Thursday, July 30, 2009

In Remembrance of Dad

Charles Arthur Menge
May 1, 1926--July 30, 2002

My dad was the third of four children born to Frank and Lydia (Ring) Menge. When he was three years old, the stock market crash of 1929 occurred. The family made it through, although life during the Depression was hard. Only those who lived through it can truly understand.

Dad graduated high school in 1944, and immediately left for seventeen weeks of basic training in the Army. He was eventually assigned to the Phillipines, and served honorably until 1948.

Around 1950 or so, he married his first wife, Velma. Three children were born: Linda, Don, and Tari. He went to work for Burlington Route railroad. Dad and Velma later divorced.

In 1962, Dad married Ruth Tripp Glines in Warsaw, IL. Three children were born: twins, Jerry Lee & Julie Ann (died same day of birth 6-2-63), and Robert (me).

1968: Dad transferred to Beardstown IL, nearer his home town of Arenzville.

1972: My folks filed for divorce; finalized in July of 73.

When I was little, my dad and I spent time together as he was able. As a railroad engineer, his typical schedule was something along the line of four day trips, with maybe two days in a row at depended on how the trains were running. After he left our house, I didn't see him a lot, even though we were still in the same small town.

1975: Mom and I move back to Warsaw. Later that year, Dad marries Dorothy, my stepmother. Time with Dad is less and less.

1980: Dad is in a train accident. Some jackass decided it would be fun to put an obstruction on the train tracks. The engine hits it, and Dad is thrown nearly out of the train. A few feet more and he would have been dropped down a steep ravine. My mother contracts hepatitis, and becomes diabetic.

1981: Mom passes away. As a minor child (16), I was forced to go live with dad and stepmom. Dad's health was very precarious still. He had suffered major damage to his back as a result of the accident. That, and the gap of eight years of my life when he was not a major part of my life, results in not really being able to have the type of father/son relationship I wanted, and needed.

I am sad to admit that I didn't know my father well. I accept responsibility for my part in that. I'm not unique. Many, many boys have grown up without a real father figure. I am one of millions. Things happen. I understand that. I only wish I had taken advantage of the time after I left his home, following HS graduation and into my 20's and 30's. I did not, and that is my fault.

Having said that, he was a fine man. He was like most men of his era; he could fix anything. He knew how to do so much. He tinkered with cars. He collected antique cars. He had many friends and acquaintences. He loved his family: kids, stepkids, grandkids, everyone.

Yet I somehow always felt like an outsider. No one but me can make me feel that way, I know that. It's just that after Dad left us for Dorothy and her family, it seemed to me that he bonded with them in a way that I never felt happened with me. As a result, when I would be at his house, and among the step brothers and sisters, it always seemed to me that the attitude there was that THEY were his real kids, not me. At ten, eleven, even twelve years of age, I kept wondering why my dad left me for five other kids. Irrational, perhaps, but that's how I felt. Of course I could never have expressed Dad or anyone else.

I could go on, but I have thoughts that I believe should remain private.

In 1998, I took Ingrid home to meet the folks. Dad treated her with respect, although he would have preferred I bring home a white girl. I later received a letter, written by stepmom, indicating their disapproval with my decision to marry Ingrid. Dad signed the letter, but I could tell by the handwriting that SHE wrote the entire letter. Thus began a four year period with no contact with them. I pleaded with them to reconsider. On my wedding day, I asked the ushers (my uncles Bud and Denzel) to look for them, and if they arrived, seat them in their place of honor that I had for them.

They didn't come.

Ingrid told me frequently to call him. I wouldn't do it, partly because I knew that she always answered the phone, but partly because I was so hurt and angry. In 2002, we received an invitation to my niece Kara's wedding. Kara is Don's daughter. Of course we accepted. It would be the first time in four years to see Dad. We came in after Dad and Dorothy had been seated. We sat near the back of the church. I could see him. It turns out Dad had left the hospital that morning to attend the wedding.

After we filed out, I went to where they were seated. I went up to Dad. We exchanged greetings. Then I broke down. I hugged him, and told him how sorry I was. He and I were reconciled at that point.

As I figured out at the reception, it was STEPMOTHER who had the problem with Ingrid and me. She snubbed Ingrid the whole time we were there. Dad came over to the table where we were seated, and sat down and talked with us. Not Dorothy. She did not even acknowledge Ingrid's presence. Everyone else, and I mean EVERYONE ELSE, was kind and respectful.

I did not know until that day that Dad lost half his right leg in 1999. Plus he had bone cancer. A few weeks later, stepmom calls. Dad is in hospice care at his home; can I come? I did go for a weekend, but had to return to work on Monday. 9:30am Monday, another call from Dorothy. Come back after work; it won't be long. Ingrid and I both went this time. Dad died around 9:15 the next night. We, along with Dad's kids, and Dorothy's three daughters, were at his side when he drew his last breath. During this time, stepmom was respectful.

I have not spoken with Dorothy since October of 02. She talked of gathering us all together....but she never called to let me know. I was so hurt, that I made no effort to contact her. Understand this, she never had any use for me. I reminded her of the wife (my mom) she had pretended to like, in order to steal her husband. Dorothy was considered by my mom as her best friend for a time, until it became apparent that Dorothy was after my dad. I think every time she looked at me, she was reminded of Ruth, and she didn't like that. Every day that they were married (over 26 years), she ruled the roost. I could not truly access my own father, without going through her. He loved her. I don't fault him for that. I only wish he could have understood how I I felt like an outsider, when all I wanted was for him to be my dad, and I wanted to be his son.

I miss my dad.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Memory of Mother

Ruth Oraleen Tripp Glines Menge
July 28, 1935--July 27, 1981
My mother was born in the middle of the Great Depression. She was the seventh child (and fifth daughter) of Raymond and Lulu Tripp. She lost her mother at the age of eight. She was close to her five sisters: Dorothy, Norma, Esther, Inez, and Mildred.
She married Lester Glines. A daughter was stillborn.
In 1962 she married Charles Menge. On June 2, 1963, twins, Jerry Lee and Julie Ann, were born. They were premature, and they died within hours of birth. Her only surviving child, Robert (me) was born February 27, 1965. Her marriage to Charles ended in 1973.
In 1975 Ruth packed up her son and her belongings and returned to her hometown, Warsaw IL. It was not easy, and she struggled. She was a wonderful mother. No matter how bad things were, we had a home, and food. She took care of me. She did what she felt she needed to do in order for us to survive.
In 1980 she bought her first home. Mere weeks later, she fell ill with what was first diagnosed as hepatitis. After being sent to another hospital, she underwent surgery to remove her spleen, gall bladder, and pancreas. Before falling ill, she was 163 pounds. She was released from the hospital several weeks later at 107 pounds. As a result of the pancreas removal, she became diabetic. She learned to give herself insulin shots. She wanted me to learn....I hated needles, and at 15 I couldn't fathom giving my own mother shots. I wish I had learned.
More than once I thought she was dying right there at home. In one particular instance, was around 3:30am when I was awakened by Mom crying out in terrible pain. She slept on a hide a bed.....a couch with a bed hidden inside. I was sleeping in her bedroom.....I moved in there several months after moving to the new house. To be closer to her. My room was upstairs. You get the idea.
Anyway, when I went out to the couch, she asked me to hold her. I did. As time went by, she began speaking to me in terms of her not being around anymore. I don't remember her exact words, but I think she was trying to prepare me. I began crying and saying for her not to talk like that. I pleaded with her to let me call for help. She didn't want me to. I was up with her until morning. I finally called our friend Beverly Miller and told her what had happened. She told me she would be there in a few minutes......and she was. It was a school day for me....I was in 10th grade at Warsaw High School.....I had no intention of going that day. Beverly arrived, and she said she would care for Mom....that I should go ahead and go to school...things were better after Bev got there. I will always be grateful. Bev passed away last year. She was a good friend to Mom.....and to me.
When Mom was so ill that she would be hospitalized, my Aunt Norma assumed responsibility for my care. As Mom's illness progressed, Norma gradually began taking care of other things for us. Mom would do what she could, and Norma was always there to help, and to take the lead when Mom couldn't. Mom's other sisters were always willing to help whenever they could.
Mom was gradually getting worse, but I did not fully understand the extent of it.
Late July of 81......not sure exactly, maybe around mid-month or so.....Mom went into the hospital for the last time. I had become accustomed to her going in for a couple weeks, every few months. So this time was not much different to me.
Except it was different. Mom would not recover this time. A few days after being admitted, her blood sugar level (a struggle for all diabetics) went from acceptable 376......not acceptable. She fell into a diabetic coma.
The last time I saw my mother alive, I still held out hope for her recovery. It was July 27, around 3:30 or so in the afternoon. She was blind at this point. She could not see any of us. She could not speak. But she could hear us. As I spoke to her, she would squeeze my hand in response. I told her I loved her, and would be back the next day, her birthday.
Later that evening the phone rang at Norma's, where I was staying. It was the hospital. Norma needed to go back. She asked me if I wanted to go.
I said no.
It is the one regret I have.
At 9:45pm, Mom passed away.
At 12:45am, Norma came into the room where I was sleeping and told me that Mom had gone to be with Jesus.
After the initial shock, I tried to go back to sleep. I didn't sleep much.
The next few days were tough. I was 16.....and even with my aunts and family around.....I felt like I was alone. Mom was everything to me. Now she was gone. What happens to me?
In her will, Mom named Norma as my legal guardian. However, because my father was still living (although he nearly died in a train accident months before, but that's another story) he was regarded as my natural guardian, so I was to go live with him. I didn't want to go back to Arenzville, for many reasons.....not because I had a problem with Dad.....but I didn't want to be taken away from my home.
Warsaw was my home.
But I had no choice.
I went.
I miss her yet today. Twenty-eight years later. I wonder how things would be if she were here. I wonder, but I don't dwell.
Mom was a great woman, and a terrific mother.
I love you Mom.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Class reunion

This is a picture taken of several of the members of Warsaw (IL) High School Class of 1983. There are several who joined us at various times, who did not get their pictures taken.

Ingrid and I just returned from a reunion weekend. I had not seen these people since 1981. Due to my mother's death, I left Warsaw after sophomore year, and graduated from another school in 1983.

When we arrived in the area, the first person I made contact with was Melissa Keltner Mathis. Melissa and I missed being classmates by a year. She attended WHS for senior year only. I phoned her to let her know we were nearby, and about fifteen minutes later we met face to face, for the first time.

After getting settled in, more people began to arrive. Melinda Clothier Bosworth arrived from St. Louis with her daughter, Julie. As others flowed in, it became a festive party atmosphere. The afternoon was spent talking, laughing, and reminiscing. Several bottles of fine Missouri wine were opened, and consumed. Stories were told, good times, remembered, and wine and munchies polished off.

Around eight PM, a group of us totaling nine went to the Brewery restaurant. For many years Warsaw was the home of Burgemeister beer, and the brewery was located just north of town on the banks of the Mississippi River. The brewery closed in the late 60's and the building sat empty for years. Just a few years ago, it was remodeled into a restaurant. It is a great atmosphere, and really good food. There was a brand new local band playing called Hangover. They are mostly comprised of 17 and 18 year old guys. They played classic rock and newer hits too.

After dinner, we returned to the cabin with more stories, talking and laughing. I was up with the group until 3:15 AM, when the last ones not staying at the cabin left. I haven't had so much fun in a very long time.

A plan is in the works for another gathering in November, right before Thanksgiving and the same weekend as opening of deer season.

I think I will have more to say about this weekend in the coming days.

Until then, keep your stick on the ice.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


We're getting ready to take a trip. We are headed to Warsaw IL, my hometown, for an informal reunion of the Warsaw High School Class of 1983. I did not graduate with them, due to moving away after sophomore year. A few have maintained contact over the years, with even a few more thanks to Facebook. We will be leaving within an hour...and returning late tomorrow (Sunday) evening. I will have more to say when I return.

Not counting this past January when I was injured and unable to work, this is the first (!) full weekend, Sat./Sun., that I have had off since I began working at Walmart. I am not complaining, mind you. I accept working on Saturdays in order to have Sundays off. When I began part time, I made clear that I wanted Sundays off, for worship. They have complied......except for six weeks last Aug/Sept when my boss would schedule me to come in at 1 pm. It did allow me to attend morning service. But, I digress.

I have not seen these people since 1981. I don't use this term as a rule............but I am excited to see them again. As I said, I will have more comments (and maybe pictures) when we get back.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

" a part of life"

The title is a quote from Forrest Gump. Sally Field, as his mom, says those words to him as she lays dying. It has always been true....I just hadn't heard it put that way until that movie.

I first began to learn about death at age seven, when my father's parents died within 3 months of each other. It continued through childhood, with the death of a classmate at age 13, and a classmate's mother the same year, along with a seven month old cousin.

At sixteen, I lost the person closest to me, my mother. It altered the course of my life. Everyone has stories like this; they are unique to the individual.

In the last two weeks, several celebrity deaths have made headlines. Some of those I have mentioned here. The latest: British acress Mollie Sugden, best known in America for her role as Mrs. Slocombe in "Are You Being Served?" and "Are You Being Served? Again!" She is the third cast member in the last two years to pass away.

Each person who passes away leaves grieving family and friends. In that regard, ordinary people and famous people are the same. We should appreciate and live the lives we have....with gratefulness, humility, and service to others.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.