Thursday, January 08, 2009

First chance to reflect...

In the hubbub of family and friends during the funeral, I had little time to be still and consider all that has happened since last Friday at noon. I dreamed of Grandpa last night, but the dream that woke me up in tears was of my childhood dog. I am certain I must have been talking in my sleep, because in the dream I was in the house I lived in as a teenager calling out "Bo! Come here boy! Come get some cheese!". Around the corner he came, an Irish Setter/Retriever mix that never stopped wagging his tail or smiling his dog smile. Don't get me wrong, I love Marley. There is nothing that will ever compare, though, to the experience of having Bo as my best friend from the time I was in 1st grade until he left us when I was a senior in high school. He went every where with me, sometimes when I didn't want him to. I will never forget the time Mr. Glynn, my high school principle, came to get me from class. "Mark" he said, "I need you to take your dog home. He is outside the front doors barking for you." Or the time I left him waiting outside Swope's while I went in for an ice cream. When a customer opened the door to leave, he came running in to the restaurant. Or the time I took him on a backyard camp-out at Jimmy West's house in junior high. When we awoke the next morning, Bo had chewed through the wall of Jimmy's parents' tent and was curled up next to me.

You are probably asking "What does your dog have to do with your Grandpa?". Well, my theory is I dreamed of my dog because all of those things happened in Rich Hill, MO. It was in Rich Hill that I lived with my parents from the summer of 1984 until I graduated high school in 1990.

Funny coincidence that I moved out of "The City" [Kansas City] into a small town at the same time that Ren McCormack was moving from Chicago to a small town in Footloose. But move we did, from racially diverse South KC to white Rich Hill. Funny story about the move before I move on. My mom moved away while I was at summer camp!! It's true, I was at Boy Scout Summer Camp in the summer of 1984. When I got home it was to a different home! How about those apples?!

Sorry for the digression. Rich Hill is also where my Grandparents were married in 1947 and where they lived after Grandpa retired in 1980. It is now where Grandpa is buried. So I found myself in Rich Hill for a couple of days. Perhaps for the last time. Grandma will likely move back into Kansas City with one of my aunts. I am not saying that I won't ever pass through Rich Hill again, but I won't be going there to stay with family at least. My parents, who moved back to that area last winter to assist Grandma & Grandpa, will probably move back down here. Dad can't take the Missouri winters anymore.

So I find myself pondering this thought. I am far from old at 37 (on the 24th of this month), but I have moved from the stage of "firsts" to the stage of "lasts". On Monday, I saw my Grandpa for the last time. I walked around the house in Rich Hill, taking mental pictures because in all actuality it was probably the last time I will ever be inside it. Because Grandpa died suddenly, his things were still about the house. There was his cologne on a shelf in the bathroom, his toothbrush, a pile of loose change on the dresser that could have been his. Handprints on the storm door that would no doubt have driven him nuts. As I walked down the hallway I touched the wall, an act that would have caused him to say "Mark I don't want your handprints on my wall!"

After the funeral, we went to a reception at the Methodist church only a few hundred yards from the house where I lived in high school. Right across from the West Park, where I had my first grown-up kiss, among other "firsts". The church bell at the Methodist church was a common target during Halloween, where it was tradition to ring the bell then hide in the park until the police came and went. As we left the reception, Rodney (Cousin Jenni's husband) reached up and rang it. Jenni yelled out "That's for you Grandpa!" That will no doubt be the last time I hear that bell ring.

In a small community, everything is so connected. It can boggle the mind sometimes. On the way back from the cemetery I drove past Brady Wheatley's family farm, where I used to work the hay fields. The first time I drove a tractor. The City Marshall for much of the time I was in high school was "Boots" Steuck. There he was, a pall bearer for Grandpa. I went to Swope's alone for an ice cream cone on Monday afternoon, possibly for the last time. It was there that I first experienced mozzarella sticks and strawberry Sprite. Swope's has always been an icon in the community. The entire family came to the visitation services. I was close friends with the daughter, Donya, who is a year younger than me. When I walked in for what could be the last time, her 15 year old ( I think) daughter was behind the counter. She has dark hair, but otherwise it could have been Donya standing there 20 years ago. Donya's younger brother Landon ended up being very close to Grandpa, and was also a pall bearer. Don Swope, patriarch of the family, was the speaker during the military rites at the graveside service.

In a small community, the connections run deep. Jerry Mumma, who I am pretty certain I hadn't seen since I graduated from high school 18 years ago, came to the visitation with his wife Chantelle. Chantelle graduated the year behind me. After the visitation, standing out in the cold chatting, they shared with me that Jerry's grandma had been in the hospital for some time battling illness. I heard the news the next day that she passed away later that night. She was also Joe Bridgewater's grandma. Joe is Donya's husband. I feel bad that I wasn't able to support them at the funeral, which was Wednesday afternoon after I left to come home.

Connections run deep. I found myself at visitation chatting with Clifford & Wanda Smith. Their oldest son Aaron played football with me (and Jerry), on the Rich Hill team that was the first ever to make the Missouri state playoffs. Their younger brother Brian and I vied for the affections of Michelle Rapp, who would become my high-school sweetheart. In another connection, she ended up married to "Boots" Steuck's grandson. They asked me when was the last time I visited Rich Hill. I told them it was in 2005, for Brian Bartlett's funeral. Clifford pointed behind me and said "There's Brian's parents now". Sure enough Jim & Carol were walking in behind me. I chatted with them for a bit. The next day Jim was part of the color guard at the graveside service and Carol was one of the church ladies that cooked us a delicious dinner at the Methodist church.

Thanks so much to everyone in the community who made the events of the day more tolerable.

I could go on for a while, but this is already so long as to dissuade readers from finishing it. I began by pondering the firsts and lasts. First time I shot a gun, Grandpa was there. First time I raced a Pinewood Derby car, Grandpa was there. First time I caught a fish, Grandpa was there. First time I went to Scout camp, Grandpa was there. When my parents didn't make it to Senior Night, Grandpa was there (along with Grandma) to escort me onto the field. He was not an overly loving person, very much the stoic WW2 generation man. But he did the best he could for a man who had the unfortunate predicament of "living with 6 women and a female dog".

Thanks for reading.

Charles H. Skoff

Charles Skoff, age 82, of Rich Hill, Mo., formerly of Kansas City, Mo., passed away January 2, 2009, at his home. He was a retired General Motors employee. He was very active in Boy Scouts and a member of the Tribe of Mic-O-Say. Funeral services will be held Monday, January 5, at 11 a.m. at the Heuser Funeral Home, Rich Hill, with burial and military rites in the Greenlawn Cemetery. The family will receive friends 3-5 p.m. Sunday at the funeral home. The family suggests memorial contributions to the Kern Senior Center in c/o Heuser Funeral Home, Box 42, Rich Hill, Mo. Charlie is survived by his loving wife, Ruth; four daughters, Diana Smith and husband Bob, Cathy Evert, Debra Ratty and husband Bill, Susan Jones and husband Paul; grandchildren Amy Brady and husband Bob and great grandchildren Blake and Hannah Brady, Mark Woods and wife Sara, Jeff Smith and wife Allison, Jennifer Day and husband Rodney and great grandchildren Trent, Tyler and Will Day, and one stepsister, Dorothy Mount. Charlie was preceded in death by one daughter, Lori Tourtillott in September of 1998.

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