Saturday, April 11, 2015

Death Cheater

I think it's fair to say everyone's cheated death at one time or another. I managed to walk around with a time bomb in my head for ten years or so. A few weeks ago, I did a 180 on a snowy road but lucked out that no one else was around (sorry, mom, I know that probably stresses you out, even in perfectly-safe retrospect). Jamie was nearly eaten by an Everglades alligator ("nearly" in the sense that she vaguely considered jumping into a cool canal on a hot day just before seeing a gator coast by). My father-in-law, Dana, passed away recently. But in the twenty years I knew him, he was constantly in mortal peril (often under unfortunately comical circumstances):

  • He was literally run over by his own truck, which rolled out of Park into a ditch at the side of his driveway.
  • He tumbled down his steep front steps on an icy winter day. Fortunately, his truck broke his fall. This incident led to him getting a flatter, second driveway off the other side of his house.
  • He was bucked off his tipped-back tractor mower and subsequently chased across the yard, spinning blades in hot pursuit.
  • He drove into a roadside ditch -- truck tipped over -- and had to climb out the  driver's window (I think he was 80 at the time).
  • He was diagnosed with "Pre-Leukemia" and weathered chemotherapy to keep it from progressing and/or spreading, though it unfortunately did -- to his lungs.
Dana would be the first to admit that he was a stubborn old bastard in the greatest of New England stubborn old bastard traditions, refusing to spend winters further south in Maine with us; his independence was more precious than his sense of personal safety. As frustrating as that was at times, it's certainly a perspective I can appreciate and respect. He had also accumulated enough good Social Karma over the years that he was always well tended to by friends more local than we were. And, when Hospice advised him he could no longer care for himself, he was willing to come down and live with us for what turned out to be his last week. We were very fortunate to have that time with him, connecting as a family and making final arrangements. Since Dana was a teller of Big Fish tales(where he was often the fish), it's appropriate that one of our last evenings together was spent watching Jaws, set in the Cape Cod of his heyday. Afterward, I couldn't decide if Dana reminded me more of Robert Shaw's swaggering Quint or the townies who set off after the shark with nothing more than an outboard full of beer (he often told stories of he and his friends' exploits).

The only way to truly cheat death is through the legacy we leave behind. For Dana, that legacy is considerable: His family and friends; memorable tales, including bedtime stories about the impish Ring a Ding Ding and the Peanut Butter Witch; and countless physical monuments to his big heart and skill as a carpenter (he'd done work on any number of people's homes in town and handcrafted many pieces of furniture which we've been fortunate enough to inherit: dining table, coffee table, bureau, toy chest). We're also lucky enough to have adopted his Welsh Corgi, Jesse, who is a beautiful reminder of Dana as well as a hilarious sidekick to our much larger white lab/hound mix, Max.

In conclusion, pictures (Dana as grandfather, aka, "Gumpy" and his amazing tree trunk coffee table). Dana, you will be missed but not lost:

Dana and Gus, 2007

The log coffee table, complete with handmade mallet on top.

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