The “H” Word

On October 22, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

We weren’t supposed to say the word out loud, let alone put it in print.

The surreptitious nature of the secrecy confused me at first, but others were quick to provide reasons why: anyone seeing that word would be less inclined to come forward with new information about the copper theft explosion that killed my stepfather, Earl Thelander. And, even the guilty party’s so-called friends or associates might also be reluctant to get involved and come forward, lest they, too, somehow be held accountable for the information they’d possessed but had chosen to suppress.

So, when I stood in my mother’s kitchen the same day she found out her breast cancer had metastasized and I saw the spiral-bound book lying right there on the table with the H-word written as big as the hole it left in all our hearts, I felt relieved there was someone — albeit the Iowa Department of Justice — willing to call what happened by its real name: Homicide.

“A Guide to Survival: Information for the Family and Friends of Homicide Victims,” it was called.

Homicide. Yes. Exactly. Finally. Did it mean we now could utter the “m” word, too?

Sounds of Silence

On October 8, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

It’s a strange sort of silence that’s settled over all our lives.

It’s not just the absence of “Dad” Earl. Or the soft tone of his voice. Or even the echo of Mom and Earl’s combined laughter that reverberated through a room in such a finely tuned harmony it sounded more like a symphony.

It’s something akin to a world sitting slightly off its axis, frozen in time, waiting to move once again but wary of doing so lest one squeaky turn unleash a thousand vociferous cries and the chokehold they’ve had around our hearts.

It’s a strange sort of silence that’s settled in tonight, despite today’s laughter as my siblings and I gathered ’round our mother at the hospital as nurses inserted IV lines for Mom’s 9 o’clock mastectomy and others arrived to wish her the very best and said the front desk told them just-follow-the-noise-and-you’ll-find-her-room and Mom kept telling us to hush because after all, this is a hospital and you know how your voices carry and we laughed and told more stories while carefully steering clear of one of the last jokes Earl had made in the very same hospital only one month earlier when Mom brought him in with those third-degree burns and he’d joked about everyone thinking he was “trying to steal the attention away from Mom” since her breast surgery for the biopsy was scheduled for the very next day.

It’s a strange sort of silence that follows fear but has deep roots in hope.

Tonight, I’m listening close to Andy DuFresne … trying to remember, perhaps not perfectly, the words he spoke to ‘Red’ in “The Shawshank Redemption” ….

Remember … hope is a good thing. And no good thing ever dies.

I Can’t Believe “Dad Earl” is Really Gone

On September 2, 2007, in Crime, Family, by Jody Ewing

Earl Thelander Yesterday, with his 11 kids and my mother surrounding him, my 2nd father, Earl Thelander — who’s been a part of my life for more than 25 years — died as the result of a cowardly thief who burglarized my grandparent’s former country home (which was mostly empty and now belongs to my folks), for a $10 piece of copper piping. The burglar didn’t bother to shut off the gas before cutting the copper gas line, and let the home fill will gas for the inevitable explosion.

“Dad Earl” — as my four siblings and I always called him — wanted to live. And, he had everything to live for. He was healthy, happy, and couldn’t wait until his tomatoes finished ripening on the vines. He’d planned to give some to each of us and looked forward to the BLT sandwiches my mom always made for him.

Yes, he wanted to live. Even after the explosion, he somehow managed to crawl through the fire, climb into his pick-up, and drive the two miles back home in town, where my mother then immediately took him to the hospital. With both his knees burned clear through to the bone, he’d managed to make it back to her.

Yes, how Earl wanted to live.

Yesterday, we each took turns holding the tips of his fingers … one of the few parts on his body without the full-thickness, third-degree burns, and we told him again and again how much we loved him, how much he’d taught us about life and respect and hard work and looking out for one another and reaching out to help a neighbor in need.

I shared 28 years with my first father and 28 years with “Dad Earl.” Both my fathers died on Labor Day weekend. Both died the Saturday before Labor Day. Both died unexpected and extremely tragic deaths.

Who was this person who exchanged $10 worth of copper piping for a good man’s life? What right did he have to make such a gentle and loving man suffer so?

We will find him. I tell you this with certainty; we will find the one who did this to our father and he will be brought to justice. God, the pain this has brought to my family.

Earl, you will always be with us, in all ways. The heavens opened and the angels wept down upon us the day they gently carried you through the clouds and then lay you down to rest here while we prayed and held your hand and they prepared your place in heaven. And when they came back to take you home, they opened your eyes one last time to hold with those of the woman you so loved ~ so that as you ascended to meet your God you knew you were ever safe and wrapped within an everlasting love that would never die.

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