Goodbye Mr. Carlson

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It is February 17, 2017. My father in law passed away yesterday. It was no surprise. He had been losing ground for some time. Even so he will be sorely missed. I am writing this because it helps me process my feelings and find peace.

We saw Mr. Carlson a couple of weeks ago. He seemed glad to see Crystal and me. We spent time talking about the past and our family. When we left, as always, he thanked us for visiting. I could tell he wasn’t going to be with us much longer. He was down to just over 100 pounds and periodically talking to people who weren’t in the room (according to Larry). As a nurse, I have seen that happen before. I believe, at some point, we transition to our next reality. For years, since his wife’s death, Jim has yearned to be with her. Oh, he was as much as possible, engaged in the reality of everyday life, but things were never the same. At least today we know where he is. Our loss will be Heaven’s gain. He and his Mary Jane are once more reunited.

I remember the first time I met Jim Carlson. He smiled and shook my hand. He looked at his daughter and his expression changed. He never gave me the lecture, but I could tell. He might as well have been cleaning a firearm and explaining how important it was that no one should hurt his daughter. However, the scowl didn’t last long. He could tell that Crystal was in love with me. And worse yet, I think Mary Jane knew, and told him to give me a break. He always listened to Mary Jane. Between the two of them there was some kind of unspoken balance. Together they worked.

It was only a few months later that I asked him for permission to marry his daughter. The scowl returned, if only for a moment. Both of us knew that wouldn’t last. Crystal had laid the ground work. While our relationship hadn’t always been perfect, we were in love. She talked about me all of the time, and quoted me as if I were the second coming of Niche. He told me about the importance of the commitment and how much he and Mary Jane cared for Crystal. I reassured him that he wasn’t losing a daughter and I would do my best to care for her. He relented and I have felt part of their family ever since.

Though the years my relation with Jim has been special. I have learned a lot from him. He has always been there when I needed advice or reassurance. Of course when it came to his daughter, all bets were off. When Crystal and I argued he would always take her side. His best advice to me was, ‘your wife is always right’. On the other hand, Mary Jane was usually more understanding. She told Jim to stay out of it and then helped Crystal to calm down. Most of the time that was all the help we needed.

Ironically, in these modern times, both of my married daughters’ husbands came to me prior to their engagements, to ask for my permission or at least my blessing. I acted as if I had learned nothing from Jim. The first I warned that I thought my daughter was too screwed up (from a previous relationship) to marry anyone. The second, I warned that we considered marriage a lifelong union and I worried about his level of commitment. Fortunately, both ignored my warnings, and currently have my daughters popping out more grandbabies. Not to bury the lead, my daughters are both happy.

Over the years, Jim has always treated me like a member of the family. I know he thought of me that way. I helped when I could. It was little things; shoveling a driveway, a little yard work or shopping.

What he gave me was far more valuable than a few odd jobs. He showed me what it meant to be a real man. Jim always put the needs of others before his own. Whether it meant helping friends and neighbors or being there for his own family he was always trying to help. I still remember sitting with him during one of Crystal’s surgeries. The surgery was supposed to last six hours, but wound up lasting nine. While he tried to reassure me, I could tell he was more nervous than me. Somehow, watching him squirm while trying to read, and asking me every fifteen minutes to check with the nurse, helped me to relax. I knew he cared as much as I did.

He loved his grandkids as well. Those feelings were mutual. One time, when we lived in Greensburg, our wives abandoned us. It was a cold day in October and Crystal and her mom were at a quilting show in Kentucky. Jim and I were left to hold a garage sale and take care of the kids. I stayed outside while he stayed (smartly) in the house. The girls, along with several neighbor kids, went back and forth. When they were out we threw a football, or they just sat with me and talked. I will admit to some evil thoughts about my wife (the sale was her idea) as the snow flurries began. But the girls helped. At one point, I had three of them sitting on me on top of the old chair we were giving away. I was finally warm. When they were in the house, I knew they were safe, playing, watching TV or talking to Jim. Every once and a while, he would check on me to make sure I was still alive and not covered with snow.

I’m also so pleased that Jim and Mary Jane agreed to be in our memoir. The first time he met her was during WW2 at the Kenosha USO. He saw her across a room and immediately was drawn to her. When he arrived at her side, he knocked over a lamp which Mary Jane caught. Together, they were a testament to what marriage should be. I don’t mean the love at first site bit. That never lasts. It’s the part about when one person knocks over a lamp the other will always be there to catch it. Through fifty-five years of marriage, Mary Jane and Jim never lost that.

Those last ten or so years, after Mary Jane’s passing, were never the same. Each time we visited, Jim was glad to see us. We spent hours just talking, watching his favorite westerns or playing pinnacle. Often Crystal and I would cook a nice meal or take him out to a restaurant. But we could tell, he was different. He had lost the love of his life and longed to be with her again. Today, that day has come. While their legacy will live on through their children and those who loved them, Mary Jane and Jim are together again. Praise God!

Also today, February 17, 2017 our latest granddaughter, Miss Addelyn Macenzie Klein, entered the world. A healthy baby girl, Liz and Brad’s latest, serving as a reminder that life will continue. Love will go on.

Jim at Michelle’s college graduation in 2008.                 Liz and new baby Addelyn


2 comments on “Goodbye Mr. Carlson

  1. Ron and Crystal and Family,

    Please accept the condolences of the entire staff and support team of North Terrace Church of Christ. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all during this time.

    • Thanks Della and North Terrace Church. Your ongoing support of Lisa and our family is much appreciated.

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