Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Countdown To His Death Part III

Lou was on fire, flames on his trousers, his shirt melting into his skin.  He did what a lot of people do.  He ran. His co-workers ran as well, grabbed him and tossed him into the sand, rolled him like dough, and doused the flames. The ambulance was called, and Lou went to Ellis Hospital.

That's what they did

I do not know those guys' names, except Stanley, the Polish guy from Cohoes.  Lou would pick up three of his fellow workers on the ride from Lansingburgh, to Schenectady, and then home after their shift with a six pack of Schaefer beer along for the ride.  Lou would many times have two cans left, one for him, and one for his wife.  I'd be in bed (going to school and college), but could usually hear some conversations, even the arguments. A lot of arguing, or my mother would be in one her rants 

My father could face molten steel 5 nights a week, but he had few responses for his wife as she went on about how terrible her life was.  When the rants began from the kitchen, I'd pull up the covers up over my head and wait for them to stop.  

I never knew that families could enjoy each others company, and that it could be done without booze until two in morning every single Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays .  I have working class roots, as you can see, and the dysfunctionalism I was watching every day  was being repeated in a lot of houses all around me. And it started to sink in that this was not right. I had some friends who had the all American family, though maybe they hid their challenges better. Why couldn't we be like the Partridge Family, instead of All in the Family?

This question just became larger in 1976 when summer came. I had just completed my sophmore season at Siena, and spent most of my time, when not doing yard work, playing ball on a local field. When the game was done, I'd go back to my house, grab a cold drink, and read on the back porch. My dog would come out to join me. She was 11 years old and slowing down a bit. She'd scratch at my bedroom door late at night if she needed to go outside. Sometimes she made it, sometimes not, but she always (in her way) asked for assistance if she needed it. The stairs were harder for her to climb, even stepping up on to a storage box on the back porch for her favorite view to be able to look down on three yards (we lived on the second floor) and see where the cats and birds were. I was worried, and the time was coming for annual vacation to Cape Cod. The dog never went with us, a neighbor would spend time with her, make sure she had water and food. One of the happiest moments of each year for me was to pull up to our house and see my dog standing up in the window barking happily that we had come home.

But in 1976, she didn't want to do much. I was scared, really scared for her. So Iasked my mother, because she made the decisions, if we could A. Take Cookie (the dog) with us or B. I would stay home, be with her and help her get around. Decisions made – No and No. So my friend agreed to watch Cookie again.And we went to Cape Cod. My father couldn't remember how to get there. We had the same vacation every year, two weeks in Dennisport on the lower Cape. My mother could not stand giving Lou directions so I quietly guided him as well as I could, and we arrived at our bungalow. My sibling's families would join on us for a few days each.

Lou had his routine on the Cape from the first time we went. He'd get up early, drive to the local store, get the newspapers and some pastries, and everything would be ready when the rest of us toddled in to the kitchen. For a change of pace in '76, Lou would get up, drive to the local pastry shop, pick up the newspapers, and then be gone for an hour. He'd drive by the bungalow where we were living. We'd be in the front yard of the house waving at him. He'd wave back and keep driving. Eventually he'd pull in and say he was taking a tour. The rest of us would roll our hours and say nothing. Oddly, Lou was not very upset about Marge doing the driving home. She did a good job, though white knuckled on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Who wouldn't be?

We made the turn on to our street. Butterflies in my stomach. No one, human or animal, was in the window. I ran to her secret cool spot in the cellar, behind the washing machine, and she was there curled up, but the white spot of fur at the edge of her tail waved like a solitary sad pom-pom after the game was lost. Her kidneys were failing, fleas infested her. She had no spark. She died two days later at the vet. But before she left us (me), I rolled down the window in my sister's car as we drove to the vet, and Cookie stuck her head out and took in the smells, her tongue lolling out tasting life a sweet final time.

And then she was gone. And I cried.

Lou told me that he had cried after my sister and I took Cookie to the vet. I believed him. My mother dismissed it. “It was her time.”

And then Lou was “retired” by GE a few days later. I think, and I have no way to back this up, but whatever the Suits had him sign at the Hospital after the accident allowed them to “Retire” Lou and others. No party. No watch. Just leave. Oh, he got a GE pension and Social Security Disability and this allowed me to have a few dollars as a dependent in college. My mother would drop me off at Siena in the morning and Lou would pick me up in the afternoon. That was it.  That's the only thing he had to do.  He wasn't in a foundry, or a Freihofer Delivery Man or in the Pacific in WWII.  He'd walk from the back window to the front window, look out on the same scenes, until the news came on.

So we ignored the approaching storm. To our peril. And my Best Friend was gone.  I was alone.

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