My Dad, Epic Larry!

Written February 2021: Dad 82

On Tuesday, I visited my Dad in the nursing home where he lives.  He’s been in a lock down quarantine for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  My sister was contacted by the local news to participate in a human-interest story about re-uniting loved ones after long lapses apart.  They hooked us up to microphones and sat me in a large room that once held rows of chairs in a makeshift chapel.  There was a huge beautiful stained-glass window leaning against the wall window with incredible sunshine lighting up the vibrant colors as it streamed through.  When they wheeled him into the room, I could see he was dressed in a snappy outfit of khakis and a red, white, and blue, long sleeved plaid short with denim cuffs.  He has been wheelchair bound for a couple of years now and looked very tiny and frail; at his heaviest point, my Dad was around 300 pounds.  When he was still driving, he enjoyed eating out just about every day for the last 30+ years; he loved donuts, burgers, and diner food.  As his wheelchair approached me, I could see a vacant look in his eyes.  I knew right away that he did not recognize me.  The mask, the social distance and his marked cognitive decline were all contributing to this moment.  The news team was hoping for some emotion reunion, but instead it was just a sad and awkward one.

Larry Thielen, the person with one of the BIGGEST personalities in the room, in the building, in the city, sat quietly confused as his cupped right hand shook uncontrollably on his lap.  AGING. Such a hard part of life, and yet, it is a core process of the event we call living.  To be born means you will age every single day until the day you die.  You are born with about 2.5 billion heart beats until your souls’ energy is transferred to another realm, another recipient.  I can’t really put into words the grief I feel.  I grieved having a father long ago when his disability transformed him.  Now, I am grieving the realization that the force that is ‘Epic Larry’ has been hushed.  I will do my best to carry on his legacy of infallible optimism even if I must hit reset every hour of every day until it permanently cements in my heart.  Today, right now, reset! I realize that my sadness is quickly overshadowed and smothered by warm gratitude as I finally and fully understand how lucky I was to be raised by Larry Thielen #1.

Written February 2011: Dad 72

Dad, learning today that President Bill Clinton had heart surgery brought back memories of when you had the same heart surgery at the very same age. It made me think of how much I love you and how important you are to me and to everyone else your life touches. Your story is as unconventional as they get. A rag to riches life that came to mean more than monetary success. I know you talk a lot about your sister that passed away at 29 and how much you miss the ones who are gone. I guess it isn’t easy being the baby of 16 children. Still, your parents saved the best for last when they brought you into this world ~ your good heart, outrageous generosity; light-hearted personality and positive attitude have made you friendships that most people only read about in novels. Dad, you have taught me so much through your words and actions and devil may care adventures! I learned early to just let it roll off and that if there’s a fork in the road, take it! I know your life wasn’t easy growing up in abject poverty; the house on the dump; your parents were older and worn out by the time you came along. You told me that you couldn’t even lift your head as a baby and that you were sickly. You were raised by your brothers and sisters (and the pool hall) they nick named you Pee Wee and no one helped steer or harness your creativity or drive. You did it for yourself through sheer will and determination.  You managed to make it through school, and it seems that your life has been mostly touched with Irish luck ever since. You often talk about how many jobs you had when you were a kid and how you bought your first car for $69.00 when you were just sixteen years old. Your work ethic and creative entrepreneurial drive are the reason we had such a great childhood. When I saw you put on your suit every day, it made both of us feel important and when you brought me on the tour of the printing press that was printing thousands of Cheerios boxes, I was amazed.  You carefully explained the whole printing process to a kid. The countless trips to the surplus store, ice fishing, and the times spent at Bunker Hills Park on the retired military tanks are just a few of the great memories I have of being your daughter. I also remember you telling me that when you were a kid you ate cabbage broth soup during the weekdays and a then a chicken dinner on Sundays and you delighted that we squealed in disgust when you went into detail about how your mother butchered the chickens. I also remember you showing us how you ate pancakes without maple syrup; you just poured milk and sugar on them till they were a soppy mess. We learned to love them that way too! Dad there were many years in my 20’s where you worried me sick, when I tried to locate you and couldn’t find you. We were all worried, stressed and sometimes angry when you reappeared. Still somehow, I knew that your “born on the sunny side of the fence” luck would just follow you were ever you roamed. The Dad you are today is not the Dad I remember, but an even better version. Sometimes you remind me of Forrest Gump when you scream, “It’s a nice day!” on your answering machine messages.  Your disability has caused you to become more tolerant, more helpful, more understanding, more loving and more supportive to everyone in your life. With only one exception, a lifelong dispute over political views with your best friend of 70+ years.  Your charitable attitude makes me want to shout it from the rooftops, “That’s my Dad!” What I am saying is, I love you and I am so proud of you; please keep doing what you’re doing because you are making a huge impact in your own little community. Dad this world is made up of millions of little communities and I often think of how great this world would be if there were more people pushing positivity and living their lives without ever having a motive for personal gain. You always end our conversations with, “I love life Lisa, and so do you!” The world is most definitely a better place because you are in it! ~ I Love You Dad and so do you! ~ Lisa

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