Rock & Rye

Here’s a story about my Father I would like to share with you. It is Christmas Eve here in the United States, and this story is about a Christmas miracle, or two idiots, whichever you prefer.
Long ago, roughly Christmas 1979, my mom, dad, and I traveled to Keystone, Colorado for Christmas. My father had a medical meeting to attend, and the Medical Society he belonged to liked to use school holidays to travel places that were family friendly but nature oriented. They were quite progressive for the time, considering that they found South Padre Island long before the influx of college students. Anyway, someone decided they wanted to take their family along, and go skiing while they were at it.
I remember leaving a day early and driving to Clayton, New Mexico. There wasn’t much in Clayton, New Mexico, but I remember a rather good Mexican restaurant called La Paloma Blanca, and the triceratops in the garden. (Clayton apparently had fossils and someone had put plaster dinosaurs in a white picket fenced area.) I remember staying the night at one of those old cinder block motels, and we couldn’t get the heat regulated right…and ended up sleeping with the door cracked open.
We were headed into a national forest, so my dad though it would be a good idea to buy a Christmas tree at Safeway in Clayton. We had the van with the crazy paint job at the time, so we wrapped the tree in a sheet, and laid it in the middle aisle.

My dad said he thought it looked like a body, and that he hoped we would not get pulled over.
My mother just laughed.

I can remember driving through Colorado Springs early in the morning and hearing the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing Christmas carols on the radio. My parents, who both had good singing voices chimed in. I remember passing this white church with a high peaked steeple, and it really looked like something out of a Christmas card.

My dad had put snow tires on the van, so we wouldn’t have to deal with chains higher up in the mountains. They made a funny sound, like a whirring, humming, purring noise on the pavement. When we got to Loveland pass, and the tunnel, it was snowing so hard it looked like we had entered hyperspace. I remember calling it that too, because the original Star Wars was still a thing, and I felt like Chewbacca, sitting in the navigator’s seat next to my dad.

Christmas Eve, we put the tree up in our tiny studio condo that was located close to Keystone village and the lake. We faced the mountain, so we couldn’t see the Christmas tree in the center of the lake. We drove to Dillon, the closest real town to Keystone, and hunted frantically for ornaments for the tree. My mother had some cranberries and popcorn, so we strung those together to make a garland. I think I found some blue and green glass balls at a Hallmark store so we took those back to the condo with us. We decorated our tree, and my parents had the Murphy bed, and I slept on the couch. I remember Christmas morning, looking out the window, and the snow was coming down so fast, you could not see the mountain…and we were ski in/out right on the mountain, so it was a heavy snow. I remember that the flakes were fat, and as big as silver dollars. I sat there and watched them in amazement, because they were so incredibly large. Our humble tree, with its multicolored lights was reflected in the glass. The image has stayed with me all this time because it was so striking that I almost cannot put it into words.

I was into ice skating at the time, because, Dorothy Hamill, you know? I skated for hours on Keystone lake. My mother sat huddled on a bench all that time, keeping warm under a blanket, while I entertained fantasies of Olympic glory. The Russian women’s speed skating team was there too, and they skated for hours and hours around the south end of the lake. I skated out there too, but I quickly learned that the ice was slushy there, and there were more minnow holes. It was also not as maintained as the area closer to the condos, and the Zamboni did not clean and level the ice as much. I told my mother about it, and she related her story about how she out skated an ice breaker up on Lake Michigan. She also told me not to go out that far anymore, and I didn’t because as pretty as it was, I could tell it wasn’t safe.

My dad and another doctor, I’ll call Dr. White for the purposes of this story,(because I do not know if his family knows what actually happened, or if he even told them.) decided that after their meeting was over that they were going to go ice fishing out on Dillon Lake. My dad had already planned to do this, as he brought along his tackle and rod, and other ice fishing gear. My parents both lived in Michigan, it is where they met. So, winter sports like ice skating and ice fishing were old hat to them. My mom knew he was going, but I don’t think she knew who all was going out there with him from the meeting.

I had skated for close to ten hours that day, and it was getting dark. My mother was clearly getting worried, as I played with my doll back at the condo.
Finally, about seven in the evening, my father shows up, and he’s roaring drunk.

My mother was seriously pissed off. My dad had a awful case of alcohol poisoning, because the altitude had taken effect and made him drunker faster. He collapsed on the bed, managed to convey that he had a story to tell, and fell asleep.

The next day, a very hung over Dr. White and the Dillon county sheriff’s department paid my mother a visit. My dad was still hung over, but he and Dr. White managed to fill out the incident forms.

What happened was this: My father had gone ice fishing as planned but the only other doctor that showed up to join him was Dr. White. Dr. White didn’t have any fishing gear, so he turned up with a bottle of Rock & Rye and a cheerful attitude. He and my dad sat out there on the ice, next to one of the little fishing huts, and swapped surgical stories, gossip, and generally shot the shit with one another for hours. They killed the bottle, and then realized they were both drunk…too drunk to drive. So, in an effort to sober up, they hung around the lake basically idling until one of them could manage the drive. In the meantime, one of the other ice fisherman had gone out onto the ice, and it turned to slush on him. The ice broke and he fell in and my dad and Dr. White saw it happen. Some of the other fishermen out there called the sheriff’s department, but my father and Dr. White decided to rescue the guy. They belly scooted across paper thin ice out in the center of the lake to reach the man. Somebody had given them a rope, and they got it around the guy, and dragged him out of the water. Both of them worked on the guy, because he went into cardiac arrest, and was suffering from hypothermia. They and the EMT’s got the man stable and he was airlifted to Denver for further treatment.

The sheriff said the reason why he didn’t arrest my father and Dr. White for public inebriation was because they probably saved that guy’s life. He said only drunken fools would have attempted that, as the ice in the area was less than an inch thick. He said he honestly thought is was a miracle that the two men were there at the time it happened, that they were both doctors, and just crazy enough to have done what they did. He advised my mother not to be too angry with my dad because both he and Dr. White were heroes.

The expression on my mother’s face was priceless. I honestly don’t know if she wanted to slap my dad, cry, or hug him. Dr. White and my dad were pretty good friends after that. I know my dad trusted him to operate on me when I had to have my appendix removed. My dad sent Dr. White a bottle of Rock & Rye for Christmas every year for a while after that. After all, he and my dad had gone where only drunken idiots and angels would fear to tread.

Somewhere out there, is a man, who fell through the ice that day. He might be long dead by now, as is Dr. White, and my father. But, he was blessed that day to have my dad by his side. I am really proud of my dad for this, as I could have lost my father that day too. But someone was looking out for all three of them out there that day on the ice.
But, that is the way my father was…he was a good man that would selflessly help others. I love you very much, Daddy.

Merry Christmas.

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Ice Dancing

I guess there was a Ted talk on youtube about how we are all made up of stories.  I found a reference to it in an ASMR video by Lauren Ostroski (I think that is how she spells it) Fenton.  Anyway, I wanted to rely a couple of stories about my parents.  One I was there for but did not know all the details and one that happened before I was born.

My mother was quite athletic when she was younger.  She encouraged my ice skating because she used to ice skate on Lake Michigan.  Once, she told me, that she had been invited to a skating party out on the lake.  She had gotten distracted and skated far, far, out onto the lake and into the shipping channel.  It was at night, so she was all alone out there in the darkness but nothing but the northern lights for company.  Or so she thought.  The ice breaking ship with its huge chevron bow came plowing through the ice toward her, and clearly did not see her.  So she skated…as fast as she could in front of the breaker as it slammed the ice to pieces around her.  She raced in front to get away from it, because if she slowed down, she would fall in to the water and drown.  So, she skated at her top speed with her lungs on fire and her skates flashing sliver in the night sky.  Terror caused her heart to beat wildly and still the breaker came.  Finally, it turned away, churning the water of the channel…but still large cracks appeared in the ice, and my mother jumped them landing onto unbroken icebergs and skating away at full speed to get off the shattering ice.  The skating party forgotten, she made for the shore line.  The cracks were hairline, some times bigger and she hurtled over them in terror.  She made it to shore, as the ice began booming and breaking apart all the way to the shoreline.  She lay in the snow, breathing hard and sucking air into her lungs, feeling her leg muscles screaming, like she had been screaming in fear.  When the cold seeped in across her back, she peeled off her sweat soaked down coat with frozen fingers.  She got up, and on wobbly, sodden legs, walked the three miles back to her house.  My grandmother, who was not a nice person apparently, said to her as she collapsed from exhaustion into bed, “What the hell happened to you?”

~~~

We’d gone up to Keystone Colorado at Christmas for a medical meeting.  We spent Christmas in a studio condo overlooking the mountains and it was magical.  (Keystone and those Christmases require separate entries)  But, my dad and Dr. Irwin Brown at some point decided to go ice fishing on Dillon lake, and Dad returned dead drunk.  My mother was livid.  He was quite ill with altitude and alcohol poisoning.  However, when he recovered, he told the story of what had actually happened.  As drunk as he was, he and Dr. Brown had saved someone’s life.

They were sitting in the car, shooting the shit and drinking Rock N Rye which Dr. Brown had brought a bottle.  They weren’t really fishing because it was cold and the conditions weren’t really optimal …snow flurries, a chilly wind, and the shelter out on the ice looked less than appealing.  But, they sat there drinking, with the heat on, watching a couple of guys out on the lake fishing in a couple of holes…when one guy fell in.  The ice had thinned where he was and while the fish enjoyed coming up for oxygen, it weakened the ice.  Without thinking, both of them jumped out of the car, yelled to the other fisherman, who promptly tried to get to the guy but the ice was treacherous.  They spotted the thrashing fisherman and called an ambulance.  My dad and Dr. Brown, drunk as they were, slid on their bellies out on ice thin as paper and managed to wrangle the guy out of the water with a rope.  They wiggled their way back off the slush and wafer thin ice and dried off.  They were drunk as skunks which gave them the bravery to do what essentially was a stupid thing.  But, they saved the guy’s life.   Dr. Brown turned up the heat in the car, and they wobbled their way back to the resort to sleep it off.   I don’t think they ever told anyone that story except us.  They didn’t do it for thanks, although “Make way! I’m a doctor!” was probably shouted at least once.  I doubt it made the paper and my dad certainly didn’t want to be reported as the Hero Drunk.  From that point on it was referred to as the Rock N Rye incident, and a joke between my dad and Dr. Brown.  I don’t know that my mother ever believed the story, although I am sure she asked for confirmation.  I think its proof that Angels work in mysterious ways.  Amazingly, my dad was not hungover, which was a blessing in and of itself as he was a presenter the next day at the meeting.  Mom forgave him, which I think was the most important thing.

Grief Bacon

Today would have been my mother’s 86th birthday.  Interestingly enough, it would have also have been my father-in-law’s 90th birthday.  I suspect my husband and I were destined to be together, for many reasons, but also including the fact that our parents shared a birthday.

My cousin and I coined the term “grief nap” when my husband and I returned to Oklahoma last week to bury my mother.  The stress and financial worry plus the long car ride and my husband’s fragile health exhausted us.  We took a few “grief naps” that allowed us to rest with our dogs, while Anne (wonder woman, saviour of the universe, doyenne of Awesome!, Mother of Wolfhounds)(okay, the last one is the obligatory GoT reference) actually worked at her real job. 🙂

I took the liberty of adapting the term to include “grief bacon”.  For the last couple of days, we’ve revisited some of the breakfast haunts mother liked with our service dog, Pudge.  Pudge was, in many ways, mother’s corgi.  He liked to hang out with her and had a bed in her room that he dragged beneath her walker so he’d know when she was getting up somewhere.  Pudge went, in his service harness, to see her when she was hospitalized in the various facilities.  He visited her at Spring Valley, Kindred, and Del Mar.  He did this on numerous occasions, and last year, after she had left the hospitals for a time, went with us to various breakfast restaurants to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy the bacon.  The petting from strangers was a boon.  He’s a cute corgi after all.

The last time I brought Pudge to see mom, she wanted me to take him out into the hallway to visit with the other patients.  As she was distancing herself from life, she still wanted others to enjoy his giving and sweet spirit, and the comfort just petting him brings to those in a nursing home.

Pudge is blind.  He sees with his heart and his ears.  Right now, he’s grieving too.  He does not want to be left alone, and even though he is virtually toothless, he chewed a hole in his transport carrier.  He’s houdinied his way out of his kennel before, and dug a hole so completely he ruined the carpet and the carpet pad in our bedroom.  Not a loss.  I don’t care for the carpet and its old.  But, he took it right down to the concrete.  He hates being confined to a cage, so mother always looked after him.

We took our dogs with us to Oklahoma.  The day of the funeral, we could not find a suitable place to board the animals, so we brought them with us to the cemetery.  Normally, the dogs bark their heads off if anyone approaches the car.  (A quick note: we are responsible pet owners.  The windows were down, they had water, and it was raining anyway so the heat in the car was not unbearable for an animal.  I find it stupid that I have to defend this decision in advance but there is always someone out there that has an issue with leaving any dog in a car.  Conversely, there are those that have an issue with my dog’s wearing service harnesses even at out door restaurants that serve pet owners on a patio. Since this is a battle I cannot win, all I have to say is….)  Anyway, they bark, hysterically.

During the ceremony, they did not.  In fact, no one attending knew they were there until I said something about it.  One of the funeral directors approached the car with a basket of flowers and they just watched him set it down beside the rear of the vehicle.

I think they knew exactly what was going on.  Dogs grieve, just as humans do.  I suspect they understood.  They didn’t even bark at the bagpiper and I was sure that the shrill sound of “Amazing Grace” would set them off.  I suspect Odin, (who is mostly deaf) watched and relayed what was happening to the other, shorter dogs, whose hearing is most acute.  They, no doubt, heard every word, and knew this was their grandma.

Since we got home, Pudge does not want to be left.  So, he’s been making the rounds to doctor’s offices with us…and to the breakfast places we all visited as a family.  We order extra bacon for Pudge, and to bring home for the dogs because this has been stressful for all of us.  Pudge has been the perfect service dog too.  He sits at my feet, curls up, and falls asleep.  He ignores the doctor, the people in the waiting room, the crying/curious children, and the plants that would otherwise be good to pee on.  He’s been a perfect gentleman.  He always has been, really.  He loved his grandma, just as all the dogs did…Odin, whom she called, Odindearie, and Daisy who tried to boss her around but liked climbing onto her bed best of all just to cuddle.

So, I give them grief bacon.  Not too much, but enough.  They loved her very much as did we all.