Today I Got the News I Hoped Would Never Come

When I got that dreaded December Email from my StepMom Deb that said that Dad was probably dying soon, I wanted to come to Mansfield, Ohio right away, but was not able to, because I was a week away from a couple piano and voice recitals with my students in Indiana. In order to keep it together, I tried writing a song about Dad, but there were no words that could express such grief, so I ended up writing a flute and piano piece. I recorded it this past June on Father’s Day, with flutist Leela Breithaupt. It’s called, “Today I Got the News I Hoped Would Never Come”.

You can hear the whole 3-minute piece by clicking on this link to CDBaby. You can also purchase it there. Or you can hear a clip, and buy it on iTunes. Or you can stream it on Spotify. It’s also available YouTube, Amazon, Deezer, and many more!

My brother Dan used this piece as the accompanying music for a slideshow of pictures of Dad’s life, at his Memorial Service in June, held at the Mohican Outdoor School, the resident outdoor education school he founded, and ran for 45 years. Here is the speech I gave at his Memorial Service:

Tim’s Speech for Dad’s Memorial Service

Many people close to me have died. Family, friends, and teachers. But none of their deaths have affected me as deeply as when Dad died, on a very cold New Year’s Day evening, on the full moon. I held his right hand, my younger brother Dan held his left hand, and Deb, our step-Mom, and Dad’s loving wife for 44 years, held his head, as he took his last breath. At that moment I lost family, one of my best friends, and a life-long teacher.

The last 6 months have been really rough. Just about everything that happens, it hits me hard that the last time I did this, Dad was alive. Or, if experiencing something for the first time, that I wish I could tell Dad about this. I really thought he would live another 10-15 years. There was so much more I wanted to do with him. Every day is a panoply of mostly heavy-hearted emotions, from sadness to extreme grief to anger to feeling lost, with fleeting feelings of solace from recalling happy memories with him.

In a short speech like this, it’s impossible to tell you all that Dad meant to me.

My very first word was “bird”. As most of you know, he was a bird lover extraordinaire, and probably pointed out birds to me before I could speak. My Mom is also quite a bird lover. She could have influenced this initial avian utterance, as well.

My favorite Dad bird memory: at one of the early Mohican School locations, he loved to take us on a hike to a high meadow. Once there, we would step lightly, not talking, hoping to get a glimpse of the Scarlet Tanager, a brilliantly black and red, very elusive bird.

He taught me to be on the lookout for birds, which has enabled thousands of close-up sightings of everything from bald eagles to Carolina Wrens, to many kinds of owls. I think I have probably seen around a hundred owls in the wild. My first album of original music is called “Euphoric Owls”. Feel free to take a copy if you like. They are on the Family table. If Dad had ever released an album of original music, the cover might have looked something like this.

He did sometimes talk about writing a novel. I remember him talking about groups of skeletons marching. Perhaps in this regard, a short poem of Henry David Thoreau applies.  “My life has been the poem I would have writ, but I could not both live and utter it”.

Anyway, birds are just a part of the vast natural world, which he loved to explore, in all kinds of weather. I learned from him that often the best time to be outside is when it is snowy, icy, rainy, or muddy, or extremely hot or extremely cold, because usually you have the park or trail to yourself, and end up seeing things you otherwise would not see. I’ve come face-to-face with a wolf on the top of a mountain in Alaska, and followed a 5 ft. poisonous Timber Rattler for an hour as it slithered through a forest in Indiana.

Dad was great with kids. He really knew how to draw them out and to get them interested in learning. He combined this love of kids and love of nature into Mohican Outdoor School, which hopefully one day will reprise its heyday, when in the 1980s the enrollment reached 13,000 kids a year.

He was always proud that I also became a successful teacher. I’ve worked individually with around one thousand piano and voice students over the years, and like Dad, have put my heart and soul into it. I’ve received hundreds of thank you notes over the years. I’d like to read you one I received in the mail just this week, from a piano student that studied with me for 7 years. This is the kind of thing I would often share with Dad, and he would eat it up.

“Dear Tim,

Thank you for stopping by my graduation party! Also thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years. I’ve learned so much from you that I can use for the rest of my life. I truly appreciate it.

~Ricardo”

It wasn’t until writing this speech that I realized that I think Dad had a huge influence on the movie/musical I am co-writing. It’s called Childrenopolis, about a city of children of all colors who live deep within the hollow of the earth, in a land of love, peace, and harmony, with no hate, war, or pollution. They know it’s not that way on the outer shell of the earth, so periodically they send a good will ambassador there to bring some good cheer.  

I think if there were millions of Mohican Outdoor Schools across the outer shell of the earth, we just might learn to live in harmony with the earth and ourselves.

Dad and I shared a love of sports. He coached several of my Little League Baseball teams, and we went to hundreds of Indians, Browns, and Buckeyes games over the years, often with my brothers, Deb, or other family and friends. His last two Buckeyes games were with just me, and both were epic. We saw the marathon 2016 Ohio State/Michigan game that went into double-overtime, with the Buckeyes pulling out a thrilling last minute victory. After every exciting play or victory we always enjoyed giving each other a big high 5. And his final Buckeyes game was the Penn State/Ohio State game this past October. I pushed him over a mile in a wheel chair from where we parked to Ohio Stadium to see another thrilling come-from-behind victory. He died 2 months later.

When I got that dreaded December Email from Deb that said that Dad was probably dying soon, I wanted to come to Mansfield right away, but was not able to, because I was a week away from a couple piano and voice recitals with my students in Indiana. In order to keep it together, I tried writing a song about Dad, but there were no words that could express such grief, so I ended up writing a flute and piano piece that you hear as the soundtrack for the photo slide show. We recorded it this most recent Father’s Day. It’s called, “Today I Got the News I Hoped Would Never Come”.

But it wasn’t just wild animals that Dad loved. He had countless pets and domesticated animals with my Mom, later with Deb, and with the school. Dogs, cats, goats, chickens, turkeys, snakes, toads, turtles, pigs, sheep, and cows. He named his cows after his relatives. There was Doyle, named after his Dad, and Josephine, named after his Mom, and so on. It was kind of weird when we would be eating a steak or hamburger and Dad would say, “this is Uncle Bob!” We would kind of cringe and say, “OK, Dad”. His favorite cow was Cleo, named after his aunt. Dad loved entertaining people with the story of Cleo, who was a very good mother, and gave birth to many cows. She outlived all of his other cows, just as his aunt Cleo outlived all of her relatives. Unfortunately she died in the barnyard, and all of Dad’s efforts to get her body removed, failed. Days later, Dad, Deb, Tim, Dan, and Andy spent a couple of hours tugging her this way and that, with ropes tied around her legs, which moved her about 2 feet. Finally Andy, the youngest and smartest of the 3 brothers, pried her body from underneath with a spud bar, and she suddenly rolled down the hill, tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump. We all screamed and scattered out of the way, as a 2,000 pound cow tore through a fence and crashed into a tree in the forest. She decomposed in stages over the winter and spring and summer, in various forms of freezing and thawing, and a plethora of odors, from ferociously fetid to sickeningly sweet. And over time you could see dozens of little animal trails in and out of her orifices. That’s a very shortened version of the story. If you want to hear the whole thing, I am working on a macabre children’s picture book called Cleo the Cow. For many years Dad kept Cleo’s skull on top of the old chicken coop.

Speaking of chickens, one day Dad came back from the coop and said, “Deb, one little chicken really looks forward to me coming, and follows me all around as I gather eggs and feed them. She’s a real pal.” Deb and I laughed so hard we cried. Dad eventually joined in laughing with us, and from then on it always brings a smile to our face when we mention, “My Pal Chicken.”

Dad was born in the extremely hilly, very remote, way-past-its-prime, but still breathtakingly beautiful railroad town of Grafton, West Virginia. His parents left when he was 3 months old, moving to Mansfield to find jobs. But we took many monumental trips to Grafton for family reunions, funerals, and in recent years, to research our family history. We discovered we are related to Edgar Allan Poe, and to Anna Jarvis, who founded Mother’s Day. We learned more about our Uncle Hump, a flamboyant character who had a hunchback, and ran a bar, gambling joint, and brothel, but who also paid for the construction of ball fields and the Mother’s Day Shrine, and even bought the organ for the shrine, as well. We uncovered nearly irrefutable evidence about Dad’s grandmother on his father’s side of the family. Her name was Roxie, and we discovered that her parents were brother and sister!

His last trip to Grafton was just the two of us, and even though his health was not the best, we had the best time. We spent two days searching for the gravestone of my great great grandfather and mother, and his great grandfather and mother, on his Mom’s side. We finally found John and Elizabeth Boyce, hidden in a completely overgrown cemetery in the middle of a cow pasture, on private land, with the permission of the owner, after walking up a long treacherous path. A few printed copies of this adventure are on the table over there or it’s published on my website, which you can find if you pick up one of my business cards. You can find out when the Cleo the Cow book and Childrenopolis will be released, and stay in touch about many more creative projects inspired by Dad, on the horizon, as well. Thank you.

(Here is the link to “Searching for Great Great Grandfather and Grandmothers’ Grave”)

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