Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Page 80 A death in Kenosha

This is an absolutely true story

My father had been experiencing a longer than usual flu-like cough. I thought it may be to his previous smoking. At one time he smoked cigarettes. He admitted to two packs a day, but I believe it was more. Isn’t it always…really? He switched to cigars; a phase I didn’t exactly oppose, the smell of those lusty brown “Cubans” enveloped me whenever I saw him. He had smoked cigars pretty much throughout my life. People were under the false sense of wellbeing that if they smoked cigars, they were safe from the dreaded “C” word. We eventually found out the truth, yet I still see so many of these cigar and martini bars crowded with young people, acting unaware,

But my memories are of Edie Adams “why don’t you pick one up and smoke it sometime” with her Muriel Cigars, and ironically, it shows her holding a dime?!?
I loved the cigar boxes and I would fill them up with treasures of all sorts, placing the box carefully under my bed. My dad and I would swear eternal dedication to each other as he slid the cigar ring around my tiny fingers. And then, the cigars actually had little metal rings.
Some of them came in glass tubes; just the right size to collect dines. My father collected silver dimes and he would fill the tubes and secret them away in our basement rec room in the ceiling tiles. I have no idea how many there were, because, we sold that house and he forgot them. We – my mom and siblings, talked often of trying to get into that house and getting those dimes. The address is 78th street and 38th avenue, in case you happen to live there. You should also see our little hand and footprints in the cement under the back door. It is not going to be some great stash; I can promise you that if it was, he would have put them in a safety deposit box.

By the time this cough had started in 1972, my father had switched to pipes. I can still recall the cherry tobacco he smoked. It was a scent that is hard to explain unless you have experienced it. As the smoke would pop out as he puffed the pipe to submission, it was like being transported to a different time with images of Hemminwayesque surroundings. As he was driving down the Eden’s Expressway, he actually crashed through the toll barrier because he was coughing so hard. As he told it, he almost passed out. Needless to say, he made a visit to the Doctor.

This episode, though not the first, was the worst. He lost his sense of smell and taste. The doctors ran many tests on him and finally handed him a list of ten or so substances that had caused this. He had pockets of an oily substance in his lungs. As he perused the list, he saw paraffin oil. He was skeptical as he underlined it.
My father owned a cement contracting business in Wisconsin. In the colder months the process required the concrete to be sprayed with Paraffin oil. Most business owner would relegate this process to one of their employees, but not my father. No, he had to do it himself. And he should’ve worn a mask, but he did not. Also, had he delegated this to various employees, the chances of it condensing onto one person’s being, it would be tempered. My father did not like to burden his employees, and they were a very dedicated bunch, working with him for their entire employment years. Dad would send them on their way.
Now he was sick because of it.
“Can’t you do a lung transplant” my father felt if they were doing heart transplants, they certainly could do a lung transplant.

The doctor laughed and said my father was thinking unrealistically, it would never happen. You see, unlike the heart and other organs, the lung s exposed to the elements. Every time we breathe in we are taking in all the toxins of the day. A lung couldn’t possibly survive. The doctor gave him less than 5 years to live. But he was not to be discouraged. No, he did everything he could to prove the doctor wrong.

James Hardy of the University of Mississippi performed the first human lung transplant in 1963. Following single-lung transplantation, the patient survived for 18 days. From 1963-1978, multiple attempts at lung transplantation failed because of rejection and problems with anastomotic bronchial healing. It was only after the invention of the heart-lung machine, coupled with the development of immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine, that organs such as the lungs could be transplanted with a reasonable chance of patient recovery.

After a tumultuous 15 years, my father won the bet and he became the first lung transplant recipient in Wisconsin. It was both wonderful and horrible. We were told by the doctors that he probably would not live another twenty four hours, however, the next day when the doctors agreed to a press conference, the doctors assured the public he was doing fine and would recover well. So all for the journalism promises. Needless to say, do not count on opening a newspaper or turning on CNN and expect the actual story to be told. It ain’t happening!.

But survive he did. He was a new person after he went through it and became a valued member to his community providing accounting services to the church and working with the councilmen of the area to help people resolve local city issues.

In 1996, my brother, Gil had made a sudden and welcome entrance back into my life. I am vulnerable. There I said it. Anyone who treats me with a modicum of respect basically can get me to do anything. It seemed I was constantly alienated from my family and I honestly cannot tell you why. It usually centers on my sister. Yes, the same one I took into my home several times, entrusted my children and husband to and the one who felt I was only worth whatever dollar value I had. And the same one who invited friends to come and visit using my home as their vacation home away from home. However, I have to say, I liked those friends and would have preferred they stay and my sister go to a hotel.

When Gil called, I should have been suspicious, OK, I Was suspicious, but my heart cried out “finally, someone to validate me”

We spent a long time talking of the past and the gratifying present and a potential future. He said he told people his family was dead and the only living sibling was me. He told me of how much he loved me and missed me. I cried, and he comforted me.

He then brought up our childhood and made issue of the abuse I suffered. I had no idea anyone other than me saw it. Well, me, my friends and my social worker, Jeanne Ihlenfeldt. Oh, and the teachers and …well pretty much everyone. I never spoke of it. I let everyone involved settle into the comfort of thinking maybe I forgot. When I would bring up these things, my sister and mother would barrage me with painful accusations leaning toward the fact that I was a pathological liar. Truman Capote said “when families relegate one of their own by accusing them of being pathological liars, these victims are usually born of undeserved cruelty that the abusers need to invalidate. This is especially prevalent in families.”

My sister told me that she lived for the day I was alone and without all my loved ones. She said I would die alone and she will laugh. Who says such things? It’s like a bad. How sad to make that an aspiration. And such a destructive one. My heart goes out to her because regretfully she has not ever realized her own happiness and can only find pleasure in the discomfort of others. She does not know the joy of earning love and understanding because she takes what she wants and leaves a trail of pain and suffering. People are afraid to confront her, because, if you do, it will not be a comfortable life. And in a small town like Kenosha, that kind of vile opportunism spreads faster than a drought ridden forest fire.

When I needed a home to go to, she, of course, told me no, I could live on the streets told me:
 “Dianne, you always come out of these things smelling like a rose, you’ll be fine”.

And yes, I spent the 4 weeks following that loving and nurturing conversation, homeless and sleeping in a bus depot. Last time I did any research on her, she was a “server” at her church every Sunday in Kenosha. It takes all kinds. I pretty much gave up on her after my husband made an indepth confession to me.  He expected more than the simple shrug he got from me, but I already knew so much, nothing surprises me anymore.  Her friends, family recognize she is cold, controlling and uncaring unless it affects her. She thrives off of that threat and uses everyone to her advantage.   I no longer care.  She always wanted to be like me, but that would require her to be human.

Gil drove those horrific memories home, telling me of what my brother Bob had done to me, things I could not find logic in my mind but allowed Gil to serve on his heavily biased platter. In the end, after a couple of days of this banter Gil had talked me into doing the absolute most damaging thing he could and that is, serve my family with papers and he was going to be the one to pay the lawyer for this service as I explained in detail in the last installment. The day came where my daughter notified me my father had died. I never got to say goodbye, I had not spoken to him since Gil had me make that fateful decision. But Gil had promised me that he would be there hugging and holding me of and when it happened.

I called the house in Kenosha and Gil answered. He was not the loving, nurturing brother who assured me of his alliance. He sounded like a stranger.

“Dianne, I don’t think you should come. As a matter of fact, don’t come”

I answered this with silence. A painful, unbelieving, yet, please, what did I expect, silence. Willie made the reservations, yet she herself could not go. After the fact my sister in law Anna told her she was irresponsible in letting me go to Kenosha and had Anna known, she would have accompanied me. But I went.

When we arrived at Midway Airfield, my sister and a friend and her husband were waiting. They were cold to me, warm to my kids, which is probably to be expected. It was like a covert operation out of 24.

“Yes, we have them”, my sister on her cell phone. "Ok, I agree, we don't need that"

And with that she hung up the phone, then some whispers. No one spoke to me, but they spoke about me as if I weren’t there. My little sister who I did everything I could to make her life a success, she treated me like a pariah. And she let her good for nothing husband be as rude and mean as he wished.

The last time I saw her husband Henry, he was living in my home eating my food, asking for money and made a living off my company. Yet he felt comfortable acting like a cheap fool.

“Oh man, let’s come back and bomb that place” He said as we drove by the Union Club, a Gay Bar on the outskirts of Kenosha. He got a high five and a hearty chuckle for making a threat about an endeavor he was far too lazy to follow through on. But it didn’t matter, he was trying to make a point.

“You are going to stay at Grandma’s, your kids are staying with us” Marnie, my sister demanded.
And I said nothing. I was in shock and it was easy just to do as I was told. My kids would be safe.
When I arrived at my grandmothers, I knew it was the better choice. My poor grandmother had buried her youngest grandson, husband and now her only child, in that order. Grandma chose to use this opportunity to tell me the stories of her youth. She met my grandfather when he came to my Great Grandfather (her father) Kressel’s house to purchase some bathtub gin. Illegal Booze.

This was so hard to believe since my grandparents always seemed above reproach, but this enlightenment was not about two loving grandparent’s, but about two teenagers. Her mother asked my grandfather, George, to stay for dinner.

My grandfather was a strikingly handsome man, over 6 feet tall. My grandmother was a petite woman and had an adorable face. People say I was the image of her, and more so, her sister Ardela. When dinner was served, my grandmother couldn’t be bothered. But my Great Grandma, Alice, told my grandfather my grandmother made the dessert.

“George, Margaret here is an excellent cook and made a pie for desert” “No I didn’t” my grandmother retorted.

Grandparents as defiant teenagers were hard to imagine. But it got better. She told of being asked to take a walk where she walked ahead of him with her arms folded. This was especially interesting since she was the model of the submissive housewife and up until the late 70’ she barely drove, wore dresses and hose and lived to clean and cook. Obviously things turned out because she found herself pregnant! Can you imagine in 1931, telling your folks? I do not know the ins and outs, but of course, they married and my father was their only child.

These historical issues of my heredity made the visit a bit lighter. She told me stories I had heard often, of my father’s youth and his subsequent marriage to my mother which about made her have a heart attack at 38.
I got my birthstone ring back and later found out the alexandrite stone was a crown jewel of Russia and impossible to get except in synthetic form. My grandmother assured me it was real. The stone, one I was disappointed in when I was a child of seven, was a multicolored affair. It would turn deep purple or ruby red inside a building, and blue or emerald when outside. I had wanted a pearl, my birthday being in June, but I received this and even though I was disappointed, I treasured the ring. When I later found out its value was in excess of $8000 a caret, I treasured it more. Of course. My grandmother also gave me my first communion picture where I am wearing the ring.

The funeral was on an icy cold, yet sunny morning. We arrived at my mother’s house as an endless stream of people went through the doors. A sister in law I never met stood in front of me facing me head on and refusing me access to the house. I said nothing, just stared at her like the crazy person she was acting like. A family friend, Mike Lenzen, moved her aside and I made access. My brother Gil was the first person I saw and I ran to him. He was cold and turned away from me. The moment stands still in my mind. To this day, I cannot understand his motives. His excuse, less so. My sister-in-law Geri, told me my sister and mother told him I had accused him of doing something horrific to me, and for the sake of him and his family, whether Gil deserves it or not, I refuse to go into detail. But it was untrue and I am astounded he believed them. Honestly, I do not think he believed them and this was his excuse for excluding me.

The funeral and everything after is a blur.  The only thing that I can recall with clarity the song "Let it Be" resonating in that huge church.  My fathers favorite musical group singing his favorite song.  And the song gave me the comfort he was no longer able to.

It ended on an unfortunate note with an altercation between me and my brother, Bob, whom I love so much I can't stand to even speak of it.  I headed home knowing my entire family found nothing but unhealthy satisfaction watching me struggle for the crumbs of affection they barely give me.

And my daughter lost all respect for me. She said I was pathetic. And we never regrouped from there. As a matter of fact, everything I did from that moment forward was a struggle. My sister has no family of her own, she has claimed mine. My son, who I confessed that I was afraid I would die and no one would come to my funeral, told me that would never happen. Yet, I have not met his wife or children. I said I would not talk of my children and I won’t. I do not care to explain their reasoning. It is what it is.
To be continued

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