INDIANAPOLIS – So there I was, for the first time in my life, with seven other women who, for the first time in their lives, marched for a cause, surrounded by thousands of others — many who rallied for the first time in their lives — to join in solidarity on our promise to “never go back.”
It was the day after the presidential inauguration, Jan. 21, and we traveled two hours south to join other women (and many men and children) in a protest on the outside terrace and walkways of the State House in Indianapolis. We rallied in support of the main march in Washington, D.C., which drew between 440,000 and half a million people in support of women’s rights and against the Trump presidency. We were joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters from more than 60 countries and at cities throughout the U.S.
Turns out I was not alone in my fears for humanity.
It was a very peaceful, inspiring and, at times, emotional afternoon. But here’s the thing: I had numerous other things I would rather have been doing. What I resent the most about the Trump administration is not any of the hot topics that quickly come to the minds of the majority of people who voted against him (nearly 3 million, but who’s counting?)
After a major health crisis, I decided life was too short. I took an early retirement six months ago so I could spend time doing the things I love: hosting and attending get-togethers with family and friends, playing with my grandchildren, writing a novel, gardening, bird-watching, visiting wineries and reading the many books I have not yet had time to read.
At the age where I should be in a hammock somewhere — anywhere — warmer than Indiana, kicking back with a margarita (or two) and reading “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus,” I instead find myself forced into the role of an activist — attending rallies, joining women’s groups and calling state and national representatives every week to speak out on various issues. What the heck?
I got my first job at the age of 14 and, with the exception of a few short maternity leaves, have been working ever since, at times holding down two or three jobs at a time. I’ve been working and paying taxes for 50 years.
And then the Electoral College made Donald Trump President of the United States.
I wanted to take Garrison Keillor’s advice, which he outlined in a column shortly after the election: “…spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long , brisk walk and smell the roses.”
I tried, to no avail. For one thing, I don’t drink beer. For another thing, I live in northern Indiana where there’s a very small, climatic window for smelling roses.
Turns out I care about the rights of all people, no matter their race, ethnicity or birthplace. I don’t care what their choice of faith is, or isn’t, unless it harms others. (Think Leah Remini and her crusade against the Church Cult of Scientology, yet another cause which, alas, I feel compelled to join.) I care about the rights of relatives and friends in the LGBT community and often fear for their safety. I care about the quality of the air, water and land and protecting this beautiful world for future generations. I care about the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and other tribes who have been disrespected and disregarded for too long. And, don’t even get me started on the First Amendment.
You get my drift. There just aren’t enough margaritas or artisan beers to dispel my concerns. Sigh.
And, that’s how I found myself in Indianapolis with thousands of others on an unusually warm January day.
Regardless of the balmy, springlike weather, I bundled up like I was joining the entire population of Antarctica — 30 people — at their women’s rally. Because, more terrifying than thinking about the future effects of climate change, was the fact that I could not afford to get pneumonia, since the first thing the new president did was issue an executive death order to deep-six my and my husband’s ACA healthcare coverage.
“Give him a chance,” the pro-Trump people said. I was prepared to, but he effectively ended any chances within two hours of taking office.
That’s when I grabbed my walking stick and started marching.
I am no so much bothered by getting old − I much prefer it to the alternative − but I am extremely bothered by getting boring.
Take tonight, the 64th anniversary of my husband’s birth in LaPorte, Indiana — Home of the Slicers (a required phrase after the word “LaPorte,” according to Indiana statute).
We decided to use some gift cards we received for Christmas and take in a movie and then dine at a local steakhouse — not something we do very often. We were both psyched.
In the old days, on a date like this, we would have whispered sweet nothings to each other in the theatre, left without the faintest idea as to the name of the movie, had two or three cocktails at the restaurant, skipped dinner altogether and hurried home because we could barely keep our hands off of one another.
As it was, we went to an early afternoon matinée, got the senior discount, waited in a loooong line behind other cost-conscious Baby Boomers, and shuffled into the theater, complaining to one another that it must be Senior Cinema Discount Day — until we realized that we were the seniors.
The movie was good, but one man in the back of the theater laughed loudly at every scene, and since it was not a comedy, this began to annoy my husband. He would roll his eyes and grumble under his breath every time the man chortled, which made me laugh out loud, causing me to became the Second Inappropriate Laugher.
Most theaters now have nice, cozy recliners instead of those uncomfortable plastic bucket seats, which would have been nice in my youth, but these days, after I recline and use my coat as a blanket, I start to nod off just minutes into the previews.
We tried to identify the Inappropriate Laugher on the way out of the theater, but it was impossible. Besides, people were nudging each other and casting sideway glances in our direction, obviously identifying me as the Second Inappropriate Laugher, so we ducked our heads and scurried out.
On the way to the restaurant, I told my husband not to try and turn left unless he went to the nearby stoplight, which he did not do, and I inhaled sharply and might have screamed just a little as he pulled out in front of a truck and veered into the right lane. He yelled and forbade me from ever breathing or inhaling loudly — or for God’s sake, screaming — anytime he is driving.
It unnerves him, he said.
Not as much as pulling into four lanes of heavy traffic unnerves me, I thought but did not say. It was his birthday, after all.
Alive against all odds and seated in the restaurant, I ordered the sirloin steak dinner and the spouse ordered grilled swordfish, since beef always precludes a bout of no-doubt gout.
It was good, except that the Chef’s Special swordfish came with a side dish of white beans and kale. I’m a kale lover, but my husband often refers to the leafy green as “punishment.” So when I saw the fish atop a heap of beans and kale, I laughed, even as he narrowed his eyes and stared longingly at my loaded baked potato. I instinctively moved it closer to my side of the table.
On the drive home, we both looked at the dash clock in awe. By the time we drove the 20 miles or so home and pulled into our driveway, it was exactly 5:05 p.m. What a lurid night — well, afternoon, really — of debauchery and reckless adventure!
This led to a Senior Reminisce Moment. Remember when we would drink too many gin and tonics, sit on the same side of the booth in restaurants, forget to eat, stay up talking and laughing until 3 in the morning and then go to work three hours later?
Collective sigh from the two young-at-heart seniors in the front seat of the Buick LeSabre parked in their driveway.
As it was, we roused ourselves from our melancholy and simultaneously gave each other “that look.” We both knew what the other yearned for and wanted so badly. We could not wait a minute more to get into the house, run to the bedroom, tear our clothes off and …
… put on our pajamas and slippers and watch the latest episode of “Shameless.”
I have a friend who is a vegetarian, which is Latin for plantslayer.
Between her and me — a 10-year gluten-free freak, which is Latin for painintheass — going to a restaurant is a big deal for us and an ordeal for the waitress.
We tip well. We have to, otherwise there would be toenails and saliva and god knows what else in our vegetable-oil-sauted-organic-gluten-free-tofu-steaks.
My friend— uh, let’s call her Becky — (NOTE: all names similar to or the exact same as my real friends are purely coincidental) — not only avoids all meat, but inquires as to whether or not the food is prepared with any animal products, such as a chicken stock base. That’s too much work for me. Being gluten free is like following a paleo (think: Caveman) diet. This is Indiana. Throw a half a cow on a platter and call it a day. Double-deep fry a stick of butter in pig fat and I’m good to go.
Becky is not a vegetarian because she loves animals. She is a vegetarian because she hates plants.
I’ve never been able to diet and I suck at exercising. The second I think “D-I-E-T,” I crave a triple Big Mac with double bacon. And, I get enough exercise just pushing my luck.
I know people who swear by the Atkins Diet and have lost a tremendous amount of weight, which is nothing short of a miracle. I mean, geesh, have you seen what those people eat?!
Daily Atkins Menu
Breakfast: Deep fried sow, scrambled eggs in heavy cream sauce and a dozen cheese sticks
A.M. snack: Four pounds of bacon and a wheel of Colby with whipped cream
Lunch: Two lambs, three ducks and a partridge in a pear tree
P.M. snack: Pork crackling nachos with whale blubber and ostrich egg and butter salsa
Dinner: A black Angus steer and two cheesecakes with pork rind crusts
Bedtime snack: Elk pate′ and two 24-inch cheese crust pizzas topped with hamburger, ham, pepperoni, sausage, a triple layer of mozarella and a large bowl of whipping cream
Atkins followers are single-handedly to blame for the extinction of the animal species.
I have to admit, at recent dinner parties I have been serving Atkins-type meals. My plan is to fatten up everyone else around me so that I will look thinner.
This is not hard to do when one considers that the casket adds 165 pounds to the ones who have keeled over with a heart attack.
I used to hate the way my face was falling to the earth – outpaced only by my thighs.
The other day a lady asked the name of the chubby dog who was sleeping soundly and wrapped around my feet. I had to tell her it was my ankles.
The main problem with growing old is that even if you still feel young mentally, externally you begin to crack and disintegrate like a human pork rind.
But I’m not complaining. Every day I wake up is a great day; every birthday is a celebration.
I had always been healthy, but at 50 was hit with breast cancer. I never felt sick and came through the treatment of radiation, surgery and a five years of medication just fine.
Last year, at the age of 60, doctors discovered a tumor the size of Rhode Island growing between my brain and my ear canal. It was called an acoustic neuroma, the doctor said gently. All I could think to say was that it sounded like a great name for a rock band.
This all came within months of my daughter having a life-threatening adrenal tumor and my mom dying of breast cancer.
I don’t mind telling ‘ya – I was convinced the gods were conspiring to kill me – not just physically, but emotionally and mentally, as well.
Yeah, I know, I know – what doesn’t kill you …
Anyway, after a 13-hour brain surgery at I.U. Medical Center in Indianapolis, I was as good as new.
That’s a lie.
I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t sit up. Heck, I couldn’t even roll over in bed. Half of my face was frozen and numb because the tumor had wrapped around my right facial nerve. Someone had fashioned a turban out of barbed wire and attached it to my head with steel beams and iron spikes which were tangled in my bloody hair.
On the up side, I was on some pretty mind-blowing narcotics. Normally, I don’t even take aspirin, but after surgery, well, I was waaaay down in the hole with Alice and the White Rabbit.
My family members were there for most of my 9-day stay and did their damnedest to make me rip out my stitches and blow out my brain with laughter.
That’s the one thing I could do — laugh— albeit out-of the side of my mouth with a gurgling sound and one wide-open, freaky eye that refused to close, giving me the appearance of a mutant swamp monster. I didn’t care. Did I mention the drugs?
On the head trauma floor of the ICU unit, there’s not a lot of humor to be found, but my kids, husband, and siblings are experts at turning over big, black, ominous rocks and finding the potentially unfunny funny.
Every few minutes, around the clock, a staff member would come to my bedside, ask me to squeeze his/her fingers and ask the same questions: “Do you know your name?”, What day is it?”, “Where are you?” and “Who is president?”
I have married twice, taking both husbands’ names, reverted to my maiden name after my second divorce then married again and did not take his name.
My mom, on her deathbed, told me she had quit writing my names in the family Bible — there weren’t enough pages.
The first time the nurse asked me if I knew my name, one of my brothers quipped, “Oh sure, start with the hard questions.”
My own children, after telling the hospital receptionist that they were there to see their mom, paused and looked dumbfounded when she asked my last name.
I’ve decided to be like Cher. It’s just Viv.
I did like to mess with the nurses when they asked if I knew who the president was: “Taft?”, “Churchill?”, “Weird Al Yankovic?”, “Grant? Did the North win?”
It was weeks before I could walk or take a shower unaided. I’ve never had to depend on anyone and there I was, helpless as a newborn. The gods were conspiring to humble me.
Accomplishing one goal at a time — walking up and down stairs, gardening for ten minutes straight, driving, going back to work part-time, and hiking 5 miles up and down a Virginia mountain with my kids and grandkids five months after surgery – I recovered.
There’s still a slight palsy on the right side of my face but for the most part, my face came back home and my wrinkles returned. I no longer look like I got Botox injections from a one-eyed physician.
I was so happy to see my wrinkles that I made them a welcome home casserole with extra Oil of Olay.
I just wrote 751 words to describe an experience that could be summed up in five: I’m grateful to grow old. I don’t like the alternatives.
I remember that Fourth of July like it was yesterday.
Tuesday, July 4, 1978.
I can still feel my gut sink when I remember how I watched out the front window at my parents’ house as the state police car approached the driveway, red lights whirling, but the siren strangely silent.
That’s the moment I learned first-hand what the silent siren meant. That’s also the moment I learned what it means when two somber officers walk to the front door with heads down and hats in hand.
I was 26, the oldest of eight living children.
My brother, Marcus, was 20, soon to turn 21. He had enlisted in the Air Force to complete his college education and “see the world,” and was home on leave for two weeks from Lackland AFB in Texas before beginning a new post in Alaska. He was very excited, promising mom and dad that he would “buy a little piece of Alaska where the entire family could vacation.”
My parents, siblings — including twins who were only 6 — my two young children, and a bevy of aunts, uncles and cousins had gathered for a Fourth of July barbecue. It was a joyous celebration – Marcus was home to regale us with his side-splitting, humorous stories of of the rigor and rituals of the Armed Services and life in general.
He was the darling — the nucleus — of the family. My brothers, sisters and I would all probably have to agree that he was the most handsome, talented, intelligent, creative and wittiest one of us all. Marc had just returned from Mexico and brought back gifts for everyone, a wool poncho, blankets, sombreros, and — for dad — a large bottle of Mexican tequila with a fat worm lying at the bottom of the bottle. Mom frowned her disapproval.
To the delight of the younger ones, he fished out the dead worm and offered to cut it up and let each kid have a bite. They squealed in horror and he laughed. He also played “Monster” with the little ones — a game he made up — where he was the Monster and the kids had to run and hide or defend themselves and slay him. They loved it.
Some of his old high school friends stopped by and talked Marc into going canoeing at Chain O’Lakes State Park. He was reluctant — he was having a good time with the family — but mom urged him to go and have fun with his friends. He could visit with everyone when he got back, she told him.
As he walked out the door, he jokingly said to mom, “Well, OK, I’ll go, but you know I’ll just become another July 4th beach statistic.”
It was the last time we ever saw Marcus.
Two hours later, he drowned after jumping out of the canoe and racing his buddy, Mike Dell, to shore.
Mike later told us that they both dived in, but Marcus, an excellent swimmer, never resurfaced.
There was no autopsy, so we never knew exactly what happened.
My family had never known tragedy until that day.
Rescuers had tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late by the time they found him.
Nearly 30 years later, while interviewing a source for a newspaper story, I found out that the man I was interviewing — Department of Natural Resources officer Gary Bontrager — was one of the men who came to our door that day. He told me the other one was Indiana State Trooper John Barrett.
I was shocked. I knew both men well and had no idea they were the ones who had delivered the terrible news of my brother’s death.
All I remembered was the pain.
My dad aged ten years in the three days it took to bury his golden-haired son. His shoulders stooped, and his hair seemed to gray overnight. My mom did not fare much better. They never fully recuperated.
None of us did.
The younger siblings were confused: “When is Marcus coming back to play with us?” The older ones were bewildered: “Why? Why Marcus? He was the gifted one.”
There was never another family get-together or barbecue on July 4th. The older siblings who had children would dutifully take their kids to the fireworks, but to us it was never the Fourth of July — it was the anniversary of Marc’s death.
The Air Force gave my brother full military rites. As they folded the flag that had been draped over Marcus’ casket and handed it to my mom and dad, jets from Grissom Air Force Base flew overhead in a “V” formation framed in a brilliant blue sky. A friend of Marcus’ played “Taps” on his trumpet, choking up several times and having to start over.
An Air Force officer read a poem — something about how this child was not ours to keep, but only loaned to us for a short while.
It was sunny without a cloud in the sky, but we saw nothing but clouds.
Marc’s friend, Mike, suffered tremendous guilt for years, agonizing over what he could have done, what he should have done, but none of us blamed him. Our hearts broke for him. Life sometimes deals a horrible hand, one beyond understanding — and no one is to blame.
Mike later moved to Oregon and had his own charter fishing business. He was out at sea one day, a storm came up and he never returned. They never recovered his boat or body.
Dad died in 1999, Mom in 2012. They are buried next to Marc. I like to think they are all together again. Maybe Marc and his friend, Mike, are entertaining them with stories of their earthly adventures.
He was only with us for about 21 years, but they were wonderful years – a glorious, short while.
I always thought Marcus had a say in what would be his last day on earth. I can almost hear him saying, with that beautiful smile and twinkle in his eyes, “For the rest of your life, every time you see fireworks, you will think of me.”
What possesses a person to spend their precious (and rare) free time constructing and dressing tiny mouse bodies?
I usually make choir mice as Christmas ornaments wearing red choir gowns and holding hymnals. But my granddaughter needed some families” for her dollhouse, so I made a mouse family since she is an animal aficionado. Her dad is a Colts fan, so of course, so is Papa Mouse.
I think it might be easier to just stab and slab ’em … just a thought.
1. Hide food. This will prevent those overgrown children who live upstairs from consuming a week’s worth of groceries in one sitting. Store chips under the bed. Hang cookies or brownies on hangers in the back of a closet, where they will never look. Stash frozen pizza under five-pound bags of broccoli and carrots. Any type of snack items fit well inside heater vents. (Caution: Use only during summer months.) Fresh fruits and vegetables may be left in plain sight.
2. Never replace toilet paper on the spindle. While you use your private, hidden stash, it will teach your teens a valuable lesson in self-reliance. If the last square of tissue remains on the cardboard roll for more than 7 days, or your teen is spending a lot of time at the corner convenience store, or rolls of paper towels and shop rags are disappearing, it’s time to break down and replace the tissue. Albeit, with much pandemonium and cursing.
3. Parents and teens cannot be “buddies.” That skateboard might look like fun and exciting for trying to “olly a half pipe,” but a broken hip is forever. Their music may seem interesting, but bleeding from the ears is no laughing matter. And trying to decipher the meaning of T-shirts or tattoos has been known to cause aggressive oozing of inner brain matter.
4. Teens who are more than two hours late for their curfew should just report in at the local police station to save time. That’s where they will find their mother — sobbing and filling out missing person reports. If more than three hours past curfew, the belated teen may want to check out the website: onyourown.com.
5. Allow unlimited access to television shows, games and the Internet in 75 percent of the rooms. That way, no one (least of all — and this is important — the parents) can be held responsible for anyone’s personal idea of entertainment. After all, it was in the room and it was turned on; the overgrown people upstairs just happened to walk in and stay for seven hours playing, “Violence Squared: The Sequel.” Not your fault.
The number of years I was a single parent outnumber the years I was married.
I’m not braggin’ or complainin’ – I’m ‘splaining.
I became quite adept at “manning up” – except for the times I was paranoid and psychotic – which was often.
Those times were usually preempted by a marathon TV viewing of true crime shows.
After watching six hours of serial killers and sociopaths methodically torture , murder and dump dead bodies – always in a sleepy little Midwestern town exactly like the one I lived in – I would lie in bed, wide-eyed and listening to what sounded like some random psychopath jimmying the deadlock bolt on my back door.
I scared myself senseless.
The interlobular, fraidy-cat nerve stimuli of my brain would multiply like rabbits – evil rabbits who pushed me into a black hole and caused me to dance with the (Stephen) King of Hearts.
Due to busy and conflicting schedules, and because I was a working, single mom for many years, my children and I had to take a lot of shortcuts.
Shortcuts, by the way, is Latin for “single parent.”
We communicated by writing a lot of notes to each other. After deciding in fifth grade that I was a writer, it just seemed logical to communicate with my offspring through the written word.
During summers, when the kids were out of school, those notes turned into a Tolstoy novel.
As I often remind my kids – it could be worse. What if I was a professional roller derby athlete? Those women don’t mess around with leaving notes. When their kids misbehave, I’m sure it’s a quick elbow to the guts or an expertly maneuvered roll over the shins that brings them to their senses. And knees.
I prefer jotting over jabbing, which goes something like this:
Kids: Keep the house clean. Be good. Be respectful. All of the bath towels are missing. Find them and put them in the laundry room. ALL of the glasses and cups are missing. Find them. Wash them. Use dish soap, not bar soap like last time. The principal called. Do not wear my Stray Dog Tavern T-shirt to school again. You know better. Return it to me at once! One of you see if Grandma needs her yard mowed. Don’t take any money for doing it, no matter what she says. Love you, Mom.
P.S. ALL glasses, cups and towels must be recovered or no allowances this weekend.
Mom — Jammin’ at Steve-O’s. No towels in my room. I’ll check my car and trunk later. Promise. All the glasses from my room are in the sink. Ben took the rest. I had to go to work and did not have time to wash them. Make Ben do it. I need $5 for gas. Took it from the money jar. My check was short this week. I’ll pay you back. Promise. Love you. Don’t have your shirt. Ben probably stole it. — Chris
Mom, I mowed Grandma’s yard, so I did not have time to look for glasses and towels. Chris didn’t do anything. I do everything. Can I borrow $5? I’ll pay you back. Promise. Gatt’s dad is taking us to Hooter’s. We can go in cause we’re not drinking beer or nothing and Gatt’s dad said the buffalo wings are good. Harpo borrowed your dog drinking shirt. I told him to bring it back.
P.S. Grandma MADE me take some money. I begged her not to.
Boys: Chris, get my towels out of your car! AND the glasses and cups. No jammin’ with Steve-O today until your chores are done. Do not take your guitar amps outside. The neighbor will call the cops again. Ben, stop taking my white socks! Do your own laundry – you learned how in 4-H last year, remember? No going to Hooter’s. The wings, among other things, are not real. We’ll talk later. Get my dog bar shirt back from Harpo and do not loan my clothing to your friends. Beaner still has my Life is a Beach hat. Get that back, too. Love you guys. Keep the house clean. Be good. Be respectful. — Mom
Mom, Can I go to the Withered Craniums Morgue concert in Cincinnati this weekend? I’ll do all my jobs. Promise. I’ll be good. And respectful. Can I borrow $55 for the ticket? I’ll pay you back. Promise. Harpo’s mom called for you. All the glasses and cups are back in the cupboards. I found all the dirty towels in the upstairs closet. Ben should have to wash them cause he put them there. I didn’t. I should get a reward for finding them. $55 would be good. Love, Chris
Mom, All my socks are gone. Chris stole them. He’s a but. Went to Hooter’s. Kidding. Ha. Can I spend the night and watch movies at Murk’s and Mel’s Saturday? Took $2 out of money jar. Will pay you back. Promise. Chris is letting me practice drive in the driveway. There’s a lot of glasses and cups in his car. There was one under my foot and I almost drove into the neighbor’s house. I’ll be 16 in 2 years, you know. Did you hide some pop? Where? Love, Ben.
Chris: Cincinnati?! I don’t think so. Cincinnati is a BIG city. Besides, for $55, it should be the Rolling Stones or Beatles, not the Shriveled Deadheads or whoever. We’ll talk later. If you have Ben’s socks, give them back — he’s wearing mine. Do your laundry! Feed the cat! –Mom
Ben: Butt has two ts, BUT don’t call people that. Yes, I hid the pop. Look up the meaning of “hide” in Webster’s. Also hid the money jar. By the way, is Mel Murk’s brother – or is Mel Murk’s sister? You are too young to date–you know that. No more overnights at Murk’s if Mel is Femel. We’ll talk later. Keep the house clean. Be good. Be respectful, especially to Mel. –Mom
Mom: Aren’t the Beatles dead? Are the Rolling Pepples those old guys with bad skin? The Withered Craniums Morgue is so much cooler and so much awesomer! I can drive to Cincinnati. I have a map. I will be 18 next summer. You had a baby and lived in California when you were 18. I must go to that concert! Please? I’ll be good. And respectful. I won’t have a baby. Please? Can I borrow $20 for gas? I think Ben stole my money. I can’t find the money jar. I think he stole that, too. I’ll pay you back. Promise. Love, Chris.
Mom, Chris stole my new DVD. He’s a but with two ts. Mel is a guy, Murk and Gatt are girls. Ha. Kidding. I found the pop in the dryer. Bet you thought I’d never find it there? I was looking for some money. I only drank two. Chris stole the rest. Going to mall with Gatt. Harpo’s grounded and he can’t go. I’ll be good. –Ben
P.S. Who’s Webster?
BOYS!! Harpo’s mom is mad. We’ll talk later. You guys are in trouble. I strongly suggest you do ALL of the chores on your list. Chris: I was married, living in California and had your sister three weeks before I turned 19! But I was never allowed to drive to a rock concert in Cincinnati at that age. The Rolling Stones are TRUE rock and roll. Never speak ill of them again Why are you are spending so much on gas? You work two blocks away. Ben: I found your new DVD – the one you accused Chris of stealing – in my sock drawer … WHO DRANK ALL THE POP? It’s gone. Saying “but with two ts” is no less rude. Keep the house clean. Be good. Be respectful. Love, Mom.
P.S. No glasses in the cupboard AGAIN. Find them! Today!
CHURUBUSCO, Ind. — John A. Krieger, the man who was known as Churubusco’s “favorite son” and the town’s All-Round Nice Guy” died just after midnight on Christmas Eve at the age of 68.
John, who was born with Down syndrome, had been sick with pneumonia and other infections and was hospitalized for four weeks preceding his death.
He kept up his busy schedule, working for a variety of downtown merchants and patrolling the streets of Churubusco right up until the day he was admitted to the hospital.
Krieger’s parents, the late Cloyd “Pete” and Hazel Krieger, were advised by medical authorities to put their Down syndrome baby in an institution.
“He will never live to see his twentieth birthday,” they told the Kriegers.
Appalled at the thought of institutionalizing their little boy, Pete and Hazel took him home and raised him alongside his loving brother and sisters, Calvin, Leila, Phyllis and Beverly.
Although John’s speech was garbled and hard to understand, and he had the usual setbacks associated with Down syndrome, he thrived in the Krieger family setting where he was surrounded with love and attention.
John created a fantasy world where he was able to retreat and become whatever he wanted to be at the moment — a police officer, a medic, a preacher or a fireman.
Many people in Churubusco grew up watching John pantomime a one-man play at the edge of a street or on a downtown sidewalk as he played cops and robbers, assisted at the scene of a wreck or chased down an imaginary hit and run driver.
Krieger brought recognition to Churubusco and gave the town more than its 15 minutes of fame when he attracted the attention of the national media several years ago. He was the focus of a 1999 Associated Press feature story and later that same year, the worldwide cable news network CNN visited Churubusco and filmed a segment about John Krieger for the Sunday morning “Across America” series.
At CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., the “Johnny” feature became an audience favorite and continued to be a repeat request from CNN viewers.
After the Associated Press and CNN coverage, Krieger and the Town of Churubusco heard from people around the world. Many of them sent John letters, cards and even money.
In April 2000 town council members voted unanimously to declare April 23 — John’s birthday — as John Krieger Day in Churubusco.
Dr. Janet McMullen, associate professor of radio, television and film at the University of North Alabama, still uses the story of Krieger when teaching the sociology theories of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.
“Those two theories contrast societies which value people based on who they are versus what they can do,” McMullen said. “John and Churubusco have been the perfect illustrations of that.”
When John was a young man he caught the attention of local businessman,
Clarence Raypole, who owned a gas station at the corner of Main and Whitley streets. Raypole offered John a job and soon the short, stocky young man with the infectious grin became a familiar sight in downtown Churubusco.
John liked nothing more than to be “one of the guys” and could be seen in the garage, helping work on a car and joking with the mechanics or inside, taking a break and drinking a cola while trading “girlfriend” stories with the young men who worked and hung out at the station.
It was Raypole who affectionately dubbed John, “Knothead.”
The entire business community, following Raypole’s lead, adopted John Krieger and he worked a variety of jobs, many times concurrently, throughout his lifetime.
Besides Raypole’s, John also worked at Floyd’s Auto Sales, Super Valu, Diffendarfer’s Body Shop, Shroyers Variety and Hardware, Jones Insurance, Churubusco News, Papa’s Place and Sheets and Childs Funeral Home.
He was a bonafide member of the Churubusco Fire Department, Whitley County Medic 21, Churubusco Police Department and the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department.
When he was younger, John rode a bicycle which was usually gifted to him by local merchants or the police department. The bike was outfitted with baskets, a toy radio and lights. He carried a badge with all the proper credentials for each department he worked for and, depending on which scenario he was acting out at the time, would present the correct badge with the utmost authority. The local police, fire department and emergency crews supplied John with a space or a desk at their headquarters and even outfitted him with police, medic and firefighter uniforms.
The year before John died, Sheriff Mike Schrader of the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, in cooperation with the Churubusco Police Department, gave John a complete sheriff’s uniform — everything but a gun.
Once a week, an excited John would announce to his many coworkers and employers that he was going to be working as a “flatfoot” and would then name the specific day.
On “flatfoot” days, John would proudly walk the streets of Churubusco in his new uniform, patrolling the streets and fighting crime at every corner.
His fascination with the police was instilled in him as a young boy, when he watched his father get dressed in his “blues” and go to work as a flatfoot or policeman.
In his heyday, when he rode his bicycle, John could imitate a perfect, very authentic-sounding siren. People, upon hearing it, would automatically pull to the edge of the road.
John startled more than one stranger who was passing through town. He would walk up to the offender’s car window and begin writing an imaginary ticket, all the while scolding the hapless motorist for being so careless and running a red light, or leaving the scene of an accident or whatever infraction John thought had been committed.
Once in a while John could be seen standing downtown, arguing with someone he had just ticketed for jaywalking or illegal parking.
The strangers always wore the same confused and exasperated expression while residents of Churubusco just smiled and sometimes reached out and patted John on the back, telling him, “good job.”
The local Methodist Church, where John attended and served as altar boy for many years, sometimes allowed John to preach between services.
He would climb the steps to the pulpit and deliver a rousing — if unintelligible — sermon punctuated with a clear “God” and “Jesus” here and there.
“John was passionate in his sermons,” said Christine Newman-Jacobs, UMC pastor. “And he was passionate in life. Everything he did, he did with love and passion.”
In 1978, Churubusco Police officer Clifford Smith began taking John with him and other officers to a local restaurant for an afternoon coffee break. The ritual continued for nearly 25 years.
Every year, on April 23, or John’s “big day” as he liked to call it, friends, family and members of the local and county police department would gather at the restaurant at precisely 2 p.m. and celebrate John’s birthday with cake and presents. After John’s parents and brother died, he went to live with his sister, Phyllis, where he remained for many years. Several years ago, when Phyllis died, the local newspaper office was flooded with calls from people wondering, “What will happen to Johnny?”
But Phyllis had voiced her dying wish to her son, Dan Ferguson; she asked him to take care of John. Ferguson kept his bedside promise and John lived with Dan and his wife, also named Phyllis, on the east side of Churubusco, until his death.
Dan’s children — John’s great nieces and nephews — and their children, as well as his only remaining sibling, Bev Davis, were a constant source of pride to John. He always carried pictures of the newest baby in the family and would proudly show them to anyone he met on the street.
One picture that Associated Press featured showed John cuddling a great-great nephew with a look of pure adoration. As he got older, his joints, especially his knees, grew weaker, although by most standards, John was in very good shape for a 68-year-old man who was not expected to live past 20.
It was hard to keep him from making his appointed rounds, even when he was ill. Dan and Phyllis, in an effort to keep John home in his sick bed while they went to work, would sometimes confiscate John’s shoes and take them to their place of employment.
That usually didn’t work, as Dan reported later. “John would just find an old pair of shoes or boots, even if they didn’t fit, and walk uptown anyway.”
The summer after his death was the first time in decades that John did not lead the annual Turtle Days parade, smiling and waving at the crowd while sitting in the front seat of a fire truck or a police squad car.
His funeral, held Sunday, Dec. 28, 2003, was something John — who never minded being the center of attention — would have approved of. Family members, friends, local businessmen and women, co-workers and representatives of the fire department, Medic 21 and local, county and state police departments lined the pews, filling the church to capacity.
After the eulogy — which featured gospel singing, one of John’s passions — friends and family members told “Johnny” stories, prompting both tears and laughter.
The funeral procession — a long motorcade led by over three dozen police, fire and medical vehicles — drew the attention of bystanders and motorists along the way. One group of employees in front of Brevin’s Restaurant stood silently, hats off and heads bowed in respect as the procession passed. Thanks to the caring and loving hands of funeral home personnel — who were also one of John’s many employers —
Busco’s All Round Nice Guy reclined peacefully in his favorite suit, holding a wallet which
was open to show his official police and firefighter badges. Even in death, his face reflected a smile and his resolute love of life.
Nearby stood a large wreath which encircled a photo of the firefighters, officers and medics who had come to think of John as one of their own.
John spent a great deal of time on “paperwork” for his many professions, sometimes
working at home, sometimes working in one of his many offices in downtown Churubusco. He would often spend hours laboriously printing his name beneath a handdrawn cross.
He would proudly show off his handiwork and declare, “John Krieger – flatfoot, preacher and man of God.” Those who knew him soon realized that John Krieger was not only a man of God, but a gift from God.