Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Father’s Day Ride”


c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(6-09)




Note to Readers: What follows here is an intensely personal reflection. The third Sunday in June is typically reserved for giving gaudy neckwear, power tools, golf accessories, and sincere affection to our beloved fathers. Yet this year, we marked the date with silent prayer and reflection. A new meaning for this custom had arrived in the Icehouse…

Chapter One

Father’s Day 2008 was a moment of triumph for our family.

In this newspaper, I pondered the good fortune that had visited our brood. My father, nearing the age of seventy-nine, had proven able to survive a dramatic encounter with cancer for over ten years. Closer to home, my father-in-law had just demonstrated his own resilience in the grasp of this woeful affliction.

It was a moment to celebrate, and give thanks.

Yet while traditional festivities ensued, I took a detour into Rock ‘n’ Roll history.
A childhood memory provided the connection:

FATHER’S DAY WITH THE CRUSHER

Father’s Day: A moment to pause in reflection… and cheerfully give neckties that may never again see the world outside of a dresser drawer.

Predictably, this moment of manly celebration arrived as I was in the midst of a writing project. My research centered on an obscure Rock ‘n’ Roll group from the 1960’s. They were a mysterious bunch with an anthem of historic note called ‘The Crusher.’ Yet after forty years of collecting, I still didn’t have a copy of the single.

The record haunted my thoughts, like a pirate’s chest of buried treasure.

Still, our household gladly welcomed the special occasion. As ever, I thought about my own dad – in his late seventies, and still active as a gospel advocate. A Renaissance Man in plain clothes. I pondered the influence his dual nature provided for my life. He had grown up on a farm outside of Columbus, building radios, hot-rodding cars, riding motorcycles, and playing music. Yet his passion to explore soon turned toward duty, and faith. He instilled this zeal for living and learning into each of his children, in different ways. It was the fertile soil from which I grew.

Liz, my wife, reflected on her stepfather. He had been able to overcome cancer during the year, an achievement attained through patience and prayer. She thought a unique present was needed to express our joy over his good health. The result came from a divine burst of inspiration – to rent him a brand-new Harley!

Her stepdad had also been an avid rider in days of yore, while growing up outside of Milwaukee. It was a habit that fit perfectly with my own heritage. But fiscal needs had forced him off the road, many years before.

Now, our gift would revive that freewheeling lifestyle, for a weekend!”

I spent Father’s Day riding with Papa Cheesehead. My own ‘Hawg’ was no match for the modern, fuel-injected roadmaster that Western Reserve Harley-Davidson had provided. But I was glad to follow his lead. As we wandered, he reflected on growing up in Wisconsin. Each story of hunting, fishing, and black-powder firearms made me smile.

But one unanswered question lingered in the air like spent fuel and motor oil.

Who was ‘The Crusher?’

My father-in-law answered that Reggie Lisowski was a local hero in the region. A professional wrestler with the sturdy physique of a steelworker and the stamina of his Polish ancestors:

“He would go from bar to bar with a beer keg on his shoulder,” Papa Cheesehead remembered. “To hear polka music, and be with his people. And his voice really sounded like gravel.”

‘The Crusher’ held a regular job during much of his career, including a stint at Ladish Forge. It was a workplace that both of them had in common.

At last, I felt that my quest for enlightenment was complete.

Our adventure concluded over a feast of classic diner fare at A & W. Afterward, my wife decided to ride home with her mother. As they boarded the family Ford Explorer, Papa Cheesehead and I started our bikes. The night air felt cool. Yet both of us were eager for a handful of throttle, and one last run toward the horizon.

We made a wordless promise to continue this new tradition in years to come.

Chapter Two

In the months that followed our Father’s Day excursion, my father-in-law was struck by an aggressive return of his cancer. The disease reappeared with awful rapidity, despite immediate intervention. At first, chemotherapy had been a useful tool to combat this affliction. But now, it barely seemed to slow the wasting of his intestines. As the New Year arrived, hope had begun to fade.

Even ‘The Crusher’ couldn’t win a battle against such odds.

Liz and I visited for dinner, continuing a long-standing family habit. But frequently, her stepfather couldn't share our meal. We watched NFL football on their satellite TV. Yet a cold brew was out of the question.

In January, he entered Geauga Hospital through their emergency room. It didn’t take long for doctors to conclude that the best medical science had to offer would not be enough. The only tools left at our disposal were prayer and love.

Soon afterward, Papa Cheesehead returned home. Time was running out for this friend of ‘The Crusher.’ But amazingly, my father-in-law met his danse finale without any sign of trepidation or fear. As we shuddered under the weight of circumstance, he peered into oblivion with courage.

Hours before he passed away, I leaned over his bed and remembered out loud that our Father’s Day ride had been a personal milestone. Because I had never ridden with my own dad, the experience was even more memorable.

Though he was barely conscious, and unable to reply, a tear rolled down his cheek. I ran to the kitchen to catch my breath.

Without words, we had just shared a loving goodbye.

Chapter Three

Father’s Day 2009 presented a contrast in emotions. I rejoiced in having another year with my own sire, who had given me such inspiration and faith. Yet anxiety filled my heart when the date arrived. Because I knew that there would not be another victory lap around Geauga.

In February, Papa Cheesehead had been laid to rest at the Thompson Township cemetery.
I couldn’t straddle my motorcycle during the season, because of a knee injury at work. But need quickly overwhelmed logic as the day arrived. I limped out to the ‘Hawg’ and stashed my cane in one of its saddlebags. The ride was refreshing.
Sunlight streamed through the thickening clouds. And then, my heart swelled with gladness.

I prayed over his grave, wiping tears from my eyes:

“Thank you, Lord, for the time that I was privileged to share with my father-in-law. I ask that you continue to watch over him, in eternity. And may you also guard all of us, as we wait for the wondrous day when our family will be together, once again… amen.”

A twist of the throttle filled the afternoon with mechanical thunder. I rolled away with a sense of purpose surging in my veins.

Now, it was time to ride!

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to: icewritesforyou@gmail.com
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