At the end of January, I spent three days interviewing Dad. I asked many questions about his life and also got him to share a little bit about his thoughts and feelings.
Daddy said what he was proudest of in his life was his children — the good education we got and the good jobs we have.
Rob is a turbine operator for the Jasper Power Plant and farms; Dorty teaches math for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools overseas; Clare also teaches and heads the English Department at Jasper High School.
Barp is a travel agent for AAA; Rosie is an accountant for Aristokraft; Mart — that's me — is a reporter. Ralph is the sample builder at JOFCO and farms; Sandy is an attorney at Fischer, Fritch, Rasche, and Fritch; and Pat is an electronic engineer at Elmco Engineering in Greenwood.
There isn't a public speaker in the bunch so this is where the reporter comes in.
Dad had leukemia for about 20 years. Two years ago he found out he also had terminal lung cancer. Since then he has been in and out of the hospital more times than I have kept track of.
At my office in Plymouth, I keep a list of family members and their phone numbers. About a year ago I added Memorial Hospital to the list.
Since Christmas, Daddy lost 50 pounds. He took medication to help ward off nausea, but it often didn't work. Mom prepared many of his favorite foods. At his request, she recently fixed pork roast. When it was ready and he couldn't eat it, he cried.
For years, Rosie has gone out to the farm on Sundays. She often takes ice cream and other treats, which is why the rest of us are glad if we are there, too. When Dad started turning down ice cream, we knew life had changed drastically for him.
During the last week of his life, Daddy visited three doctors. A week ago Friday, his medical doctor told him to see his cancer doctor as soon as possible.
He already had an appointment scheduled with his cancer doctor for Wednesday. That doctor told him there were tumors on his liver that had to be biopsied to determine if they were caused by cancer spreading from his lungs — which the doctor said meant "bad news" — or if they were related to the leukemia, which would mean more treatment of some sort. He was to meet with the surgeon Friday to schedule a biopsy.
During my interviews with him in January, Daddy said what changed his life most was finding out he had leukemia. When that was the extent of his health problems, he considered it a hassle more than anything else. But when lung cancer and skin cancer and congestive heart failure and prostate problems and difficult breathing spells and a hernia and gallstones heaped on top of each other like split wood on a woodpile, they sapped his strength and ate away at his spirit.
We know the prospects of more terminal cancer or another round of treatment — and the side effects of either one — were equally devastating to him. We also know he didn't want to die in a hospital but on the beloved farm where he had lived with his godparents, Joe and Mary Beckman, part time since he was six.
Ernest moved to the farm permanently in 1933, when he was 13, and attended his last year of grade school at Lockman School on the west side of the property.
Ernest. Did you know he never really liked that name? He wished for a more common name like John or Joe or Henry or Frank. But he said he didn't mind "Ernest" as much anymore because, and I quote, "Now they got a lot dumber names."
Mom and Dad started dating in 1944. Their first date — on which, according to Daddy, Mom's younger sister, Aggie, "had to go along too yet" — was to a movie in Jasper.
1944 also was the year Daddy joined the Army after being given two deferments because Uncle Joe was not in good health.
From basic training in Georgia, and later from the boat he manned in the Pacific Ocean, Daddy wrote Mom two or three letters a week. He told her the best part of being there was eating a pint of ice cream every evening.
When Daddy came back from wartime duty in Japan, he bought Mom a $50 engagement ring for Christmas in 1946. They were married the following October.
In 1950 or so, Daddy inherited an egg delivery route from Uncle Joe. Every Friday, for about thirty years, he would load buckets of eggs into the car to take to customers in Jasper. In the summers, he would deliver fresh garden produce too. In 1950 he had six customers. At its peak, the route was up to sixty.
All of us, from Rob down to Sandy and Pat, remember that when he came home at noon each Friday, dinner — often milk soup — had to wait while he counted and "organized" his earnings. In his bib overalls, he stood at the end of the kitchen table and spread his $1 bills over half of it. He made sure all of the George Washingtons faced the same way and that the most worn bills were in the middle of the table. When he stacked the bills to put into his wallet, the most worn ones were always on top to spend first.
Barp still makes sure all the heads of her currency are turned the same way. Dorty carries it a step further and has her most tattered bills on top to spend first — whether they're American dollars, Icelandic kronur, German marks or Japanese yen.
Our dad loved farming and loved sharing it with his sons. From threshing to baling to neighborhood hog butchering. From buying pullets each spring to harvesting popcorn each fall.
Each summer he also used to head up the family project of making root beer. That ended, though, the year someone put in salt instead of sugar. Daddy didn't much care for root beer after that.
On hot Saturday evenings, he liked to listen for strains of fiddle music coming from behind Beaver Lake. If he heard them, however faint, he'd put a chair on the front porch and listen for a while. Every Fourth of July, though, he moved the chair to Glenn and Clare's porch to view the fireworks over the lake.
Daddy also liked to go to church picnics, especially in Fulda. At each one, turtle soup and an ice cream bar were musts.
He liked reminiscing about the early days. Although Ralph called a lot of Daddy's stories "repeats," Ralph — and the rest of us — sat through them time and time again, hearing the animation in Daddy's voice and listening for new details.
Euchre was the first card game Daddy learn to play as a boy. When he was feeling OK and had the strength for it, he still liked to play cards.
Pat's fiancée, Tonya, who met Daddy two years ago while he was in the hospital, will remember playing Euchre with him on Sunday afternoons. As we sat around the kitchen table this past Saturday afternoon, she said that "whenever I got paired with him, we always won."
She also mentioned that Pat is definitely Daddy's son. She said that what Pat calls a "dish" of ice cream is more like a quart.
Emily told Clare on Saturday that Daddy was always cheerful, especially when people came to visit. It was hard, the 10-year-old said, to walk into the farmhouse and not find Daddy in his chair in the living room.
Matt, Christa and Emily had a special gift for making their grandfather smile. But Emily was probably the most open of all of us with her affections. She'd give him hugs and high-fives at every visit.
As I finished my interviews with Dad, I asked him to name some of his favorites.
His favorite color was blue. His favorite holiday or special occasion was his 65th birthday, when we surprised him with the first birthday party he'd ever had. He liked to talk Low German, and his favorite saying was "Macht's gut."
His favorite food, of course, was ice cream.
In Memory of Ernest J. Rasche
July 20, 1920 - May 16, 1996
Funeral: May 20,1996