all our furniture but was particular about the shoes he ate. They had to be new and bone colored. He destroyed our rugs and carpeting and ate anything—including a lighter. He was a butane hose for days and had to spend them all in his pen.

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Frozen in snow after playing with his best friend Cookie Dermond

Garbage cans scare him. He is a sniffer not a jogger and can easily spend thirty minutes on one block. He was hard to train and still jumps up on guests. He snarls at some dogs but only after I have assured the owner he is friendly.

He got his certificate from obedience school because the trainer was relieved to be done with him. “This is how you walk a dog,” he would say taking Sam by the leash and proceed across the room. “Heal! Heal!! HEAL SAM!!”  Sam does not heal.

20131216_211813_resizedHe is strong-willed but sweet and confused about being a dog. He sits on the stairs like a person—upright on the step. He has made our furniture his own and when Todd gets up in the morning, Sam immediately jumps up beside me and lays his head on Todd’s pillow.

20131216_211743_resizedWe work all day so we got a kitten to keep him company and named her Rose.

20131216_211621_resizedHer alley cat mom weaned her too early so the former owner’s dog had become her surrogate mother. When Rose met Sam she attached her mouth to a nipple. He stared at us, What the heck? but they became best pals.

20131216_211539_resizedI eventually got Sam to walk to the lakefront and home again without a leash. I would carry Rose along in a papoose. The three of us would do the full two and a half mile circle together…until the day Sam saw a parachute.

He stopped, turned and took off across the beach, running past honking, screeching cars. He was covered with the lake’s algae and tends to look rabid when wet. No one could catch him. He disappeared into the ravines. I called for hours. I was almost home when I noticed him sauntering along a couple blocks ahead of me.

I keep Sam on a leash now most of the time and have never been successful with getting him to walk leisurely on the lakefront. He’s always looking for that parachute.

So, when we brought balloons home from an event last night, Sam escaped up the stairs and hid in the bedroom.

He just has a thing about floating aberrations.

BalloonsI sometimes wonder what would have happened to Sam if we hadn’t been so impulsive that day at the pet store. It doesn’t matter….Sam has Pisgah to thank for that….and I’m sure he will one day.

20131216_210826_resizedHe’s just not ready yet to join her.

2011 Oct 18 Camera Download 001

Back to the City

On Sunday nights, Todd and I often walk to Boswell bookstore on Downer Avenue, have a latte and buy a book—the final stretch of our weekend. Then it’s back home for popcorn and we open a bottle of wine. Growing up, my family would always have Sunday dinner after church, so Sunday nights Mom made popcorn. She would hide pieces of homemade fudge in it.

On a Sunday night in January 1970, we were all out snowmobiling, stretching the weekend out as long we could. I got thrown off the back of Ed’s snowmobile, and landed face first in a snow bank. I felt the crunch of the ice and got up feeling like I had a face full of needles. The next morning was our first day at new schools in Milwaukee. Mom and Dad had made the decision to move from the farm back into town. This was the period of time that families were leaving the city for the suburbs but Mom and Dad felt it was time for our family to leave the suburbs for the city. I looked like I had the measles. Dad told me no one would notice.

Like the farm ten years earlier, Mom and Dad found a great bargain on a house on Milwaukee’s east side; the purchase price was seventeen thousand dollars. It needed some work but the neighborhood was close to our schools, there was a park and Lake Michigan nearby.

We traveled into town that next morning—Ed, John, Joan and I—all squeezed into Dad’s Carmen Ghia, along with our backpacks and John’s trombone. Ed got the front-seat. I had the center back because I have claustrophobia and there was more leg room. John and Joan were squished in on what was left of the seat on either side of me. I didn’t mind the trombone in my lap as long as I didn’t have a seat in front of my face like they did.  Somehow we fit and survived the thirty minute drives each way without too much trouble—for the next four months while the house got renovated. We moved in on the first day of April…Fools Day.

Ed was a sophomore and I was a freshman and would be attending Riverside High School, Dad’s Alma Mater. John was in eighth grade and Joan in third, both at Hartford Avenue Elementary. Every day after school we would go to the Wenzler Architect demolition project on Shepard Avenue—walls came down and beams were exposed and sandblasted. Dad was opening up the first floor and building a central fireplace that created a loft in a house feel long before lofts were cool. Ed and John helped. Joanie made friends in the neighborhood. I camped out in the old Victorian bathtub with feet and did my homework.

Go Riverside Tigers!

Go Riverside Tigers!

When Dad was a kid, Milwaukee Public Schools taught music lessons at Roosevelt Junior High. At the time, this was the center of the African American community in Milwaukee. Dad wanted to take trumpet lessons and they were offered at Roosevelt on Saturdays so he went. When his dad and brother found out what he was doing, they had a fit and told him it was too dangerous. Dad told them that that was ridiculous and continued on with his lessons. That’s how he raised us—to not be afraid. For example, after September 11, Joan was flying home a lot because of Mom’s cancer. The attack had made her nervous about flying. Dad said, “Joan, do not be intimidated. Get a seat on the aisle. If you see anything suspicious, take them down!”

That empowered her and she flew without fear from then on.

Riverside was one of the first schools at the time in Milwaukee that brought different neighborhoods of kids together to keep the city schools from becoming segregated. There was racial tension. When Todd, who also attended Riverside, was on his way to his first day of class, he got punched in the face by two guys—one on either side of him, in front of the Ben Franklin on Oakland Avenue. He went to the auditorium for orientation that day feeling a little sniffley at age thirteen, standing five feet four inches with red hair. We would have done well to have had a Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap program back then.

What I remember about my first day of school was the color of the Bobbie Brooks skirt and sweater I wore—lime green. It wouldn’t be long before I would be wearing the same pair of bell bottom blue jeans day after day. I also remember seeing Todd walk down the hallway—as I hid my measle spots behind my hair—and thinking he was cute.

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Homeroom. Todd second row, second from right. Facebook friend Doug Hoyt top row first on left.

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Homeroom. Deb second row center. Facebook friend Dawn (Silas) Dunkelberger, second row third from left.

So we moved into Milwaukee at the height of the civil rights movement. ‘Crazy,’ people said about what my parents were doing. They were right—crazy about equal rights. Mom and Dad wanted to expose us to diversity—to life.

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20140219_175111_resizedPictures from the 1971 Riverside Mercury Yearbook. The dedication reads:

We wish to dedicate the 1971 Mercury to all those who cannot laugh with us because sadness, poverty, sickness or loneliness have touched their lives. It is our hope that the changes we so desperately need will come about within our own lives. It is on the expression of this hope that we close this book.

Crossing the Soviet Border

Around the time of Dad’s fellowship, the Soviets had been known to occasionally take Americans hostage for negotiating purposes. That didn’t influence Dad’s desire to see Berlin. He was interested in architecture in West Berlin and just plain curious about East Berlin. When he was making the decision to cross into Soviet controlled East Berlin, he was not going to be intimidated. Having been the smallest kid in his class at Fratney Street School, he understood what it meant to be bullied. He knew real power was not gained by creating fear in someone else in order to win the upper hand. Dad will tell you that his strength has always come from the Lord. He wanted to experience for himself the effects of the war and the impact of communist control.

Road entering Soviet zone

Entering first Soviet zone. No border check on the autobahn.

“The tension was great between the Soviet Union and the allies—France, England and the U.S.,” Dad told me during a Saturday afternoon history lesson to help me understand this story.

“I had stopped at the Consulate in Bremen to discuss the situation. They told me the only way that they had ever heard of civilians driving through the Soviet sector into Berlin, was in a military convoy. They said they couldn’t recommend anything to me but they did add, ‘If you do it, will you stop on the way back and tell us how it went?’

That night in West Germany, we heard artillery fire and we prayed for direction. In the morning a German told us that the Soviets did the firing intentionally to keep the German people nervous. Then I noticed that our VW had a flat tire—I hadn’t had any trouble up to that point. I took the tire off, put the spare on and Ed and I went to a garage in town. The mechanic checked it over and told us there was nothing wrong with the tire. He couldn’t explain why it went flat so he filled it with air and gave it back to me.

I suppose I could have interpreted this as a sign to listen to the words of the Consulate.  I didn’t know if somebody had flattened the tire to discourage us, but whatever happened, I felt compelled to get into Berlin. So we ignored it and continued on. But that’s how much tension there was.

When we got to the East German border, we had to go to the Soviet office to be checked out. They wanted to know who we were and what we were doing. I showed them my data from the University on the fellowship, told them I was traveling with my wife and three kids and that we were camping.They said they’d get back to me. So I went back to the car and we waited there while they checked us out. Before long, a guy in uniform came over to our car, said it was okay to go on and gave us a pass.

About this time, I had gotten word that the new tent we had ordered arrived in Bremen at the American Express office—always our connection point. This new tent had a covered area that we would be able to cook and eat under. We used our original tent while we were in Berlin because I knew the new one would take a while to figure out how to set up. So we went to pick it up and put it in our car-top carrier along with everything else.

We drove to Berlin without incident, and found the camp site there. We saw the architecture I wanted to see in West Berlin over several days. Dolores and the kids stayed at the camp site in the German sector while I went into East Berlin. The border of the German sector was at the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenberg GateI got checked out by the Russian guards and was permitted to enter. West Berlin was already rebuilt by this time. I couldn’t get over all the war devastation—bombed out buildings and rubble—still evident in East Berlin. I believed it was the difference between the economic systems and freedom.

East Berlin

East Berlin

East Berlin (2)

After I had spent several hours walking around East Berlin observing the conditions, it felt good to get back into West Berlin. I went to our camp site and discussed my experience with Dolores. The next morning, I put up a sign that said Zelt Verkaufen (Tent Sale). Almost instantly, it was sold. I guess the Berliners didn’t have much access to outside merchandise.

The buyer of the tent came by the next morning, after we had packed up. We drove back to West Germany and found a camp site there. I couldn’t help but recall the beautiful site in Florence that had convinced us to camp. This site was a vacant lot in an urban area. I unpacked the new tent and realized two things. First, it wasn’t the one I intended to buy and second, it had many pages of detailed instructions on how to erect it—all in German. As I was pondering my situation, another camper noticed me and offered to help. He could read German and helped me put it up. It was very difficult and took us a while. After about six times of putting it up and taking it down myself in the days ahead, I could finally get it all laid out and set up pretty quickly.”

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Then it was on to Scandinavia with our new two-room tent.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. II Timothy 1:7 NLT

1958 World’s Fair

The final six weeks of Dad’s fellowship took us over more mileage than any preceding similar period according to Dad’s notes. We traveled a total of 12,000 miles in the Volkswagen bug—camping through Germany, then south to Italy, on to Spain, France, Geneva, Brussels, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and …I know I’m missing a few things.

Amsterdam

Our car along a canal in Amsterdam

The truth is, I want to get through Dad’s fellowship so the total trip will be included in the 40 years of stories that I give to him on his birthday this Sunday. He has been asking for months, “When are we going to finish the fellowship…?!”

Local resident in front of our tent

Local resident in front of our campsite

Brussels deserves a special mention on at least two counts. For one, the World’s Fair was there in ’58. Dad said John became part of an exhibit when he got tired of carrying him while watching a contemporary furniture exhibit. No sooner had he laid him down to rest when he heard voices muttering, “Look at those Americans.They put a live child in their exhibit!”

And secondly regarding Brussels, we lost Ed.

Dad said he gave us all clear instructions, “Now you kids stay with us. If we lose you in the World’s Fair, we’ll never find you!”  Within the first hour, Ed was missing. Apparently, we were walking along a boulevard that curved. Ed followed the curve while the rest of us went straight. Pretty soon someone was saying, “Where’s Eddie?”

Not with us.

Mom and Dad did find him two hours later.

Ed’s story was that first a man with banana peels found him, (a litter clean-up man) and he took him to a policeman who only spoke French.

“Of course it may have been any other language but to Eddie it was French,” Dad said.

Ed’s story continued on. A man came along who spoke English and told him to go with the French speaking policeman.

“We finally found out where we should go to find a lost child,” Dad said, “when we heard an announcement over the loud-speaker—in four different languages—that all parents with lost children should report to such and such a place. So that’s where we went and there we found Eddie with a toy in each hand, three stewardesses trying to comfort him.

“They said they’d never find me if I got lost!” He was crying to them with big tears in his eyes.

Well, we did find him and then it was on to Amsterdam, Holland where there were windmills and wooden shoes.

20140105_185750_resizedMy wooden shoes were red. I loved the color but I still remember sliding my feet into those hard things…the rub against the bone on my arch, but also the wonderful tapping sound they made on the streets.

20140105_185652_resizedThey were great for walking on the cobbled streets and also served well as toy shovels in the dirt.

20140105_185711_resizedThey were magical wooden shoes.

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