Fred was my “ex” father-in-law and I always considered him a good friend as well. He taught me a lot about life in general and I never really thanked him for that before he died. Fred had lung cancer and went into the hospital for an operation. His wife Dorothy, my “ex” mother-in-law, got sick and went into the hospital around the day of Fred’s operation and died a couple of days later. Fred came through the surgery just fine, suddenly took a turn for the worse, and died a few days later.
Remember-the evening before you went into the hospital for surgery, and you and Dorothy and I were going over some last minute instructions in case something happened, and you were telling me how to shut off the heater in the gun shop because Dorothy didn’t know how to do it, and we talked about death and dying, and you said “…after all, outside of my family and a few friends, who’s going to know or care if I’m dead or not?” Remember-when Sue and I had only been dating a couple of weeks, and she had told me how you delighted in giving all of her dates a hard time, and I was bringing her home one early evening, and the roads were a glare of ice, and I turned in the driveway, and the car didn’t turn, and I ran into your truck, and it didn’t do any damage to the truck or my car, and I walked the five miles from the driveway to the living room, and I told you I had run into your truck but it didn’t leave a mark, and you didn’t even go out to look (at least until after I had gone), and you just said “No harm done”.
I think-you probably were thinking that this is just another one of Sue’s dates, and he probably won’t last long at this rate, and his hair is too long anyway, but you were trying to teach me that it’s important to admit your mistakes, and even though it’s hard sometimes, you have to be willing to accept the consequences of your actions.
Remember-when I was working for you out at the garage, and I did a lot of odd jobs, and once I found a dollar in the front yard while I was raking, and a dollar meant something then, and you gave me a shovel to go out and dig something, and I used the shovel to pry a rock, and I broke the handle of the shovel, and when I told you, you just said “I’ve been trying to break the handle of that shovel for 15 years”.
I think-you were trying to teach me that by correcting someone with kind words rather than harsh words, they learn a better lesson.
Remember-the story you used to tell me about when Gerald Ford came out to the farm where you grew up, and you had been shooting pigeons with a 12 gauge shotgun, and he wanted to shoot pigeons too, and you talked him into pulling both triggers on the double barrel at the same time, and you told him if he braced himself against a tree it wouldn’t kick as hard, and you knew that would make it kick twice as hard, and I was impressed that I knew someone who knew someone who became President of the United States.
I think-you were trying to teach me that no matter how important other people think we are, that people are still just people, and we should treat all people with dignity and respect, even though they may not grow up to be President.
Remember-when we all went camping in your fifth wheel trailer, and at night when Dorothy was getting ready for bed, and the curtains were drawn, and Dorothy began squealing, half crying, half laughing, and you asked her what was wrong, and she said she had gotten the tubes of Ben Gay and Preparation H mixed up, and how we all laughed.
I think- you and Dorothy both were trying to teach us that we should never become so self-centered that we can’t laugh at ourselves.
Remember-when I was home on leave from the Air Force, and it was during deer season, and I wanted to go up to Grand Marais to hunt with Dick and Mildred and Dickie and Warren, and you knew we had a better chance of shooting a deer out our back door, but you drove us both up there anyway, and there was so much snow you said “The snow is ass deep to a tall Swede”, and we didn’t see any living thing, not even a chickadee, all the time we were up there, and we came back and hunted the last couple of days of the season at Dick and Mildred’s at Gun Lake, and you and John brought back a deer so that Johnny and Mike and I could have the opportunity to field dress it.
I think-you were trying to teach me that being with family and friends is more important than anything else in the world.
Remember-the story you used to tell me about hunting with your brother-in-law, John, and John would eat chili every night in deer camp, and you would follow him through the woods, and every time he would relieve his gastric distress it would cause you nasal distress, and so you laced his chili that night with Sal Hepatica, and the next day when John reduced the pressure he got a little surprise in his hunting suit.
I think-you were trying to teach me that even grown men do foolish childish things, and it’s okay to do foolish things—–sometimes.
Remember-when Sue and I split up, and we knew we had disappointed you and Dorothy (especially Dorothy), and whenever I stopped at the mill that summer you would shut the saw off, and you would sit on your chair, and light up your pipe, and we talked a lot that summer, and you never lectured me, and you told me over and over that I would always be your son-in-law.
I think-you were trying to teach me that even though people we love do things to disappoint us, we should continue to love them with the same unconditional love that God has for us.
Remember-the night Dorothy died, and after Sue and Joe and Matt and Sara and Anna and I had said good-bye to her, and we walked the five miles from Dorothy’s room to your room, and we waited outside your room for hours (or maybe it was just minutes), and we all walked in looking as if someone had died, and before we could say anything you said “With this gathering of people, the news can’t be very good”, and you ended up comforting us.
I think-you were trying to teach us that no matter how heavy our own burden gets, we should do whatever we can to relieve the burden of others.
Remember-the last time I came in to see you in the hospital, and we talked about the duck I was carving out of redwood, and the redwood was from a man who used to build picnic tables for the State parks, but I shouldn’t tell anyone where the wood came from, so I won’t, and I told you that the grain was hard, and the wood between the grain was soft, and when you worked with it, it would make ridges in the texture, but I thought it gave the duck “character”, and your face beamed.
I think-you knew that I had learned from you and our friend Davey Duck that computers and machines can make perfect ducks, but it takes human hands with God’s help to bring out the true beauty of a piece of wood.
Remember-in that same conversation we talked about me helping you with some things since Dorothy was gone, and you said that you would ask me for help, but only if I charged you, and you knew that I wouldn’t charge you, and I told you I wouldn’t because I didn’t charge family, and I felt good because I could help you, and we talked about our relationship, and you almost said “IT”, but you didn’t, but I knew, and you knew I knew.
I think-you were trying to teach me that you should never take people for granted, especially not family, and by making an offer you know they won’t accept, you give them the opportunity to do something for you, and it makes them feel good about themselves, and it’s hard for some people to say “IT”, but it’s okay if you live “IT”.
I learned-other things too, like it’s important to keep your commitments, and it was more important for you to keep your Valentine’s Day date with Dorothy than to spend any more time with us.
I hope-I’ve learned my lessons well because you’re not around to test me, and if you see Bill Riggs around, tell him I learned his lessons too, and I’m sending this letter along with you so you can read it, because you always has a hard time hearing me (you always said it was because I had a soft voice, but I think it was from when we shot the .44-40 revolver at the shooting range under a roof with no ear plugs and neither one of us could hear anything for the rest of the day), and I’m reminded that even grown men do foolish things—sometimes, and don’t show this around up there because if Gladys Youngs sees it she will have it all marked up for bad punctuation and grammar and run-on sentences.
Remember-when you said “…after all, outside of my family and a few friends, who’s going to know or care if I’m dead or not?”
I think-you were trying to teach me that what we are and what we know, we pass on to our children and grandchildren, and they pass it on to their children and grandchildren, and we live on in them, and a hundred years from now when no one remembers who Fred Eckardt was or who Jack Walker was or who anyone else in this room was, that they will be who they are, because of who we were, and they’ll be better people for having a part of you, and they won’t even know it, but we will know.
But on the other hand-maybe you weren’t trying to teach me anything, and I’m just being too sentimental. Sorry.