The Freeze, The Fall, The Reflection

I have two very vivid memories of my grandfathers. They are vivid because of how much they scared me at the time. But over time I have come to treasure them as much as I feared them and I will never forget them.

When I was fourteen years old I got a babysitting gig from my Grandma B. She had just been hospitalized for pneumonia and she called and asked if I could stay with Grandpa.

I really knew my Grandpa B in part for his World War II stories; how he waded through water filled with what he thought was brush but was actually snakes, how he sat on a mountain top and could make out a flash from one of the nuclear bombs that hit Japan, how he traded spots with someone in line when they were being assigned to Europe or the Pacific, how he did a USO show with a group of guys in black socks and tutus (I actually have that picture, because it was given to me after Grandma passed).

I also knew Grandpa B as a guy who loved writing, making art, buying silly stuffed animals, watching the weather channel and watching movies about world war II primarily to point out how inaccurate and falsely full of bravado they were.

But that winter when I watched him I had one of my most vivid memories of him. He told me he was taking the dog for a walk and he left the house. I watched him as he got out the door and went to the end of the driveway and he stopped.

After a minute I was wondering if he was second guessing whether he had the energy, after five the background noise of the TV faded for me and he still had not moved, after ten and still no movement I decided to go fill up my coffee mug (Coffee was like water in Grandma and Grandpa B’s House), after twenty my coffee cup was empty but now I was frozen to the window shade still watching and waiting for him to make a move.

His dog sat there the whole time too, it was amazing show of obedience. Grandpa maybe turned his head a few times, the expression on his face never changed. He seemed in awe of the world around him, and at the same time unaware. After exactly one hour, I opened the door and asked him how his walk was, never admitting that I was watching him the whole time. He simply responded, “Good.”

Over the next few days he would leave for the walk almost at the same time, and about half the time he walked. The other half he stood there the same as he did that day. I would watch him on the days he “froze” from the window and about an hour in each day I would open the door to ask him how his walk was and he would respond, “Good.” On the days he actually walked I worried too and I would wait for him by the window the same as if he were standing at the end of the driveway.

Fast forward five years and after my departure from my football career, I moved in with my Grandma and Grandpa Feyen. When I left for school my mom had become a foster parent and when I dropped out of college there really wasn’t room for me in her house.

I tried a couple of different living arrangments but one day got a call from Grandma Feyen asking if I could come help her out and she would only charge me $150 a month for rent. Really the only thing I did to help for the most part on a consistent basis was mow the lawn and shovel the driveway. In retrospect I got a lot more from her because she taught me immeasureable amounts about responsibility, love and what it meant to be married. She also darned my socks (a lost art).

Grandma was essentially taking care of Grandpa full time. It was amazing the amount of work that she did, cooking three meals a day (not much instant ingredients in her bag of tricks), making sure Grandpa had his medecine, helping him bathe and on and on and on. Her only solice is that for the most part he could be content in front of the television when he was awake and they both enjoyed watching the Wheel of Fortune and she could sit a play solitare forever.

Grandma would also be happy when I would share late night ice cream sundaes with her, late night because I could only go get them once Grandpa was in bed because he couldn’t have them. Banana Splits with no nuts was her sundae of choice.

On the day I got my Grandpa Feyen scare, I won’t forget the tone Grandma used when she yelled down to me in the basement to come and help and I came as quickly as I could. I had no idea what she was calling for and when I got up there I was not prepared to see Grandpa laying on his bedroom floor unable to help himself up in any way. He hadn’t lost his voice though and was pretty adamant that someone needed to get him back to bed. I reached down to lift him up and followed Grandma’s instructions explicitly, he felt so weak and fragile. We got him back into bed and he laid there breathing hard, staring at the cieling and he didn’t say a word once he got into bed.

Both of these moments scared me so much because they were so contrary to what I knew my Grandfathers to be. Grandpa B was full of energy, stories and always on the go. Seeing him frozen in time was scary.

Grandpa Feyen on the other hand was always someone that I saw as a strong farmer who killed chickens with a hatchet, swatted cows with rubber tubing and didn’t hesitate to do the same to a kid that got out of line. As I helped him into bed it was like all that strength was gone.

In retrospect though, I like to think that both of them were doing the same thing. Thanking their lucky stars for the full lives they lived in those exact moments, Grandpa B standing at the end of the driveway and Grandpa Feyen lying comfortably back in bed.

I picture them thinking about all the fun times they had, all the kids and grandkids they played with, the fantastic women in their lives, the contributions they made to the world and maybe what they meant to me.

So what, if in reality Grandpa B actually thought he was on a walk, like Grandma B later told me, and he had idea that he was actually just standing there.

So what, if Grandpa Feyen was going through a diatribe of four letter words and probably pissed that Grandma couldn’t get him up without my help or get himself up.

Hopefully they have the same memory up in heaven that I have of those events today, the fear mostly melted away.

With that said, this is my last post of 2011. Bring on the New Year I have contributions to make!!!!

Blue Collar Values – White Collar Humility

I have at last count had 46 jobs in my lifetime, starting with my first experience as an entrepreneurial lemonade stand owner through my current role with Mayo Clinic; where I hope some day to retire from.

I have learned a lot from each and every job I have had; however the most significant lesson I have learned is that I am embarrassed to call what I do today work.

Today, I work primarily in conference rooms and at a desk in front of a computer.

At thirteen I was cleaning up vomit in a bar in the mornings before school.

I eventually graduated to washing dishes and cooking in a bar restaurant, which actually contributed to my love of cooking and an eventual 58 inch waist. I even spent five years bouncing in a bar where I got vomited on a couple of times, I promise that’s my last vomit reference for this post.

Before my bar worker career though; I bailed hay, picked stones, cleaned up yards, dug through garbage cans to collect cans, stocked shelves in a grocery store, cleaned a welding shop, changed oil, cleaned mechanic tools, mowed lawns, delivered newspapers, did my chores at home and that’s not even a comprehensive list.

So when I left my football career behind I was not scared to leave the sheltered life of a collegiate athlete and join the working world while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.

I immediately went back to the glamorous life of a small town bar bouncer, which I eventually quit after getting my ass kicked by a men’s softball team. However, bouncing did not pay the rent even at my Grandma Feyen’s house so I had to find daytime work too.

I first went to work in a metal fabrication shop where I operated a drill press drilling holes into boat motor mounts and on more exciting days got to work a saw cutting pieces of tube aluminum for deer stands.

I do have a scar on the back of my hand from when I brought the saw down on it. Who knew drinking while bouncing until two in the morning before running a large saw starting at six would be a bad combo.

I eventually was lured away from metal fabricating to working in a small foundry that did boat motor castings. I was a ladle handler which essentially meant in 120 degree building I would spoon 50 pounds of molten aluminum out of a furnace and carry it 20 feet to pour into a cast, walk back and repeat. When I was lucky I would get a break to work on the shaker team which broke up the casts to pull out the finished product. At the end of the day I was covered from head to toe in a black soot like substance. That was my shortest tenured job ever, I lasted two weeks.

I thankfully had been offered a job in a feed mill where I got to clean out huge bins full of moldy soy beans, clean out drain gutters full mixed moldy feed, bag animal feed by hand and eventually got my commercial drivers license.

After I got the license I was eligible for driving a dump truck with a conveyor for cleaning out corn cribs. I would get out of the mill and in temperatures from 120 degrees to minus 20 degrees be out shoveling corn. I would then drive back to the mill where I got to empty out the corn, turn it into feed and then take the finished product back in bags or a bulk feed truck where at times I got to crawl into attics of barns to spread out the feed. At the end of the day I was usually covered in dust from the feed.

I made it through a couple of years there before being lured away by a drywall distributor. There I was driving a boom truck which had a crane for picking up piles of drywall which me and a team member got to handle piece by piece to haul into new homes, existing homes and various commercial construction sites in all kinds of weather. I eventually graduated to more bulk deliveries where I didn’t have to handle every piece and at times got the chance to manage the warehouse. This is where I learned management has it easy.

It was about at this time too, that I had started back to school part time at your mothers urging. I was initially planning on majoring in English and becoming a high school teacher and football coach; but I had been bit by the business management bug.

I ultimately quit my job at the drywall distributor to get work near the university so I could go back to school full time and work full time. While I was in school I did a bit of driving for a lumberyard. However, my management experience had spoiled me with the idea of temperature controlled environments so while in college I worked at a truck stop, auto parts warehouse and did phone sales. I did eventually do door to door sales to, but only during the summer.

So back to my earlier comment, I am embarrassed to call what I do today work compared to what I know other people do for a living.

I know it drives me to do more and it often drives me to spend time reflecting when I think I had a rough day. My hands are callous free these days, but I still see the callouses there when I do reflect and it makes me appreciate life and all people more.

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A Non-Career in Review

While I sucked at basketball and baseball, I was not a terrible football player.

Before my seventh grade year I attended the summer football camp at St Mary’s Springs. It was the first time i did anything remotely related to organized football. I was 6′ 2″ tall and weighed 300lbs. (I am the exact same height and weight today.)

I was also relatively fast and agile given my size, but growing up in Eden there wasn’t a football team for me to play on.

One of the coaches from the camp just happened to be the coach for Saint Mary’s grade school in Fond du Lac and my mom’s next door neighbor. Somehow I ended up on his team even though I didn’t go to school there.

The team went undefeated both years I played there. In fact I never started a game one of my teams lost ever.

Now there were losses I was part of, but my team my junior and senior year of high school team went undefeated as well.

I dreamed from the first time I put on a helmet that I would play pro ball and even when I knew the NFL was out of the question I still felt I could find a professional level I could succeed in.

That all changed though in one game in Two Rivers Wisconsin in my junior year.

Right before that season I was in the best shape of my life. I broke the 4.8 second 40 yard dash mark, benched a max 520 pounds and squatted a max of just under 1200 pounds. I also could do a seven mile run once a week just for the hell of it, but the coolest thing I could do was slam dunk a basketball.

At the game in Two Rivers I tore my ACL, MCL, LCL and a bit of meniscus to boot in my left knee. I was never able to dunk a basketball again and spent the next two years in and out of surgeries and on a mix of painkillers of various strengths and types.

I eventually did get a football scholarship to St Cloud State in Minnesota and even got a visit in my home from the Wisconsin Badgers head coach, Barry Alvarez, during the recruiting process.

It was cool to be recruited and cool to get the scholarship, but three days into practice before we even had pads on someone rolled my knee and I never wore pads as a college player with the exception of picture day.

It wasn’t easy for me to decide to quit playing football. In the letter giving up my scholarship; I summed it up as I didn’t feel I was quitting football, but accepting a new path and challenge in life.

I had no idea what I was going to do in reality, but it sounded good on paper.

I eventually ended up where I’m at today, but I definitely did not take the shortest distance between two points. I actually ended up taking several paths and accepting numerous challenges.

Life does not come with a roadmap, so you do need to be willing to navigate a bit in the dark when detours come up. It gets easier though because every experience you have and person you meet will help light the paths a bit more.

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Next Chapter: Let the Games Begin….

I personally believe that life is very much like a book if done right. I never forget about the previous chapters because they help make the rest of the story easier to understand and I believe strongly that the earlier chapters contribute significantly to character development.

Sports definitely have contributed to my character development over the years, but sports for me officially started in fourth grade with basketball and baseball, because it was the first time I actually felt I had a snowball’s chance in hell of competing.

As I mentioned earlier I had a stint in wrestling when I was five and six, but it was pretty much a lesson in getting my ass kicked in a defined circle.  Also as you may remember I expanded my horizons by getting my ass kicked all around town until my little brother stepped in to go for the groin kick.  If they were handing out medals though I would have got an ass kicking medal when all the girls in the grade ahead of mine bloodied me on the playground.

But I expanded my horizons beyond getting my ass kicked when I started playing basketball and baseball.  The punishment was no longer physical ass kickings because it was a forum that I could use my size to my advantage without getting into trouble, however the mental punishment was just about to begin.  I sucked!!!!!

I could score a lot of points in basketball, but it was only because I was so much taller than everyone else and could rebound my own misses.  Thankfully I had a partner in crime though and there were games where we would sit under the basket one of us on each side and literally pass the ball back and forth over the basket.

I finally gave up basketball for good in eighth grade, but only after creating the memory of our team losing by six in a tournament game where I missed twenty of twenty-one free throws and in our league championship I watched my last second game winning shot spin out of the rim and fall to the ground.

As for baseball, my last year was in sixth grade where I had one hit the whole season but not for lack of chances because I played the whole game every game. I was the only person on the team that could throw from the catchers position to second base.

I would have played when I was in seventh grade too, but on my way to the first full practice of the season I flew over the handlebars of my bike when I hit a curb and broke a finger on my catching hand.  This was after my first batting practice where I literally hit a home run every at bat, I was in the zone that never saw the actual playing field.

So what did I learn besides I was never meant to be a home run king or the next Magic Johnson?  I learned a lot.  I learned everyone has a role on a team.  I learned discipline. I learned perseverance. I learned to never give up. I started to learn what friendship meant.

Above all, I learned at the end of the day that success or failure in sports does not necessarily translate to success or failure in life.   While I sucked at basketball and baseball, life went on and I actually feel pretty good about how the book has continued to develop.

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