Listening to every heart
Darn the Cpat...but we've good memories, don't we, ladies?
May I add another? I see Ser’s foot is still tapping…
[Blame the pregnant thoughts on Ser….]
Jumping around and ahead, to 1972. Summer, and I had been a wilted transplanted flower in Illinois, needing so much to get home, and see the family, and feel the air of California. In our little valley in Santa Maria, we were, for the most part back then, smog free, with ocean breezes cleaning out the smog on it’s way in each night. Mom and Dad sensed my needs, and sent plane fare – for one. Which was all right, as I was working, and had vacation time coming; and the ex finally had a job…and couldn’t get away. My brother was graduating…and it promised to be a good time. It was June…and I was three months pregnant. I think Mom and Dad wanted to see their little girl once more before they saw their daughter’s little girl…
The day before graduation, my brother, so tall and gangly at 18, accepted the watch from Mom and Dad with a sense of…loss, I think. As in what now? I knew the feeling. Then, the next day, my brother’s graduation day, we received an emergency phone call from one of Dad’s brothers in LA. My father’s oldest brother Frank had gone into the hospital after he fell ill in the hay fields. They learned that the hay dust had coated his lungs, and he was rushed in for surgery.
My Uncle Don continued, “he was doing good Bob…he came out of surgery just fine. In fact, he was even teasing the nurses, and irritating Selma with his jokes.”
I was on the second phone – I was waiting to tell my uncle hello…Dad had motioned me to pick up the receiver. So I knew what Uncle Don was telling my dad.
“It was a blood clot, Bob. It went to his heart. He died last night.”
My own tears had started by now. Uncle Frank was the one uncle I knew who loved my dad’s kids best, and of all of my dad’s family, he was the one I knew I would go to if I ever needed someone to fill in for my dad.
And then I saw my Dad’s face.
I never saw my dad in gray before. He was a tall, handsome, deeply tanned man, having spent many years outside working construction. Now I was looking into a gray face. Mom had come in to the kitchen as we hung up, my Uncle Don saying he’d call back about getting the California contingent of family members to South Dakota on a flight in the next few hours. We had a lot to do.
Dad basically fell into the kitchen chair, put his head in his hands, and sobbed. I had never seen my dad cry before. Mom was frantic – she had no idea what was going on. Dad couldn’t talk, and through tears, I tried to explain what had happened to our Uncle Frank. The man who, after their father walked out, basically became my dad’s surrogate father. The man who, when dad reached 18, and the two younger girls could take care of themselves, moved my dad out of South Dakota and to California, where they started a small construction business, together. The man who accepted my mother into their family. The man who, to a little girl, helped her father hang the stars and moon, and smiled his huge smile, so that I knew to whom I was related, and that I wasn’t something found under a cabbage patch leaf.
Mom teared up, too, but both of us were concerned about Daddy. He had never cried in front of either of us before, and he couldn’t seem to stop.
Things whirled after that; we rushed Dad’s packing, got him to the airport, where he left to join the others in Los Angeles.
The next day, the California brothers, Uncles Don, Al, and their wives, my father, and a nephew, Robert [we have a lot of Bob’s in our family] left for South Dakota. The funeral would be the next day.
In South Dakota, we have family everywhere: Pierre, Lead, Harold, Rapid City. The plan was to leave Rapid City, and meet everyone in Pierre. During the funeral, there were storms everywhere…and especially in Rapid City. They had been having rain for a few days in that part of the state…and suddenly, we heard on the news…the town of Rapid City was flooding.
This was in the days before cell phones, let alone touch tone phones. I remember thinking I was going to wear my finger away with the rotary dial phone we still had in the house. We kept trying to reach people…until the lines went down. We sat and prayed and worried. We didn’t know if our family members were going to be caught in the floods, or if they were safe.
When the family could get to phones, the next day, June 11, Dad asked if I could stay over a few days longer. I made arrangements with my job, and we turned in the return ticket for a new date and time. Daddy came home to the biggest hugs.
He related the horror of the flood. They had all gotten back to Rapid City during the worst part of the flooding. The men all went to help those who were in the way of the moving waters. Daddy met a man who had gone out to rescue a little girl, and when he turned around, his house, and family, were gone.
Dad was rather spiritual at times. He said there was probably a reason his brother Frank had died when he did. Dad wouldn’t go in for the fact that a blood clot had taken his older brother, with no good reason. Dad always believed God worked in mysterious ways. The brothers that had all gathered had formed a Rilling Rescue unit of sorts, and spent a full day helping those who had lost so much. The ones that lived in South Dakota kept up the work, while the ones from California had to catch the plane home. But they had all pitched in, one more time, as the family they were. And Dad had heard that Uncle Frank had died in his sleep, with the nurses having laughed and joked with him just before he went to sleep that night. He had been happy, moments before he was gone. That settled well with my dad.
On June 9-10, 1972, extremely heavy rains over the eastern Black Hills of South Dakota produced record floods on Rapid Creek and other streams in the area. Nearly 15 inches of rain fell in about 6 hours near Nemo, and more than 10 inches of rain fell over an area of 60 square miles. According to the Red Cross, the resulting floods left 238 people dead and 3,057 people injured. In addition to the human tragedy, total damage was estimated in excess of $160 million (about $664 million in 2002 dollars), which included 1,335 homes and 5,000 automobiles that were destroyed. Runoff from this storm produced record floods (highest peak flows recorded) along Battle, Spring, Rapid, and Boxelder Creeks. Smaller floods also occurred along Elk Creek and Bear Butte Creek.
Excerpted from http://sd.water.usgs.gov/projects/1972flood/
When Dad put me on the plane to return to Illinois the next day, he told me he was glad I stayed for his return. And for the first time, he verbally told me he loved me. He was all action, that man, and few words. But when he did speak them, they settled deep…
And they stayed forever.