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Being a Kid Again

First, let me begin with my condolences on the passing of your mom. What a grand, strong, vital person she was. I was 6 when your parents moved to Kimberly to the house on Washington Street. We lived around the corner from them, on the corner of Maes Avenue and Adams Place. I remember so many times of cutting through the backyards to get to your parents’ house – through our yard, then two other yards, which got me into the northeast corner of your parents’ yard. Your parents were so good to me, and I can remember so many hours that I whiled away at your kitchen table, talking to your dad about world events, politics, Wisconsin (and Marquette, of course) sports, the Packers and a ton of other subjects.  Nothing was off-limits. I learned about the beauty of discussion, and that it’s ok to be passionate about something, but having a disagreement was not a license to be disagreeable.

I remember a silver dollar that sat on the kitchen table for a long time. From time to time I would pick up and look at it. Your dad told me that the coin was carried in your Grandpa’s pocket for a very long time. The coin was minted in 1921.

When your dad mentioned one time that it was from the year of your mom’s birth, she chastised him for telling me that, apparently she wasn’t happy with him broadcasting her age. Your parents were so good to me and I learned so much about life and learning and the value of education and honest, sincere debate. I can still hear your dad laughing at so many things, and how he’d say “People just don’t know what it is to be indolent, they always feel like they have to be doing something.” I thought how interesting that was. Of all the memories that I have of being around your parents, I don’t think any of them include your mother sitting down. I can also picture your mom walking the streets of Kimberly, with her head held high and those long powerful strides that she would take.

In the third quarter, with the Packers down 42-24, your dad had had enough, and we got up and left.

Your dad took me to my very first Green Bay Packers game on Sept. 19, 1971, against the New York Giants. It was Coach Dan Devine’s first game as head coach. Devine suffered a broken leg during the game. The Packers lost, 42-40, but it was a rainy day and the Packers trailed almost the whole game. In the third quarter, with the Packers down 42-24, your dad had had enough, and we got up and left. By the time we got out to his car and made it home to Kimberly, the game just about ended, and we had missed the Packers’ frantic comeback, which we had listened to on the car radio during the drive home. When we walked into the house, your mom wheeled around at us, surprised to see us back already. Her eyes narrowed, and she said, in her very direct way, “Bill you big dummy, you missed the best part of the game.” And your dad answered, “Yes we did, but they lost anyway.” And your parents went back and forth about the virtues of leaving before the game was over, and your dad was still satisfied that we had beat the traffic and gotten out of the rain.

I remember running into your mom periodically at the hospital, as she seemed to be there all the time. My parents, Alan and Joyce Dietzler are 91 years old and have many memories of your parents, from the days of living in that neighborhood in Kimberly, to encountering your parents at Holy Name Church and church functions, to encounters with them during their retirement in both Gulf Shores, Alabama and their time in Destin, FL. I remember your dad coming into church on St. Patrick’s Day with his hair dyed green. I remember the days he’d walk the neighborhood with the white dog that he had, named Zachary. Zachary was like a poodle/beagle mix, possibly, and a fairly unusual looking dog, but he was good-natured and my first real exposure to any dog.

Your dad gave me my first golf club, and he and I would go to Triangle Park and hit golf balls around. He didn’t care about the quality of his golf game, it was just something to do while walking around outside. Back in the house, your parents would always actively discuss the news, and there always seemed to be the latest edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel around. I think your mom liked doing the crossword puzzle, but I never her saw her sitting down to work at it. Your parents took me to Door County in the winter, just to see the beauty of Lake Michigan at that time of year. I remember our family went to visit your parents on Kelly Lake, too.

I’m so grateful for the way that life brought your parents to Kimberly and allowed me to meet some of the most extraordinary and impactful people of my young life.

They both lived long, full lives and made such an impact on their church and community and well beyond. The pictures of your mom in the obituary are wonderful, and though there is sadness at her passing, there are many memories of all that she was and the difference that she made in so many lives. I count it as a huge blessing that your parents were so generous with their time, and that they didn’t mind letting this nosy little kid from down the street into their kitchen and into their lives and hearts. All the best to you and the entire family, on this time of loss. Thank you for sharing both of your parents with the world. I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to appreciate how much their lives impacted mine. God bless, always, to you and the entire clan.

Tom Dietzler
Tom Dietzler
Lifelong, proud somewhat strident Wisconsinite, I love my state and love to sing its praises. A bon vivant and raconteur, lover of history, literature and good conversations. Laughter and music are salves that I frequently am applying to my soul. I have spent time (too much) in manufacturing and printing and have found great joy in my current position as director of operations at a large church in the same area where I grew up. Husband to Rhonda and father of two adult children Melanie and Zack, I’m the constant companion of my five-year-old Lab, Oliver, who is my muse to a lot of my stories. I’m a fan of deep conversation and my interests are in learning and gaining wisdom, so in the last few years I have become and less politically vocal, and hopefully more respectful and open-minded. Rhonda and I sold our home in 2018, bought a condo and have traveled a bit more, golfed a bit more and are enjoying life a bit more. If you take the time to get to know me, prepare yourself for an invite to the 30th state to join the union, a gem located in the upper Midwest, full of beautiful scenery formed by the glaciers, with lots of lakes and trees and gorgeous scenery, and the nicest people that you’d ever want to meet.

20 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not sure what to call it – a beautiful tribute or a heartwarming tale of legacy. Maybe both. Thank you for sharing your letter of sympathy and honor. I’m sure your friend was touched by your generous compliments and gracious remembrances of his parents. You are the perfect friend. I live in Michigan, where our lakes and hills and trees riversides parallel those of Wisconsin. I lived in Wisconsin many years ago and know what you mean about it being a beautiful state.

    • Thank you Jane, I really appreciate your thoughts. I love Michigan as well. From 2005-2011 I went to Traverse City, MI every summer with our kids’ marching band, so I have a very warm place in my heart for Michigan, and we spent our honeymoon on Mackinac Island. We are blessed to live in this very special part of the world.

  2. Tom, thanks for your beautiful letter. Sharing the impact of a loved one sure touches my heart.

    You are a powerful writer!

    And teacher…

    because:

    Thank you for reminding me of the power of storytelling.

    Sharing in letter form is a powerful teaching tool.

    And learning environment for me, right here, right now.

    blessings,
    Cynthia

    • Thank you for your kind words. It was a great blessing to have those people come into my life at that age, and I am thankful for the guidance and education that I received from them. I appreciate that you took the time to read my tribute to these beautiful souls. Thank you.

  3. Tom, what a beautiful gesture. I had a similar experience with my high school chum’s parents. They were like second parents to me, I was over at their house so much. Both hard working, dedicated; him working two jobs; she raising 5 rambunctious kids. Thank you for sharing your reflection.

    • Jeff, the beautiful part was being able to be around them. We never know how someone’s life will affect our own, I’m just thankful that I was able to absorb all that they were sharing. I guess I “who lucked” in a big way. Thanks for your comment and perspective, as always.

  4. What vivid and beautiful memories you have of your childhood, of the people who enriched your life in countless ways, Tom. We don’t ever forget the ones who encourage us and listen to us, who teach us new ideas and join us in the simple, yet extraordinary experiences of being alive. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story from your childhood days. What a gift you give all of us by allowing people who have touched your life to be seen and deeply valued.

    • I was so blessed to be able to draw upon such a vast array of knowledge and wisdom. I deeply appreciate all that they were, and I can’t even remember what drew me to them originally or how I was introduced to them or any of that. I just know that they enriched my life in so many ways, and I’ll never forget them. Thank you so much for wonderful comments and insight.

  5. Dang it, Tom! Now I’m blubbering all over my keyboard. As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about legacy lately and of course your beautiful stories ignited the movie in my own mind about my dad (which, by the way, is the key to remarkable storytelling). It’s still a little jarring to read my name when you talk about your hometown, and yet wonderful too. I feel like we two souls have been friends for far longer than our Linkedin connection shows and walking alongside you in Kimberly, as you weave your coming-of-age stories, seems just as it should be. You have such a gift of seeing the beauty in others. For taking what some might find “ordinary” and elevating it to the height of what it means to be human. I am so grateful to read your work and to call you friend.

    • Dang it, Kimberly, it’s just how it came out. I told Laura Staley that I had no idea how I met them or how I came to be a fixture in their house, and I hope that I brought some level of joy and wisdom into their lives as well. I can remember my mom saying “Where were you all this time?” and I’d simply say “Doc and Mary Ann’s…” He was our family doctor, too. As I told Laura Mikolaitis, it may have been that I was the youngest of five siblings, and the older ones dismissed me a lot as not understanding things or not being old enough to join them in whatever they were doing… so I turned into a sponge around people who had way more to offer me than I could ever hope to get anywhere else. And that town, yes, Kimberly, that little Dutch ghetto on the Fox River, with its 5,000 or so residents, will always be my home town, and now, my home to made so much more special because I will always think of you when I think of it. I haven’t lived there for almost 40 years, but almost all the rest of my family is there, so I get there a lot, and it’s people like Doc and Mary Ann and my parents who gave so much of themselves that make a small town more than just a place where people are from. I couldn’t think of a better person to share the name of my home town with. I always appreciate your insight. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Mac, I am just so glad that I was open to receive what they were so freely giving. Small towns are like that, people doing things for each, neighbors embracing neighbors, and just being who we were, without a lot of pretensions. I’m thankful for upbringing, and the people that surrounded me. I do appreciate your insight, always.

  6. Tom, thank you for sharing this story. It is a beautiful recollection of a time that impacted you, as evidenced by the loving way you talk about your memories of this couple. Your storytelling brought me back to my youth, and the neighbors who were more like family. I have many fond memories of them, but most of all, the laughter that always generated and roared on our little dead-end street.

    • Sarah Elkins and I worked together a few years back, and as you know, she has made this part of her life’s work, and so I owe her so much for teaching me how to effectively mine some of the stories that have been a part of my life. There is richness and texture to our lives that we can all capture and share. I am so glad that this story, about some of the grandest and unique people that I have ever had the blessing to know, has resonated with so many people. I always appreciate your insight.

    • Thank you Laurie, it is such a gift to be able to reminisce, and remember cherished things from our past. The happiness and joys of days gone is saved up in our hearts, and we get to roll it around and savor it more as time passes.

    • Thank you Len, this was easy to write, it kind of wrote itself. There’s no way to measure the impact that good people have on your life, and if you don’t take the time to reflect, it’s like it never happened. To be where I was, when I was, turned out to be a blessing I wouldn’t understand until much later. I always appreciate your insight.

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