This morning we awoke to five new inches of heavy, wet spring snow. I’m a fan of letting God take care of things like that, so rather than shovel, I’m waiting for the sun. And instead of blogging about nonfiction book proposals, which I had intended to do, I looked at the calendar and stopped short.
April 19 hasn’t been a good day for a very long time. Back on April 19, 1995, I was working at the Koch brothers’ (yes, them, the guys who funded much of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign against organized labor) Rosemount, Minnesota, oil refinery as an environmental engineer. Members of the environmental group in those days got along well and spent time together away from work—especially at golf. And in 1995, it was warm enough to golf after work. We teed off at Rich Valley Golf, a course half a mile south of the plant, did our best (which was never very good, though I did get a hole in one there), and straggled back into the clubhouse at about 6:30 for water and a snack. I remember it so clearly: standing at the counter watching the televised pictures of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, its face torn away, pieces of never-to-be-read office paper floating past exposed offices and onto the pile of rubble. As I looked at those empty offices, I felt like I was watching somebody’s insides, organs blown away or shredded, private things that nobody should ever see. I had to sit, and the weakness in my legs had nothing to do with having played nine bad holes of golf.
In November of 2002, my husband Jeff and I moved from Minnesota to Rapid City, South Dakota. My mother had died in 2001, but my dad was still with us then, living in a nursing home in Moorhead, Minnesota. Of the four Hall kids, I had been logistically the closest and visited most often of any of us, so the move to South Dakota was painful. Instead of four hours away, I was now nearly ten.
Easter in 2003 fell on April 20. I was working for the South Dakota Army National Guard at the time in the Facilities Management Office, doing environmental work again, and it being a government job, we had Good Friday off. It snowed a little that Friday morning and I considered not going to Moorhead to visit my dad because of the weather. “You should go,” Jeff said. “If you don’t and something happens to your dad before you get to see him again, you’ll regret not going.” Grudgingly acknowledging that he was right, I packed, got in the car and left at about 2 p.m. for Moorhead. The weather cleared up near the middle of the state, but when I hit the eastern third, fog rolled in and it started to sleet. I pulled in at the Comfort Inn in Watertown and crashed. It was only two more hours to Fargo, but it was late, and I was too tired for more white-knuckle driving.
My dad died sometime during the night. On April 19. The aides at the nursing home found him on the floor when they knocked on his door at 6:00 a.m. They tried to reach me, but I had told Jeff, the night before, only that I was in Watertown. They called my sister Ginny, who found me by calling all the motels in Watertown. I remember little about the drive to Moorhead that morning, but I do remember that because Elton John had scheduled a concert at the Fargo Dome that evening, there were no hotel rooms at the places where I usually stayed. In fact, I think I got the last room in town. My brother John drove up from Iowa later that day, and my sisters flew in, too.
My father wasn’t perfect, for sure, but he was a warm, caring, emotional man who loved his family above all things. He adored music and always turned up the volume so the living room sounded like it contained a whole symphony. He made a celebration of life, was generous with everything he had, and worked hard. He had issues with self-confidence and wouldn’t try things unless he knew he could succeed easily at them. It didn’t take long for him to realize, though, that things you can do well the first time aren’t generally worth doing. He did play golf, though par mostly eluded him, and fished alone and with his family whenever he was able. He followed the Minnesota Vikings religiously and snoozed, kicked back in his recliner, through many innings of Minnesota Twins games. He loved my mother with his whole heart.
So for me April 19 is never an easy day. It’s one full of memories and of mourning.
I miss my father. Here’s a photograph, taken back in the 1980s sometime. He was a great man.