Dad & Skip…

Boy, it’s been some week. As my Dad used to say, “I want to share this with you.” I was knee deep trying to get my last blog posted. Remember, it was the one about all the letters I wrote my Mom and Dad? Spanning the years from 1974-1976. After we had moved to eastern Iowa, about 325 miles away. I had letters everywhere. Reading each one, copying down paragraphs from certain ones that I wanted to use. I probably had written down 35 snippets.

 

The letters from me to my Mom and Dad, 1974-1976..

Hubs was not here. He had to go to Jackson, so I was home alone. I had my usual August fare for lunch. A BLT. I really love fresh tomatoes. If there’s left over tomato slices, I eat them on a slice of bread, sprinkled with sugar. I call it dessert. But August tomatoes are way different than tomatoes in any other month. They’re juicy. And I’m a lazy slug. With my letters laying helter-skelter all over the family room floor, rather than sit at the table like a normal civilized woman, I chose to have my über juicy BLT sitting in my nest.

 

I know better than to eat here. What can I say? I’m lazy…

 

I didn’t want to mess up my clean jammies that I was guiltily wearing at 2 p.m. Besides my arms were cold, so I buttoned up my ever present flannel shirt and sloppily snacked on the best lunch ever. It dripped and dribbled everywhere. I thought I was careful, but still managed a big mess. Toast crumbs down my flannel. Tomato seeds and juice glopped from chin to knees. Heaven. Washed it all down with a screw lid bottle of Diet Pepsi. ‘Cuse me while I burp for awhile.

 

So good, but not attractive all over my clothes…

 

Friends who read my blog, or total strangers even, know I’m somewhat of a loner. Happy with my own company, I don’t socialize a whole lot. You know I adore my family, and 99% of anyone over the age of 75. But short of calling myself a recluse, which I don’t think I fit into that particular category, I am not comfortable in the limelight. Ever. This may seem odd, as I seem to have no problems baring my soul when I write. That’s different. You can’t see me. Part of this stems from my newly acquired (ok, it’s been a decade. Still taking some getting used to though) profound hearing loss. Don’t do well in crowds or restaurants. Can’t join in noisy conversations. I end up looking dumb and clueless. Might “get” the joke someone said a lot later than the rest of the group. Shit, they were done laughing 2 minutes ago. And that’s if I’m lucky. Usually don’t hear or properly understand it in the first place. Kind of bugs me. I actually used to have a quick wit. Believe me, nothing’s quick when you’re deaf. The point I’m valiantly trying to make. Although my hearing loss has compounded my loner aloofness, most of my adult life I’ve been like this. Just a more dramatic form of Neese.

I bowled on one or 2 leagues for about 20 years. Loved the camaraderie, and I was pretty good. In that span, I would venture to guess I had a minimum of 20 bowling shirts, and at least 8 different bowling balls. I don’t believe I ever put the name Denise on a shirt or ball. Always dvb. I really didn’t want people who didn’t know me to know my name. Or anything about me. Is that weird?

 


My cool dvb mini iPad case…

 

Forty years ago, Dad asked me to start going to the South Dakota prisons with him when he spoke. I firmly said no thanks. Wasn’t my cup of tea at all. He asked me numerous times after he moved to Michigan in 2005. That environment is SO not me. Never felt compelled to mingle with prisoners in general. (Dad, I’ve always loved old people). And speaking in front of a group was (is) torture. Absolute torture. It’s not that I don’t have things to say. Man, I can write a good script on a topic. But if the group was larger than 6, and not in a loosey-goosey informal couch setting, I was (am) totally incapable.

 

Back to my strange week. I’m alone in the house. Family room sliders and front door is open, with a cool cross breeze on a beautiful day. I’m a mess. Busy writing, checking my old letters for dates and content. Half my head is thinking of what pictures I’m going to use. Just as hard and time consuming as writing the blog. Love doing the pictures but it takes me forever. So I should have brushed my teeth after eating. Should have showered hours before. And now all the tomato seeds are dried on the front of my flannel shirt. Are you getting the whole picture here? I closely resembled Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice. We could have been twins. Ok, I never actually saw him with juicy tomato seeds stuck to the front of his movie costume.

 

Our likeness was uncanny one day last week…

 

The doorbell rings. (Please just kill me now). Hard NOT to answer the door since it’s wide open. Please, please let it be a kid collecting pop cans for North Muskegon School project. No, that would have been too simple and uncomplicated. It’s an adult. Of the male variety. Can I just slither in between one of the cracks of my wood floor?

“Hi, are you Denise?” (This was my out, and I blew it. Not a very good liar) Didn’t open the door, or get too close. No, I wasn’t afraid. But besides the glaring tomato seeds and drips all over my flannel shirt, covering my pajama top, I probably got seeds between my teeth to boot. A sigh here is not sufficient. A miserable, lamenting groan might however suffice. I hope you can feel my pain. It’s about to get much worse. I inwardly cringe, “Yes, I’m Denise.”

“Do you recognize this?” He thrusts a shadowy piece of paper (copy) in my direction. “Um, yes, I believe it was in my Dad’s apartment,” I cautiously answered. “Well Denise” (did he not get the memo about NO ONE KNOWING OR USING MY NAME?) he continued, “here’s the deal. A young woman from Spring Lake bought this painting at the Goodwill store in North Muskegon a few days ago. She was only interested in the frame. When she got to her car, she started taking the back off. That’s when she discovered a letter. Written to your dad, Rich Gerritson in 1984. The letter was written by a guy named Skip who painted the picture for your dad. The letter says that Skip was an inmate in a South Dakota prison. Is that possible?”

 

Skip’s 1984 painting for Dad. Minus the gorgeous frame…

 

“Sure sounds like my Dad.” (sorry, but I was dreading every sentence I was now verifying. This wasn’t going to end well for the loner). “He was actively involved with a prison ministry for decades. Preached at Sioux Falls, Springfield, held weekly Bible studies. He was instrumental in a group of volunteers who mentored inmates in a one-to-one basis called the M-2 Program” Gulp.

 

Dad trying to win inmate souls for Christ. In the late 1980’s…

 

Dude continues, “Michelle (the young woman from Spring Lake) put this on the station’s social media page. (Don’t bother with the gun, I’ll find one myself). “That’s when I got involved. We did a story on Michelle finding the letter. Would you believe, it’s gotten over 100,000 hits?” (Yet not one hitman for me) “A detective from Texas did some research and found obituaries on Skip in 1999, and your father in 2008. In your dad’s obituary, you are listed as his daughter. We didn’t have a phone number, but addresses are public knowledge.” (Lucky me) “So I drove over here today. Michelle would like to return the letter and painting to you. Is that ok?” “Sure,” I squeaked, “have her give me a call, and we’ll get together,” (I pleaded desperately with my eyes. For a news guy, he was kind of dense. Or in his defense, he might have been checking out my lunch leftovers. Can it get any worse? Yessiree)

You know it couldn’t possibly have ended that painlessly for me don’t you? Their original plan had been for them to give the follow up story line from Skip’s viewpoint. That was a dead end. (Sorry Skip). Since Rich’s daughter (of quivering voice and knocking knees) was alive and well (the well part still to be determined), this dude preferred to have the “rest of the story” documented on film. Have I mentioned that I do not like to have my name or any part of me out there anywhere? Honestly, I couldn’t have been more uncomfortable. Standing there, agreeing to have him and Michelle come to my house. With a camera. I do believe at this point I did try and slink under the front porch. Tomato seeds and all.

 

What Michelle found under the frame backing…

 

Dude emailed, messaged, friended and phoned me during the next several uncomfortable hours. He had a somewhat bubbly disposition. Guess that’s a job requirement. The Big Story was going down the following morning at 10. I giddily hoped and fervently prayed, they’ll be here 5, ten minutes tops. Try an excruciating hour. I’m not wishing for a natural disaster, but can’t help but wonder how slow this news week must have been. (What are my chances)? All that and he got 90 seconds air time. Painful as they were, it could have been worse.

Dude did not show. (Thank you Jesus). But his replacement did. (Alas it was Dude’s regularly scheduled day off, which he failed to mention to this basket case). Dude #2 entered enthusiastically, bouncing up and down like Tigger on speed. Second dude was incredibly nice, trying hard to put me at ease. Asked me about Dad’s story. How and why he was compelled to work with inmates. Dad, giving his life to Christ after losing his only son Larry in 1958 at age 12 in a bike accident. My part in getting Dad re-connected after he moved here, 800 miles from his little Iowa home town. Before Dad moved, I had contacted the Chaplain at West Shoreline Correctional Facility. Asking if they had a spot for Dad’s gifts, though he was already 88 years old. Stopping in at Muskegon’s Rescue Mission and landing Dad a once a month gig with the less fortunate men staying at the shelter. Getting some heartfelt help at a local assisted living facility. Giving Dad a weekly Bible study spot. They adored having him come every week, and he loved going there.

 

Dad holding weekly Bible study in 2006. He’s sitting in the upper right…

 

Just getting semi-comfortable when dude # 2 hands me a MICROPHONE. I swear I’m going to collapse in a big heap. He notices then that Michelle has parked her car. Shoots out the door like a rocket, slaps a mic on her too. Comes back in the house. INSTRUCTS ME TO CASUALLY WALK OUT TO MEET AND GREET HER.

 

This is what I felt like. Calgon, take me away…

 

(If you’ve ever watched Sanford and Son, I’m here to tell you, my eyes went heavenward, and as Fred, I silently shouted, “Elizabeth, I’m coming!”). So we sit by the kitchen table (ha, take that TV camera. You can’t see my knees shaking. But my voice was hopelessly quivery when I was asked to read some of the sentiments from the inmates. They sent me, a virtual stranger, countless sympathy cards after Dad passed away. Telling me how much Dad, after 3 short years had meant to each of them) Hard. Though I try to minimize my self worth during my unbearable discomfort, Dad’s meaningful life was no joke.

 

My favorite pic of Dad. Newspaper interview about his sign ministry. He was kinda vain. I love that he’s still wearing his work clothes. 1978…

 

Imagine. Seven years after his death, Dad’s message is still getting through to others. He would be profoundly proud (and maybe a little envious). Wishing he were around to be interviewed and filmed. Instead of his hopeless, helpless, clueless daughter who couldn’t do him justice. But I tried. And didn’t collapse in a heap…

 

Skip’s letter to Dad in 1984…

 

Rich,

Knowing you the last several years has been a real pleasure, and one that I will keep stored in my minds memory for years to come. I had hoped to be here on Wednesday last, when you finished your Bible Study, and we could have visited one last time, but it didn’t work out that way. And since I’m going to Springfield on Tuesday morning, I won’t be seeing you this Wednesday either.

Over the last several years, I’ve enjoyed our various talks, and most especially though, had the opportunity to really get to know you, and know that you truly have the love of Jesus in your heart. Your impression left with me has been good, and I hope that I can continue to grow, and use some of the examples of your life, in my own.

This needn’t be good by. Maybe one of these days you’ll come to Springfield to visit Wayne (at Yankton), and we can see each other again. Otherwise, perhaps our paths will cross sometime in the future, when everything is different. Perhaps too, I’ll be lucky enough to go to the same place God has reserved for you, and we can meet again.

Thanks for everything Rich, and I really mean it.

From a friend,

Skip Teegardin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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