What a long strange trip it's been... from Asheville to Miami to the northwest corner of Iowa... from "normal" to "not".
I find myself sitting in the den in my parents' house at the end of Main Street in this tiny Iowa town that was my home and world for the first 18 years of my life. I'm eating Bugles and making witch fingernails with them... staring at the still-polished old Story & Clark piano that I played since age five... to my right is my dad's red desk with the gun rack hanging over it on the papered 13 ft. high wall. The other walls are covered with pictures of the grandchildren, some of my artwork and various other framed pieces... the old circa 1900 pipes still run up the walls and along the ceilings, past the original carved woodwork. The long lace curtains hang still. It is quiet and pitch dark outside, except for the intense sky-wash of stars.
On warm summer nights in the 60s & 70s, sometimes my dad, brother & I would lie on the grass in the yard and just look at the stars. Dad would point out the dippers, North Star and the Milky Way. It was just a really nice thing.
And now my dad is gone... and I don't mean, "Dad ran over to Spencer to get milk" kind of gone. I mean, gone from this earthly plane.
Dad was 89 and a half, and despite some physical difficulty with walking, he was "fine". The Saturday before my 50th birthday, after getting dressed for the day and preparing to go downstairs and make oatmeal, he just stopped living. It was quite instant, apparently, and quite likely that he was physically gone before his knees even hit the floor. Just amazing.
Everyone says, "if one could choose a way to go, that's it",and who could argue with that. It's great for the one who's leaving this mortal coil, but for those left behind it just seems too soon and just wrong, somehow. We weren't ready for him to leave yet! But I guess you never are "ready" for someone you love to leave, regardless of the circumstances.
I could recall numerous really wonderful memories of my dad - sitting on his lap as a little girl while he read the funny paper to my brother and me, delighting in his ability to make pigs dance, watching Bonanza & eating popcorn with him on Sunday nights, fishing, picnics, family parties, playing ball, playing cards, tromping through woods and fields for one reason or another... yeah, there was a lot of good stuff there that could flesh out a VERY long blog post.
But most importantly, Dad was a major factor in my own evolution as a person. No person is perfect, and neither was my dad... and neither was I. Despite our mutual imperfections, we always loved each other and were each others' biggest fans in many ways.
Dad taught me the importance of being a good person. As a kid, I wasn't always sure how that was supposed to be defined, but as I got older, I realized it wasn't that complicated... it was about treating others as you would like to be treated... basic golden rule stuff. As simple as that concept sounds, it's still considered "special" to find people who genuinely put it into practice.
My dad was Ray Koehnk, and as he used to say to long distance telephone operators, "that's oink with a 'k'!" The son of German immigrants, Dad had a good sense of humor and was known by many for his wit and love of laughter. He was also a great athlete as a young man, especially in baseball. Dad and his high school team won the Iowa State Championship in 1939. Dad was a star pitcher and big hitter. He went on to play baseball for the Iowa Hawkeyes from 1939-1942, and played right field on the team that won the Big Ten Championship in 1942. His long time friend, Jim Fanning, former manager of the Montreal Expos, told my brother "Your dad was a real pro. He could have played professional ball if he hadn't injured his arm." (paraphrased a bit, but that is the gist) Dad was that good.
When I played softball and basketball in school, Dad was my biggest fan. He rarely missed a game, other than when he was on the road for his crop insurance job. Even tho he had taught me to "focus on the game & tune out the crowd", there were those times when I would hit a home run or make an extra-long shot on the basketball court that I would hear my dad shouting, "Atta gal!" with great enthusiasm. It was really cool and made me want to play even better.
Dad lived his life with a lot of gusto, and as Mom said after his sudden passing, "he lived every minute of his life".
Yes, he did.
Dad touched a lot of people during his relatively long lifetime. His funeral service in this postage stamp of a town (as my brother says) was amazingly well attended - over 200 people, including several people who traveled long distances. All these people really seemed to love my dad, and so many said "he sure will be missed". and had fond memory stories to tell of my dad. Most of the stories ended with a punch line and laughter. There were even some stories of Dad's little "secret good deeds" - things he never told us, but just did because he cared about others.
At the end of Dad's memorial service in our hometown Lutheran church, after playing "Amazing Grace", the organist played "Take Me Out To the Ball Game" as the family exited the church. As "Take Me Out..." began playing, most all the faces in the pews sprang into smiles, some tears and nods, like "yep, that's Ray, alright!" I think Dad was smiling at that one, too.
We said goodbye to Dad on my 50th birthday - a beautiful, sunny Spring day in Northwest Iowa... the kind of day that Dad would have relished, as he loved being outdoors and especially loved the seasonal transitions into Spring and Fall.
Thanks for everything, Dad. I really miss you, but will never forget you. I am a part of you, and am forever grateful for that.
Raymond Wilbur Koehnk - 1920 - 2010