in his backyard haven

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Oh Dennis & his Shenanigans

Not that anyone will believe this however here we go ...

I just realized that Dennis passed on the 13th of June.  Last Sat the 13th Of Oct I did the Heart Walk in the am at Fairmont Park Riverside.  I was beat afterward and not in the mood to be around people or noise;  I was restless however ...

I decided to head to Busy Bee Hobbies to get some paint and super glue.   I wandered around like I use to just browsing.   Oh my God now I see where Dennis got all that crap ... lol.

I decided to call Peggy for the hell of it.  She said come on over, I have left over frozen cookies for the Roundhouse Gang.  Well most members were running in San Diego that day.  Well I was in San Bernardino anyway & I had something I wanted to drop off with my friend Neil who lives near Dennis.

I also like to hang out at Redlands Airport Lobby on a Sat when in this sorta mood.  

Well the next thing I know I'm at Dennis' house and the next thing I know I am mentoring Peggy on what an A unit is, a B unit, how to tell Athearn from Life Like Proto, brass from plastic and I start putting stuff next to the boxes they go in and she starts boxing stuff up ...  Dennis had me help with cleaning up the mess! 

However it was surreal to be in the room where he passed on the 13th of Jun on the weekend of the San Diego run.  I don't know if anyone else realizes who was really putting the trains away ~ Dennis.   But it hit me this morning when I read Peggy's blog. 

Dennis you were a great friend full of Shenanigans and you’re still at it ... !!!

Hi John,  Well said my friend.
I miss him as well. I saw Peggy outside the other day and she gave me his test track. I feel honored to have it and will make sure it is displayed and used as he would have wished, although maybe you could come over one day and let me run a couple of ideas past you.  Peggy also made me the new owner of the El Capitan. Although it will remain at Dennis’ for a couple months, I told Peggy I would give her the same amount of money the big “D” paid for it initially.  Oh well.  Enough said. 

I can also say that many years back during Christmas one year, Dennis placed that wreath with lights in the circle above the garage front. When Christmas was over and he was preparing to take it down, I told him he should keep it there because it made the house look fantastic, somewhat like a Thomas Kinkade. Of course it remains to this day. The great thing was that several nights back Peggy decided to turn the lighted wreath on again  and when I went outside , it brought a tear to my eye. I sat outside with a glass of wine and just stared at the wreath, all lit up and beautiful.  Kinda like the good old days when he had it lit and I would go outside at night, run into him putting the trash out and we would talk in the dark for an hour about things. Miss my buddy.


Post Script from Peggy:

Mitch - truth be told - I have NO IDEA how that wreath lit up!  I can’t find the switch and I don’t know how to turn it off! 

Sunday, 14 October 2012


Today, Oct. 13, 2012, John Sanford came over to visit.  He walked into the RR Man Cave - which now resembles an RXR hobby warehouse and said: “Whoa, we’d better get to work!.”   God bless  John, we sorted and packaged rolling stock for nearly four hours!  While packaging up Den's belongings it surfaces a lot of memories.  Here is a gem that John shared about how he met Dennis:

John was set up at the Riverside Senior Center location at the Roundhouse Gang RXR Swap Meet.  John had an item on the table that he hadn’t planned to sell; but he put it out to see if anyone would respond to it.  It was crowded and lots of activity but no one took a second look at this particular model.  

Along came Dennis, whom John had never met.  Den nearly jumped out of his socks!  He was very excited and wanted to know “how did you do that?”.    On the table was displayed, in it’s original box, a Walther’s (brand) plastic Santa Fe Coach worth about $30.  BUT it was enhanced by an NKP Car Company Streamline Brass Car Side Kit !   The purpose of such a kit, and the action of “brass siding on a plastic car” is to modify-enhance a the plastic model to resemble a very rare high dollar brass car on a budget . (Some cars were too rare for model manufacturers to risk a high volume tooling &production costs & these are usually only produced by the high end Brass mfgs in low volumes would be available in the $400 range)   I asked John if it was like putting lipstick on a pig and he said rather like really expensive lipstick!  

Dennis was the only guy (in a crowd of over 100) who recognized the modification for what it was.  He was drooling with desire especially because itnow represented a Rio Grande car prototype .  As a very talented modeler Den knew the value of the process.  This $30 plastic car, now modified with a $60 brass side kit & a lot of hours became as nice as the brass version valued at about $400!   This is what real modelers do when constructing prototypes . John said DENNIS WAS THE ONLY GUY WHO KNEW WHAT IT WAS!  They struck a friendship; made a deal - I’m sure there was a lot of haggling and negotiating, and John has been an invaluable friend for about four years!

Well - THERE IT WAS - the modified Santa Fe Coach was in Den's collection that John was helping me inventory and package.  I didn’t ask what the deal was but John said Dennis had pondered the plan for the entire swap meet duration and then managed to “acquire” the piece from John.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

CARS Part 3 of 3

Part III of III

Gotta love those Hondas!

My Dad GAVE us his 1990 Honda Accord when Dennis first got cancer (in 1997).  I was driving Den to “CITY OF HOPE” (about 75 miles) and to the Parkview Cancer Center (30 miles)   on weekly and daily runs for 10 months.  My Dad was worried that the Corsica wouldn’t last so he wanted us to have a safer car.  Now my Dad was a frustrated inventor who was always decades ahead of his time.  Long before we had it in our make up My Dad had invested in stock in Jojoba Lube.  He not only invested in the “stock” but he bought stocks of oil!   He poured that oil into every receptacle of that Accord and she hummed.  Eventually we gave that Accord to Katie and Ryan and they drove it until this past spring.  How many miles were on that, Katie?  215,000 you say!

The last brand new car that we bought is our 2006 Honda Ridgeline Truck!   We got some inheritance money from Grandma Betty and Dennis was itching to have a truck.  He was looking at ugly used “working man’s trucks”.  I was searching on-line and came upon - again - a first new model, Honda’s first pickup truck.  It had everything I wanted in a luxury ride but plenty of muscle for “work”.  Dennis was NOT interested - so what to do but to “trick him”.  I begged him to let me peek at a little Honda sports car and he caved.  As we entered the dealership the barracuda salesmen rushed toward us.  I walked ahead of Den and said “sell him the Ridgeline!”.  By the time that guy finished with Dennis you would think Dennis invented the Ridgeline!   I took a leave of absence from work and we drove across country for six weeks.  We went from San Francisco to Cape Cod and Minnesota to Little Rock, AR and all parts in between.  We had the best road trip ever!  XM Radio was new - it was wonderful to match the music genre to the location on the map: cowboys, blues, hillbilly, etc.  Additionally we had a six-CD changer that was perfect for loading books on CD.  We loved listening to Nelson DeMille books like: “Night Fall”, “Up Country”, “Wild Fire”, “Plum Island”, etc.   In the past seven years we’ve had many terrific road trips in our wonderful Ridgeline!

I’m keeping the Ridgeline for a while but it wasn’t our last car.  When we sent the 1990 Accord to Virginia we had just purchased the 1998 Honda Accord from Liz and Jay Reed.  That was a sweet little sedan with leather seats and all the amenities.  When I took delivery she had about 73,000 miles on it and I drove it up to 141,000.  We never had trouble with it and it was always a proud little buggy for me.  After my mechanic went to the great shop in the sky I passed it along in the family to our niece, Aimee DiGiovanni.

Dennis and I loved to drive together!  We built a lifetime of memories in our cars.  You’ll always be sharing the front seat with me, My Dear!

Our CARS Part 2 of 3

Part II of III

People, watch out when your partner disappears for a year!

In 1983 Dennis went to Sicily for a one year remote assignment.  That means the wife gets to stay home with five kids and “carry on” while the Dad is carousing around “club med”.  Liz was learning to drive and we had carpools all over Sherwood, North Little Rock and downtown Little Rock.  It was becoming very difficult to transport the crowd of six.  (What will we do when Dad gets back?  We can’t fit seven people in one car.)  On Friday, January 13th 1984 the house burned down from a lightening strike.  (another blog entry)  With the proceeds from my jewelry claims I had $7000 plus and determined we would get a vehicle big enough for all the kids and Mom and Dad!  The kids and I were excited about a “van”.  (Remember, Dennis was in Sicily - I was on my own!)  But, I was “SOLD” the first ever Dodge minivan; it was all white with red vinyl seats and held seven passengers.  I had to wait for delivery but I put that whole $7K as a down payment.  I was damn proud of myself!  When the kids came home from school I told them we would be getting a new car that would hold everyone.  Joe said: “Oh Mom, I hope you didn’t buy one of those white mini-vans with red seats - they’re so cheesy!”  (eye-roll)  We had a family discussion and the next day I went back to the dealer and asked for a refund.  He was stunned!!!!  Asking me “why”, I explained that I had promised a “van” to my kids and we really needed something bigger than the seven passenger.   I said I’ll keep looking.  Imagine, they produced a used12 passenger Chevrolet diesel van!  It was ugly brown and tan - but it accommodated TWELVE!  We had a blast in that thing!  It became the star in future vacations and I became the carpool Queen!

Dennis was stunned that I bought a diesel and was a bit worried.  But he checked with the motor pool guys and learned that I bought a very fine “Cummings Diesel”!  It served us pretty well - but wasn’t without some drama:

  • surfing to the “Beach Boys” ~ if we removed all the seats the kids could stand up and “surf” as we embraced the Arkansas hills...
  • plenty of room beneath the bench-style seats meant we could stash a full sheet cake on the floor under the front seat but it slid all the way to the back seat - under Amy’s feet - boy was Dennis livid when she stepped down on that cake and tracked it all over the car....
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation O’Donnell style ... at the Grand Canyon we stowed all the kids in the car but didn’t latch the rear doors ~~~  yup - luggage strewn for half a mile.... (no blonde in red Ferrari - heh heh)
  • You can fit a whole Christmas tree inside the van ...  too bad it was riddled with ticks!!!
  • Oh, and don’t forget when the brake peddle just fell off - yes, thankfully I was driving uphill to Mt. St. Mary’s High School and I had to use a privet hedge to stop!
  • The last vacation was cross country to California when the fuel filters (there were two) clogged up and Liz - the driver - was harassed for driving too slow on the highway.  “But, Dad, I’m practically standing on the gas peddle!”  That was east of Albuquerque; by the time we arrived in Albuquerque the electrical went berserk and the door locks were popping up and down, the windshield wipers flapped at full speed and she died just as we cruised into downtown Albuquerque.
  • When we got back home one of Den’s buddies was going to help him replace the fuel pump and do a little minor “overhaul”.  They began stripping the engine parts because the pump and some other part were unitized under the engine.  Well Den was working on one side and the other guy on the opposite side.  Each had beautifully laid out all their parts in nice orderly fashion.  The other guy got a phone call about some emergency and he took off.  Poor Den was yelling something about “all those parts on your side of the van...”    
  • I guess we left that thing in Arkansas ~~~ LOL.

Our second brand new car was ordered by me, from Arkansas, but negotiated by Dennis in California.  Liz, a student at UCLA, was commissioned to accompany her Dad and “make sure” he gets cobalt blue - not burgundy.  Liz can fill in the details about she and her Dad wheeling and dealing to find Mom the perfect newest model - yet again - 1988 CHEVY CORSICA.   Some details of the process included a cocky salesman who asked if Dennis’ “wife” (Liz) liked the choice; when Liz promptly corrected the man he made passes at her.  Dennis was on cloud nine...

Now, in case you are keeping track of the thread you should have noticed that most Chevy’s seemed to get traded after a significant usage.  The Corsica lasted about 12 years - it was our first disappointment with Chevrolet.  The engine was terrific but the paint peeled off and the accessories failed rapidly.  We tried to DONATE it but it kept coming back to us.

Meanwhile - we were still driving the 1970 Monte Carlo!  We drove that thing for 32 years!  Someone decided to try to “fix it up” and enter it in the annual Route 66 parade.  I don’t know if it made it to the parade but it caused great “mourning” for Dennis to part with his beloved Monte!

Our CARS - 3 Brand New in 45 Years!

CARS: Three Brand New Cars in 45 years!

I couldn't sleep one night and started thinking about our cars.  My ramblings got so long that I've broken the blog into three parts:

Part I of III

When Dennis and I met on my 16th birthday in 1962 he was driving a blue-green ’56 Ford Fairlane, hard-top.  He also worked at Ford Motor Co on the assembly line.  The Ford was our date car until he acquired his Dad’s 1958 Chevy Belair Impala in anniversary gold.   (Vern always bought a new Chevrolet every three years.  Betty received the older Chevy and when Den got into the plan he bought the 6 year old car.) 

The Bel Air was hot stuff, huge enough for three couples and built like a Sherman tank; and eventually was very pricey.  Dennis wanted to “secure” our relationship but couldn’t afford a diamond ring so he designed a birthstone “promise” ring for my birthday.  He took the design to Lenco Jeweler in Los Angeles and ordered the peridot set in a gold flower.  When he went to pick up the ring in the Bel Air he was “crusin” on Santa Gertrudes in La Habra and had a close encounter with a car that ran a stop sign.  Her car was totaled by the tank Bel Air which spun around 360 degrees while Dennis laid flat on the front seat.  (It was the first car they had with seat-belts; the belt left a huge bruise!)  The ring was saved; the car was repaired and lived a long life many years.  He sold it to a vet when Den went into the Air Force on July 5, 1966.

The neighbor was “Daddy Laughead” - or Dave’s Dad - a former Navy pilot who taught the teens their way around engines.  Den was a great student!  He always said he could  fix any car with a hammer and a screw-driver.

We got married in 1967 and rode in Vern’s brand new ’67 Impala - but only for the wedding.  Den bought the ’61 Impala for our first car together.  He was almost late for the wedding so he could put on new tires, change the oil and have it washed!  We drove it a few years.  Liz had an aluminum and canvas baby bed that tied in the back seat; later an aluminum and vinyl car seat that hung over the back like a swing.  Dennis said it was real fancy since he had grown up using a wooden orange crate to sit on.

In 1970 I was pregnant a second time and Dennis’ enlistment was up.  We had a choice: 1) chance it in the civilian labor market without insurance, or 2) re-enlist and have the government pay for this birth!  The re-enlistment came with the bonus we needed to buy our first brand new car.  We lived in Lompoc, Ca but Dennis went to Vern’s fleet dealer in the LA area to order our “Malibu”.   Well, he came home all wide-eyed with excitement!  There was a new model called the Monte Carlo!  It was a sleek 2 door with all the latest gadgets.  He went south to pick up the new car in late March while I waited in Lompoc.  When he returned on March 31st I was in labor and we headed to the base.  What is at every base entrance but a guard shack and several young bucks - and they had never seen a Monte Carlo!   They had to check under the hood, kick the tires and generally inspect everything before we got through!  Joe arrived shortly after midnight on April 1st!  It was a grand event - a new son and a new car all at once!

Well, pretty soon we acquired the ’67 Impala (see a pattern here?).  We were now a two car family with three kids and we got a lot of milage out of the wedding car.  Dennis being pretty handy with automotive tools maintained that car until our first-born, Liz, was able to drive it to high school!  

The Monte and the Impala were our staples for many years and eventually became known by our friends for all the clever applications Den used to maintain them.  Did you know how useful those paper and wire “bread ties” can be under the hood?  These cars remained with us from California to Wichita, KS and on to Sherwood, AR.  We filled them up and kept them running!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Memories from Detlef

Back in the 1980's (maybe 1985?) we had the pleasure of hosting an exchange student from Germany named Detlef. It was great during that time - he was just in between Liz and Joe in high school and it was great for Joe to have another guy around the house for that year.

Detlef has recently shared some memories of Dad during that time:

Dear Peggy,

I hope and wish that you are all good,
that life in this new period of time is giving you hope,
I know that Dennis will be with you,
and that sunshine and joy will be with you.

Sorry for the very late reply writing you,
the earlier mail which I received through Helmut and Gerlinde [Detlef's parents] already came as signal,
I was praying for Dennis that he is not in pain and is feeling the best he could,
it is great to know that all of you where there with him, with your love and presence and caring for him,
looking at your blog the first time where you all came for Dennis,  it must have been great for Dennis,
being surrounded by his loved ones what a beautiful bunch you are, he must have felt very proud and loved.

It was a good time and very important time for me with you in Arkansas,
and I am thankfull for that,
having had the chance to be so welcomed and accepted in a family, 
in a new surrounding,
four sisters and one brother all of a sudden,
being introduced to "weekend garden work" by Dennis which makes me smile thinking back, 
I made a note back than on one of the pictures where I hold the shovel,
" after working hard in the yard moving mud got 5 $", 
I guess that had impact on me,
Dennis introduced me to the real world ; ).

Dennis detailed explanations all thought out and half scientific, mostly took place in the garage "the workshop",
and sometimes seemed to have no planned finish or end, one episode could blend into the next one.
One thing Dennis and Helmut where sharing is having old or used cars, the good thing was that Dennis was able to fix them,
even when it took a while.
Also hosting me and Phillip in your house in California are really nice memories,
it felt like an extension of my time with you after Arkansas,
being back and part of the family thank you for that.

I will scan some images which document my time with you and Dennis you might not have,
sorry if my face appears to often, hope you like the pictures.

Peggy you were always so much caring and giving,
I really wish you the best in this troubled time 
I will pray for you that your life will take a nice path in sunny California,
and that joy and happiness will guide your life,
with Love from me and all Schneiders,
all  all   best,


Detlef "moving mud". (I think he was digging for the swingset?)

Christmas. 1985?

Dennis and Peggy going to military ball

Dennis on Capital Hill, Little Rock, Arkansas

Detlef and Dennis

Detlef - Saturday morning chores

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Thinking of You, Dear

Hello, My Love!
It's been over 2 months since we've had a hug and a chat.  We were on vacation in March, just before you got sick again.  I've missed you more than words can tell; the grief is deeper than Lake Kimsee; but the memories delight me constantly.

So, tonight is the finale' of the Rep Nat Convention.  I think you would be happy; hope is filling the screen, the conversations and the voters.  You would be real happy with the VP choice; Paul Ryan.  Imagine: he is Joe's age!  

Well - have you heard me?  The "garage" - Dear - oh that "garage"!  I will be anchored here for a year or more just sorting through the "garage".  But the RR gang - in particular, John Sanford and Glen Icanberry have been so helpful.  We hosted the August social and 20 guys came here.  It was wonderful - everyone watched the movie "END OF THE LINE" and heard all the tales about you under the layout; encounters with Wilfred Brimley, Mary Steenbergen and Kevin Bacon.  We all enjoyed memory lane with the beautiful and brilliant slide show that Katie created with the help of Ryan and Jay G.   The guys "presented me" with a Santa Fe Tee Shirt to wear to bed / it's going to become a pillow!   

Now - about those 20 guys - in case you hear the neighbors - - - 

Well, I sold the Accord.  Actually, my brother, Mark, set up a win-win situation and arranged for Joe and Aimee DiGiovanni to buy it when they came out here to deposit sons at USC.  I think they are happy with it.  I loved that car; and I was proud to hand it on and keep it in the family.  I put the $$$$ away to save for a hot new red Granny Roadster. . . after I enjoy the truck for a little while longer.

Den, our kids have been AMAZING!  We are so proud of them!  Each of them not only stepped up to nurture you and care for me; but they are all phoning; emailing; visiting and keeping watch over me.  We have all been very busy:

Liz managed the Irvine Swim League through their Championship and I got to witness her spot-on leadership skills as part of the 2000+ contestants; their families and all the ancillary support made for a long and fulfilling and fun day!  Madi and Nate are naturals and did very well.  Madi completed her second year with Newport Beach Junior Lifeguards!  Nate continues to develop his karate skills and performed a private recital for me; he will test for blue belt in a few weeks.  

Joe has been in regular phone and email contact with me even while he was preparing and tested for his GRE.  He did very well.  Graduate school is waiting for him.   I'm excited that he is coming home tomorrow for a long weekend with me.  We're going to visit San Diego's Maritime Museum.

Of course Molly and the whole Gellerman family returned in July for a 2 week vacation.  Imagine - they all climbed back on that plane for another 21 hour flight each way!  The girls were totally delightful.  Jay was a huge help in the "garage".  Molly assisted me with financial planning as we together met with the financial advisor.  What a heap of paperwork to wade through - unbelievable!  They included me in their Disneyland package for 3 days!  Oh, My Love, it was a glorious way to enjoy the park - being able to walk to the hotel and soak in the pool and rest and dine to refresh for the next day.  Splash Mountain is still our favorite ride!  I was front and center and took in all the water - soaked to my waist!  Remember all the wonderful times we went to Disneyland?  You should have experienced it with the grandkids - all four of them.  It was a hoot.  Mostly it was terrific enjoying Meagan's first experience of all the characters and rides and parades and attractions.  We packed a lot of fun into their 2 weeks and culminated with a grand luncheon at American Girl in Los Angeles.  They were real troopers as they all headed back to India for the final leg of their assignment.  

Sadly, while we were having breakfast with Goofy we got a phone call that Albert decided to join you in Heaven!  It was a terrible shock for all of us but devastation for my poor sister, Dorothy.  But then, you know that already.  I hope you have welcomed him to share the eternal joys with you.   Well - I flew back to New Mexico for Albert's memorial service. I only stayed two days because it was so very painful.  Dorothy and I are still in disbelief that both of you guys took off and left us here.  But my brothers are helping her and her kids are doing well also.  She and I are going to take a little road trip in October.

Yes - I'm certain you are in Heaven - why, you had over 50 Masses intended; over 170 gathered for your funeral Mass and the mortuary was nearly full of people praying you along your way.  Mostly - Hon - everyone shared how much you are loved!  You are full of life and sucked every breath possible; you helped EVERYONE and they all expressed appreciation and mostly you walked the talk - a Man of Faith and Patriotism.  God, I miss you sooo much!

Well Amy was going through a really rough patch when you took sick.  Her life was jammed with changes in relationships; a new graduate and licensed acupuncturist and starting a new business.  She struggled a lot as she put all that aside to be home with you.  (ALL of the kids sacrificed to be home with you and they all were glad to do so!)  But I've always said Amy is like a cat - she lands on all fours.  She just completed a 50 hour CEU and is well on her way to her new business.   Amy and Liz had dinner with me last week in Marina Del Rey - it was great to be with our girls!

Katie - our "Little Dennis" - she just makes me laugh.  She IS YOUR daughter - little Miss Handywoman spent weeks here attacking your "honey-do-list"; hanging shelves and towel bars, replacing toilet seats and completing unfinished projects.   She was a huge help with chores around here.  She is planning to come back in December - early before their Christmas visit - so we can continue the saga of sorting in the "garage".  She organized all those boxes of photos and neatly packed them all into the closet in the guest room - wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling is all photos!  Kate has been busy all summer with her ceramics.

Our St. Francis group met while I was in San Francisco with Amy and Joe.  They had a lovely prayer service for you - Pat gave me a copy.  The Karpmans came.  We met again in August up at Hartts - the summer heat wave had begun and it was incredibly hot even in Running Springs.   Some of us gals had lunch together.  

So Dear Den; I have had a very busy summer; but oh so lonely.  Everywhere you should be there is emptiness.  The silence is deafening!  Sometimes I hear you calling my name.  The real insult is finding cobwebs!  this house is too big for one person!  But you always wanted me to be self reliant.  I'm trying, Hon.  I don't sleep well so I'm happy and eager to get up at 5 or 6 or 7 am.  Some days I go to morning Mass and have enjoyed greetings and hugs from so many friends and acquaintances from church.  Each day I try to accomplish a task; such as cleaning closets; watering the yard; sorting for yard sales; tool sales and train sales.  And that ##**! garage!    I'm trying to manage things the way you would have.  I didn't know when you last serviced the HVac system, so I called for service.  I was tickled and delighted to discover your "notes" written in felt pen right on the unit! Thank you Den!  I've had the cars serviced; both of them before I transferred to Joe, and also to keep the truck in mint condition.   Neighbors and friends have been wonderful help.

Of course, when you moved on you took some vitality of this place with you: the sprinkler system malfunctioned; the plum tree died and several bushes (whoops - Katie told me I'm supposed to "water" them); and why do light bulbs all go out at once.   I replaced the stove - it was only 23 years old.  You'd think it should have lasted as long as the frig - 29 years now!   And finally, they tell me the Hvac system needs to be replaced.  thankfully Mitch is helping to oversee that and we are  replacing a few parts to keep it around a while longer!

Papers!  Oh the papers that need to be sorted.  You won't imagine all the stuff I have uncovered.  I cherish the many love notes you left behind!  I've found letters from friends - like from Gary Runa reminiscing about Halloween in 1962 - sorry Dear - it was incriminating evidence that need to be destroyed!   You'll be thrilled that I've gathered together all of your Air Force history!  Your many medals of honor; your achievement certificates and your very prized polished steel replicas of the missiles.  Our kids and grandkids are going to be thrilled with all of these!

Speaking of Air Force, did you know that John Davis flew in from China to spend time with you?  He was 2 days late but he came and he stayed and we shared wonderful memories of you two guys; the flying in his plane(s), the ski adventures and all the jobs you guys worked together.   He'll be heading to Tucson soon for the Wing reunion - he'll meet David Keller and some of the others.

And as for reunions: Ken Wendell and several guys from SPHS came to the funeral.  They invited me to the class reunion - maybe another time... 

Well I've read several books; watch some movies and have been in contact with many friends, Dear.  Our many local friends are terrific and the Arkansas gals and Cape Cod friends all in touch.  We have lost more friends, Dear.  You need to be looking for Laddie Svarc, Alice Tovar, Dottie Lapinski among others.   Some friends are very sick so please pray for them.  Finally My Dear Den, we are counting on you to advocate for us!  You know our many needs - 

There will be more letters, Love.  Until then, all my love and kisses and hugs - forever! 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Burial

I was just going through some photos when I realized I never finished posting about Dad's burial.

It was beautiful and moving and humbling.

Dad was buried at Riverside National Cemetery. He was given a full military burial. What this means is that Officers of the Military move his casket with draped flag, fold the flag, present it to my mother, play Taps and do a full gun salute to their fallen soldier. The ceremony takes about 30 minutes and then dad was moved to his place of final rest.

This was moving for me because I honestly believe that while my dad was not off in a battle when he died, that he did die for our country.

It's been known for quite some time that dad's cancer was not hereditary. It was environmentally caused. Dad's 27 year career in nuclear missiles exposed him to things that most of us take for granted of being protected from each day by our armed forces.

Dad's cancer came from his job. He knew this. He dutifully accepted it. He believed that this was his cross to bear out of his service commitment. Dad died battling his cancer. He died to protect us all.

I can not begin to articulate the emotion that came with the moments of this burial. I only wish I could get the video of the whole event on here for you.

Missing Dad

It's been just over two months since Dad died. This week was tough for me. I found myself thinking of him often, wondering if I've done him justice in my grieving. I've re-lived every moment of those last days of his life over and over and over again in my head. I don't want them to go away. Ever.

Did I show enough love, care, appreciation? Was I tender enough? Was I patient enough? Could I have sat next to his side more? Should I have done anything differently?

I find myself trying to remember his smell or his voice. A joke he used to tell.  I wish I could sit by his side again in front of the TV. I wish I could find more photos of me and him.

Sometimes I wake in the dead of night and he is the one on my mind. That's good, I believe. I don't wish away the lack of sleep. Instead I breathe deeply the closeness that I feel to him during those dark, quiet hours and wish there were more.

A hard part about grieving? I'm not where he was in the day by day activities. I'm on the other side of the world. I can't walk through the front door and be reminded that he's gone. It feels like I'm just traveling, and he is back home with mom where he should be.

I like missing Dad. It's a good thing. I am so lucky and blessed to have had this man to call my dad.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

SPHS Remembers Dennis

Dear Peggy and Family, 
Please accept my sincere sympathy, prayers and love in the loss of your husband and my friend, Dennis.  He was a true gentleman and it was my honor to have know him.  May our Good Lord bestow his blessings upon you and your family during this most difficult time.  I pray to St. Joseph, The Patron Saint Of Departing Souls and hope it will bring you some comfort.  Besides high school, I really enjoyed conversation with Dennis at all of our reunions.  He will be missed but he will be in spirit at our Big 50th Reunion in September. 
Peggy, you are always invited to our reunions.
Thank you, Henry V.
During our last HS reunion, Dennis and I were sharing a few memories of SPHS.  As we moved into our hobbies over time, we got into railroads and steam locomotives.  The man was absolutely into trains and sold me on the idea of trip to Wales to ride one of the few remaining unique locomotives.  Our reunion is just around the corner and it was that venue that was to serve as a background to share with Dennis the fun of the trip he convinced me to take!  Well Dennis, you’re up there among all the white steam clouds, enjoy your smiling down upon us and know you’ll be missed by all of us from ’62.
Les K. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Funeral

On Monday June 18th we celebrated Dad's life with a funeral mass. For those of you not familiar with a mass, it is a Catholic religious ceremony - the same as every other mass. Mass is celebrated daily in nearly every Catholic church around the world.

There are two parts to a mass: Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Word part is when we listen to and reflect on readings from scripture: one from the Old Testament (Pre-Jesus) one from the New Testament (Post-Jesus) and a gospel reading - a teaching from Jesus himself.

After the Word we move on to the Eucharist. This is where the priest leads us in a re-creation of Jesus's last supper before he was crucified. We believe that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ Jesus and that when we eat it we are receiving the miracle and healing power of Christ himself.

The funeral mass is no different. It just usually has scripture readings chosen that provide thought and reflection on life and death and welcoming into Heaven.

(I'm no priest, so I'm sure someone better trained than me can expand on all of this)

At the conclusion, a family member typically gives a Eulogy - which is a reflection on the deceased person. I represented our family and the Eulogy is posted earlier in this blog.

The great thing about this celebration for Dad is that there were 4 priests and a deacon present to co-celebrate the mass. That's a BIG deal. I haven't seen that many priests since a Confirmation celebration. What's great about it is that it reminded us how involved and committed to the Church Dad was.

The priests also gave wonderful reflections and words about Dad. I wish I could have copy of what they said. It was humbling all the more.

After mass the congregation headed over to the hall to have a luncheon reception. There were about 150 guests and some of his railroad friends had set up a display of trains for the crowd. It was good fun.  My sister headed up creating a video of Dad's life. It was 30 minutes and we let it play during the luncheon. Many people in the crowd could be seen throughout Dad's life in the photos.

I'm unskilled at posting the link to the video - maybe my brother in law Ryan can go in to this blog and help with that....Hint Hint.

When all was said and done, the family headed back to Mom and Dad's house and we all sat around eating leftovers and telling stories until about 9pm. Then we crashed only to be up and ready on Tuesday for the burial. More to come on that....

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Wake

On Father's Day, Sunday June 17th, we had the wake for Dad. It is often referred to as a final "Viewing". For those of you across the world, this is common in Christianity to have family and friends gather at the funeral home and pay their last respects to their loved one. The deceased is dressed in his best. In this case Dad was dressed in his military uniform and the casket is draped with the American Flag because he served his career in the military.

The family gathers first - having alone time with Dad for an hour. Then there is a time period of two hours set aside for visitors to see him and then guests are invited to say a few words in remembrance of Dad. In our Catholic Faith we conclude by praying a set of prayers called the rosary. This takes about 20 minutes. The rosary is a set of prayers where we pray a series of prayers - some that were taught to us by Jesus and others where we ask Mary, Jesus's mother, to pray on behalf of us to Jesus in Heaven. It is common in the catholic faith for us to ask other saints in Heaven to pray on behalf of us. We believe that they have the luxury of time and can pray constantly on our behalf when we are not able to pray.

On this particular evening, many of Dad's friends and our family were able to stand up and share some favorite stories of Dad. His buddies in his model railroading club did a great job of sharing what they thought of Dad as a man and a friend. Others shared about his faith and influence in the church. Our sister Liz shared about what it was like when Dad was in what I would call the "Prime" of Fatherhood - all 5 kids still being raised at home. It helped round out the memories of who Dad is today with how we remember him as we were growing up. Finally, other family members shared what they thought of Dad. I recall one of my uncles sharing a story that exemplified Dad being a true hero in his work with nuclear missiles.

The viewing is the appropriate place to sob. (Of course, you can sob anywhere and anytime, but the viewing is designed for sharing memories and grief). For most of us, with kids in tow, we were a bit too tired to cry some more, so we found ourselves socializing much in the way Dad would have loved to. There were snacks to help us through the 4 hours and our kids had a private room to be kids and play games. It was much like a reunion of sorts and it was good. Dad would have enjoyed it.

Katie and Dad

Me and Katie and Dad

Amy and Dad

Mom and grandson Nathan

Dad in his uniform in his American Flag draped casket. I share this not to be disrespectful, but to show the honor of the setting and to help my non-American friends understand the purpose of this event.

Mom, Dad and us kids: Joe, Amy, Liz, me and Katie

with husbands and grandchildren: Jay, Jay and Ryan and Madison, Nathan, Zoe and Meagan

With some extended family - all from Mom's side. Dad was an only child.
Meagan, saying a pray for Dad

The private rooms, where the kids played games

Eulogy for Dad

For those of you who couldn't be at the funeral mass for Dad or who couldn't hear very well, here is the Eulogy that I wrote and shared:

Eulogy for Dennis V. O’Donnell
June 18, 2012 Funeral Mass

On behalf of our mom, Peggy, my siblings Liz, Joe, Amy & Katie, our spouses and children and all of the extended O’Donnell family, I want to thank each of you for being here, for traveling so far to come and celebrate the life of our BELOVED Dad.

We often reflect at funerals, citing them as celebrations. In my youth I had to come to terms with such an idea by reminding myself that this person is with God now, so therefore we should be celebrating. This is absolutely true. I can say with confidence that Dad is with Jesus, taking rest and dining at a banquet feast with his parents Vern and Betty and with so many others who have gone before him.

But I know now, reflecting on the events of the past few weeks and having known my Dad through many stages of life, that there is so much more to celebrate. Together we can take comfort and joy in the fact that despite whether you have known him for 68 months or for his full 68 years, we have all enjoyed a few special things about Dad regardless of his relationship to us.

First, Dad was a TEACHER. Always full of knowledge, well read and curious about anything and everything, we used to joke that if you asked Dad for the time he would tell you how to build a clock.

As his children, we suffered through this at times. There IS a right way to pick up lawn clippings, straighten your room, wash the car, position a tripod and yes, STORE your ketchup. In the small things, we were often annoyed by this trait. I remember vividly when he forced me to learn about how to care for my first car by labeling every part in the engine with a Sharpie marker and making me touch, smell and even taste some of the liquids that could come out that thing.

Yet, in the larger life issues, each and every one of us can reflect on a time when dad reserved his verbosity and wisdom for a very special conversation that would teach us something. Something about career choices, love and marriage, parenting, social responsibility, suffering, faith and even decisions about life and death.

He might have been the friend who taught you about yard care, car care, steam engines, brick laying, missile launching or even about our faith in God.

He might have been the grandfather who taught you about life in the 50s or the uncle who was your sounding board through difficult life moments.. the neighbor who helped you choose your paint color or the Small Faith Group partner who challenged you to think long and hard about your own beliefs.

For each of us, he was a teacher. This may have come in the form of a story or a pun, but it was always there – his teaching. We learned something from him when we had the patience to sit with him and truly listen.

Secondly, Dad was also a PLAYFUL KID AT HEART. The ultimate prankster, he shared his love for life by playing. Playing with things. Playing with people and playing pranks.

He loved to tinker: rockets, missiles, trains, planes, cars, kites, cameras, woodworking – you name it. He loved to ski, surf, cannon ball a pool, attempt parasailing, canoe, play in the yard and dance. He sprayed a hose through the bathroom window once in order to give mom a cold shower. He tossed firecrackers under her lawn chair to see her jump. He played kick the can with his grandchildren and always was the first in line to want a lollipop or ice cream at an amusement park.....He dressed as a nun at church! He ALWAYS pursued the opportunity to ride a train.

He enjoyed living and playing and being with toys. Even when he came from home the hospital to die, he lit up like a boy on Christmas morning to find his newest model train mounted on the wall. (Thank you, Mitch)

Dad was such a kid and a lover of life, he circumvented death more than most of us can recall. Who survives cancer, heart surgeries, strokes, pneumonia, being hit by a car and God only knows what else and continues to live with such fervor? Dad. 

And finally, Dad was a LOVER of PEOPLE. Scientists, engineers, auto mechanics, truck drivers, railroaders, ship captains, plane pilots. Priest, nun, commander, diplomat, blue collar, white collar, young, old, sinner or saint. Regardless of who you were or what you do, Dad could find the good in you. He could relate. He would engage with you and find some small way of showing interest and love. What amazes me about people like this is that they become the BELOVED. It is in giving that you receive and the people gathered here today are a testament to dad’s love for others.

Dad’s biggest love? MOM. He adored her beauty, her faith in God, her perseverance, and commitment. He loved to outdo her at Christmas, (she always got the most gifts. Always) dance with her and wine and dine her.
He was equally supportive of her family, and her needs. He helped her to help her own mom live and die. For 45 years he loved her and in return she loved him and together they were BELOVED. They loved so much - to the point where she slept holding his hand all night before he died.

So, this Teacher, Playful Kid at Heart and Lover of People and Life has taught us yet again in his dying. Ever hospitable, on his deathbed while hosting visitors he managed to squeak out, “Molly, get them all a drink.”

Dad neither embraced nor denied death. He wanted to live. And he knew when living more meant he needed to go to a different place to continue. He simply listened carefully: to his medical team, his family and God for sure and accepted quite gracefully crossing those train tracks into Heaven.

Scripture tells us:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1

A very similar photo to their wedding day

Mom shoved her bed right up next to Dad's hospital bed so that she could hold his hand all night. This was June 12th.

Mom, [Dad], Joe, Katie, Liz, Molly and Amy