Sunday, November 3, 2019

Remodeling Our Hut Part 23: Carl's Dad

While we were devoting all of our time to the hut remodel, time was flying by, and sadly, we weren't visiting Carl's parents in the nursing home as much as we had been.  Everything else in our lives was taking a backseat to the construction. 

I was shocked when I visited my father-in-law in late August.  The staff had alerted me he wasn't eating much and had lost twelve pounds in a month.  The assisted living facility was trying to entice him to eat by offering him snacks during the day, but he refused.  My brother-in-law and I took him to see his doctor, but after the visit, it was decided hospice would be called in.  

 I went to visit him the night before he died.  He was sleeping, but woke up when I walked in.  He was very frail by then and his hearing had declined even more, making conversation difficult.  He still had a smile for me, though, and wanted to know what was new with the remodel.  

I asked him how he was feeling and he shrugged; he was fine, but annoyed that the staff was trying to get him to eat all the time.  "What are they so worried about?  I'm not hungry and I need to lose some weight anyway."

"I don't think you need to lose any more weight," I said.  "Their job is to look out for you, and when you don't eat, they get nervous."

He shrugged and lifted up his hands and let them fall in his lap.  

"I'll eat when I feel like it," he said and smiled.

I sat with him until I could see he was getting tired and got ready to leave.  Every time I left, I would take his hand and we would inevitably get a static shock from my big feet shuffling across the carpeting.  We always had a laugh about our 'electric shock' goodbyes, and that night was no exception. 

"Goodnight, Don," I said, holding his hand.  "I hope you sleep well."

"I will," he said.

"We love you, you know."

"I know.  I love you, too."


The following morning, September 5, Phil and Bob were trying to get the roof peak on the gable addition sealed up.  Carl had gone to work and I was supposed to be at our house early in the morning to answer some more questions (and haul more stuff to the dumpster). But I had a nagging feeling that I should check on my father-in-law at the nursing home first.

When I arrived at 8AM, I was saddened to hear Carl's dad had fallen the night before.  The nursing assistants found him on their regular rounds and were in the process of getting him into bed.  The hospice nurse, Cheryl, was already there.  She was the same nurse who cared for my mother in her final weeks, it was a comfort to know my father-in-law was in good hands.  Cheryl felt the end was quite near and I should notify the rest of the family.

Don was agitated; he didn't like lying down in bed and preferred to sleep in his recliner.   

I went to his side, and he asked, "What is wrong with me?  Am I sick?"

I took his hand and said, "No, you're just tired.  They hope you'll rest a little easier in bed today, that's all." 

The nurse administered some morphine and sedatives and he drifted off to sleep.

The family gathered at his bedside and said their goodbyes and prayed with him the rest of the day and into the night.  My friend Ann came from work to pray with Carl, his grand-daughter, Laura, and I at midnight. 

His breathing became much more labored, and at 12:40AM on Friday, September 6, he passed away.

I had been present at the deaths of my parents before this, and I liken the process of dying to be almost the same as a child being born.  It is not easy, but when it is over, there is a feeling of peace.

The next day we met with the funeral director and the deacon and made all the necessary arrangements for the service.  

I wrote and delivered the eulogy at the funeral.  Though it may seem odd to share a eulogy here, I was honored to know my father-in-law and lucky to have had him in my life.  He was a great man.

       I think I was around ten years old when I saw Don for the first time in the summer of 1968.  My father needed a part for his baler welded and Don was the neighborhood blacksmith.  I  always tagged along with my dad whenever we left the farm, and being a hot day, I grabbed an orange popsicle from the freezer before we jumped in the pickup.
When we arrived, my dad went into Don's shop with the part he needed fixed.  Being a shy kid,  my Popsicle and I stayed put and watched from the Ford.  Don took a look at the broken part  and soon the sparks were flying from the welder.  There was a sign on the wall that read, 'Don't look at the arc,' and though it was hard to ignore the light show, I did my best to stop staring.  In less than a half hour, we were on our way back home with the still-glowing part. 

Coincidentally, this was also the first time I laid eyes on my future husband, Carl, and because I have to tell the truth here in church, I wasn't too impressed.  When he spotted me staring out the window of the truck watching the welding, I sank down to the floorboards, out of sight.  Like I said, I was shy back then.  It would be another four years before we actually met in junior high and by then, my opinion changed considerably.  

The one thing that impressed me the most on that long ago day was how Don knew exactly what to do with the part he was given to fix.  There was no hesitation or indecision, he simply did what needed to done.  Welding, they say, is like sewing with fire.

To me, the quote: "A man who can shape iron will never want for confidence," truly sums up my father-in-law. 

Don definitely did shape iron and he was always confident.  Working with iron was definitely his passion, though I know the only thing he loved more than his work was Rosemary and his family. 

 Don met the love of his life at a roller skating rink in De Pere.  He was instantly smitten with her.  I came to find out later on, however, that Rosemary wasn't so sure if she liked him at first.  Apparently, she changed her mind, too.  They were married on May 20, 1952.
Don was born to Henry and Alvina Vanden Heuvel only a hop, skip and a jump away from where he lived his entire life on Hwy. 54.  He had two brothers, Henry and Mike, and three sisters, Rita, Mary Ann and Elsie.  Don grew up on the farm and worked on it for a few years after marriage, but set his sights on a career in ornamental iron.  There was an established blacksmith a few miles west of Seymour named Adolph Miller, and Don spent some time  learning from him.  The first railing he ever made was a daisy design for his parent's front porch, a piece of which is here today. 

When Don and Rosemary married, they moved into a small house that had been formerly used as a granary on his dad's farm.  Rosemary often told me she would find oats  when she swept the floors for a long time after they had moved in.  Don remodeled the home and added built-in drawers wherever he could find to fit them in the small spaces.  But soon the little house was getting crowded;  their son Larry was born in 1954 followed by Mary in 1955, Carl in 1958 and Donna in 1959.  It was time for a new house and a new career just down the road. 

Don told me that his dad didn't think there would be much of a future in welding, and encouraged to him to stay and farm with him.   But Rosemary had confidence in him and loaned him the money she had saved to buy his first welder.  In 1960 he built their new house and started 'Don's Welding' shop,  doing repairs for farmers full-time.  In a few years,  though he would still do repairs, he put up his new sign, 'Don's Ornamental Iron' and began to make railings and other custom metal work for the rest of his life.

With a small budget to work with at first, Don made do with what he had on hand and crafted tools to bend  iron using old industrial motors he'd buy from auctions and parts from  an old cheese vat stirrer and numerous jigs, each with their own purpose.  We have had the privilege of working with these same tools to this day and I still marvel at his ingenuity. 

It wasn't all work, though.  Mary  recalls many happy times and vacations they took as a family, traveling to California and almost all of the western United States.  Mary is the family historian and she has written detailed journals of the family's adventures, some of which include the following:  There was the huge swing he made for the backyard, a hammock he slung between two trees that all the kids could fit into, the times Don would make a huge box kite out of black plastic and poplar sticks and fly it using binder twine as kite string.  Once the kite crash landed across Hwy 54, stopping traffic for awhile.  (I remember being able to see the kite from a mile away at our farm, it was really impressive.)  For the fourth of July, Don would take a pipe and fill it with oxyacetline, stick a tennis ball in the end and light it with the torch.  The resulting explosion would shake the windows and the ball would be launched completely out of sight with everyone ducking awaiting it's return to the ground.  Don and Rosemary also enjoyed snowmobiling and belonged to a few of the local snowmobile clubs. 

As the years went by and the kids left home, Don became restless again to take on another project, In 1981, Don and Rosemary decided to build an earth home.  Once again, Don drew up the plans himself and built the underground home and shop a short distance from his original shop. Don was also a talented woodworker and made all the cabinetry in the house with nearly one hundred drawers included in the layout.  All of that storage is a dream come true.

Vegetable gardening was yet another passion.  He grew a huge garden every year, including one on the roof of the underground home, and helped Rosemary preserve the fruits of their labor for decades.
Don's life was not without heartache, the loss of his beloved daughter, Donna,  in 1977 and his son, Larry,  in 2016  was a constant burden he had to bear.  They were always on his mind and in his heart.  

Don never retired from the ornamental iron business.  Sadly, his health failed before his love of the work ever did.  He was active in his shop until 2017, when at the age of 87  he and Rosemary had to leave their beloved home.  When I would visit with him at Meadow Wood, he always had a pen in his shirt pocket so he could draw up a design he just thought up on a napkin or envelope.  He told me that he missed working with iron so much he would dream about it at night and wake up in the morning ready to start on a new project. 

St. John's church was an important part of Don's life.  He was honored to be able to create the vigil light stand, the cross on the steeple, the kneeler  and also the sign at the entrance of St. John's Cemetery.  

I know he passed on his talent and positive attitude to his children and his grandchildren.  Larry was an excellent machinist with an eye for detail and accuracy, Mary is a very talented seamstress and artist and, like her dad, is always creating things of beauty.  Donna was also  a  very artistic and confident young lady whose life was cut far too short.  And Carl can build just about anything I  dream up. 

He loved his grandchildren, Laura, Lisa, Lee, Joel and David.  They were very important to him.   Every time I saw Don, he would ask about their lives and was always so happy to see them when they came to visit.  He told me he was napping too much at Meadow Wood and hated to miss their visits.  He said he needed to put up a sign, "If I'm asleep when you come, wake me up!!"  His great grandchildren, Paige and Katelynn, Lily and Jersey Lou, and Audrey would make his eyes light up with joy.  

As for me, I will especially cherish the time I spent with Don the last two years.  I was able to get to know him in a way I hadn't  when he was still working.  We had many a long talk about his life and his childhood adventures.   He had good advice for crazy projects we were taking on, too.  When I took him for his doctor appointments, I was surprised to find out he had a bit of a lead foot when it came to driving.  He told me that the posted speed limit was really more of a suggestion than a law, and I could step it up a bit.     But as long as I was driving so slow, he could point out all of the railings he had made as we went along the streets of Seymour, Green Bay and the Fox Cities. 
We would look at his picture albums and he could recall each and every job he'd done and where they were located.  For those of you who have seen the albums, there are a LOT of railings, he has left an amazing body of work behind. 

One day two weeks ago, when I was grumpy with Carl,  I asked Don what advice he had for staying married for 67 years.  He shrugged and tossed up his work-worn hands and said, "Well, you just DO it.  Rosemary and I worked together, we went on vacations together, we were always together.  We had fun.  We had a good life."

Yes, he did. 

 I'll end this with another quote:

"He who enjoys doing and enjoys what he has done is happy.  J.W. von Goethe

How many of us can say we really loved our work?

 As Don said many times, "We had a good life." 

Yes, he truly did.

We will miss you, Don.



Garden Fancy said...

My condolences on your family's loss. So good that you were able to be with him at the end. (My father died this year, and my husband's mother too -- a sad year.) Hope you and Carl are taking care of yourselves in this time.
With respects,

Alison said...

Karen, you are such an amazing and talented writer, and you wrote a wonderful and loving tribute to your father-in-law. I'm so sorry for your loss. I don't think I realized how much you loved him, or what he did for a living. Give Carl and the rest of your family a big hug, and pass on condolences from me.

chavliness said...

I don't often start my Sunday morning with a good cry. This post is sad and eloquent, the eulogy beautiful written and really touched my heart. You have such wonderful family and wonderful memories of your father in law. I am very sorry for your loss.

Beth said...

Karen, Your tribute was beautifully written. He sounds like a great man! I am sorry for your loss and I pray that you, Carl, Rosemary and all of the family will have peace.

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Dear Karen and Carl ~ I am sorry for the loss of your father-in-law/father. This was a beautiful tribute Karen. You were blessed to have been part of this family. Thanks for sharing.

Love, hugs & prayers to you both ~ FlowerLady

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your family's loss. Your eulogy is charming and meaningful, what a lovely gift to your family.

On a much less sad note, I especially enjoyed your November 2 post on color choices; there are several newly built or sided/roofed houses on my dog walking routes and some of the colors are inexplicable. I do think cream instead of stark white is such a wise choice with many main colors, and look forward to seeing how your final picks come out.


Beth at PlantPostings said...

So sorry for your loss. My MIL died recently, too. As you say, it's not easy, but when it's over there is some sense of peace.