“Nine-five! Nine-five!” Dr. Gregoire announced down the hospital hallway as he rolled my mom back to her room. My mom shrunk in embarrassment at her extra-large newborn, while my dad beamed with pride at his first child, a giant daughter who looked like him. Purple, with tons of reddish-brown hair and a frown line between my brow, I wasn’t sure about entering this world. But this man with the curly brown hair and ear-to-ear grin sure seemed happy to have me.
Bemidji, Minnesota, 1976, infant
“I don’t know if she's that smart- maybe she needs her hearing tested,” my mom said to my dad as I was looking around at the world.
“Nah, she’s just a watcher. She’s paying attention to every little thing. She’s a smart little one, I know it.” He said.
Bemidji, MN, Winter 1977, age 1 1/2
My dad was headed outside to get wood from the woodpile so we could make a fire in the fireplace. I wanted to help, so he let me tag along with him and gave me a piece of firewood to haul inside. Clutching it tightly in my arms, I waddled to the back door of the garage while my mom held the door open. Carefully making my way up the back stairs, I managed to get inside with my piece of firewood. I was so happy that I was so strong and I could help my dad.
Manitowoc, Wisconsin, August 1979, age 3
Bath time. My dad ran the tub. “Arms up!” He said. I stuck my hands to the sky. He pulled my t-shirt over my head. Chunks of skin came off my back, chest and under my armpits along with my shirt.
“Kathy!” He called my mom in.
“Get your PJs on. We’re gonna get into the car.” My dad said. I got re-dressed, not sure what was happening. With my red slipper socks on my feet, I crawled into the passenger side of my dad’s car. We drove off in the dark to the hospital while my mom stayed home with my baby sister, Carrie.
After pulling up to the back door, we walked into the emergency room. The doctors decided to admit me to the hospital. My dad checked me in and went home to tell my mom what happened.
I wasn’t too upset to stay in the hospital alone. I thought I was an adult. I’d been trying to take care of my parents for a couple years already. I’d gotten them to quit smoking. I made sure they behaved and protected my mom when my dad tried to tickle her too much. I took away their squirt guns when they were shooting water in the house. But at the hospital, they didn’t realise that, and put me in a crib which made me pretty mad. Then the nurse told me I couldn’t use the little corner bathroom by myself. But I’d been going potty by since I was 16 months, and I didn’t need help. I snuck over and used the bathroom by myself anyway. Once the nurse caught me in there and got mad.
I’d been exposed to impetigo (a staph infection) by one of my cousins which went into my bloodstream causing toxic shock syndrome. My pediatrician, Dr. Bush, gave me strong antibiotics and told my mom the next morning if I wasn’t improving by noon, I’d be airlifted to Milwaukee or Madison.
But I got better. And the hospital stay turned out to be mostly fun. My dad would visit every day after work, with a box of colored Chicklets gum for me. Family and friends brought rainbow striped socks, and a Fisher Price circus train set. I took oatmeal baths across the hall from my room in a clawfoot tub.
I went home six days later, mostly healed. With an experience to last a lifetime. And parents who were relieved.
Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 1980, age 3 1/2
“What happened?” He crouched down on the floor next to me and the giant pile of clothes I’d constructed in frustration after getting into trouble for something I didn’t think I done wrong.
My mom had told me not to go to Ruth Ann’s house and ring the doorbell so I went there and knocked on the door. She said I knew I wasn’t supposed to do that. But I didn’t do what she said not to do. When I explained it to her, she got mad and put me in my room. My mom and Carrie left me in my room with the door stuck shut (our house had shifted so us kids couldn’t open the doors) and walked away from the house. I screamed out the window and decided to show them for leaving me and unfairly punishing me. I emptied out my closet and dresser into a mountain in the middle of the room.
I told my dad what happened. “It’s okay,” he said. Together we cleaned up the mess I’d made.
Manitowoc, Wisconsin, 1980, age 4
“Lift your butt up,” he whispered in his deep, soft voice. I was still mostly asleep in the dark- always one who had difficulty waking and loved to get a full night’s sleep. I raised my butt, eyes heavy-lidded and shut, half in dream-land. He pulled my pants up over my rear, and I rested back down while he tugged my socks on my feet. “Sit up.” I did. “Lift your arms up.” Off went the nightie, and on went my shirt. I was finally waking up some. “Okay, let’s go have some breakfast.” I plopped my feet on the floor and silently walked downstairs. I wasn’t ready to talk yet, and he didn’t prod me. This was the way I often remember my dad getting me ready for school. He was too nice to me.
Alexandria, Minnesota, June 14, 1981, 5th Birthday
I’d gotten my magenta bike with the flowered basket on the front a couple years before and started with training wheels. Then on my fifth birthday, I finally learned to ride without them. My dad had taken the little white training wheels off and we went to the top of the small gravel hill next to our house. “Today’s the day!” He said, beaming, as we went to the top of the hill. He thought I could do anything. And I believed him. I was so excited to be a big girl and ride with two wheels. Running beside me as I pedaled down the hill, I took off on the first try. Feeling the air in my blonde hair flying behind me. My dad with his hands on his hips, a grin as wide as his face could go, laughing and clapping, “That’s my girl!” He hollered. I couldn’t believe it. I was doing it.
Alexandria, Minnesota June 14, 1982, 6th Birthday,
This year there was a new big black dirt bike with yellow writing on the side, outfitted with a yellow pad on the crossbar in case I had a boo-boo and landed on the bar. He always thought I was bigger and more capable than I was. It was so big that I had to climb on the railroad tie retaining wall to get on and carefully coast up to the edge of it when I got home to get off. When I first got it, I couldn’t even ride it and sit on the seat at first. But I did it. I got on and rode that big bike anyway and came back safely to the house. I rode around the driveway and into the street. He thought I could do anything, so I did.
Alexandria, Minnesota, Fall 1982, first grade, age 6
He knelt down clutching my royal blue backpack in his hands. With a house key on a string and a large safety pin, he anchored our house key to the bottom of my backpack. “Come in the front door and lock it behind yourself if we’re not home.” He showed me how to do it. I could take care of myself, too.
Alexandria, Minnesota, Winter 1983, age 6
In the woods beside our house, I stood below my dad looking up at the tree. He’d found something and was taking it down. “It’s a beehive,” he said. “It’s dormant.” He put it in a large black trash bag and cinched down the handle. “You can take it to school and show the kids.” I thought it was a good idea and the next morning I hopped on the bus carrying my show and tell item.
“Morning Schultzie!” The bus driver, Gus, said to me with a smile. He always looked happy to see me. I sat down on one of the green vinyl bench seats and we bounced along to the the next stop. After about twenty minutes we arrived at school. I hopped off and headed up to my classroom.
On the way down the hall, I heard a teacher yelling at me, “What are you doing? You could kill someone!” I turned around and stared, not knowing what I'd done. She snatched the bag and ran off. I noticed some wasps were coming out of the top. But it was supposed to be empty.
I went to my classroom for the day.
Later after getting home, my dad asked me how show and tell went. I told him it went great. He never knew what really happened. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
Bemidji, MN, Summer 1983, Fishing, age 7
Our whole family was out fishing off the side of the pontoon boat. We did this every year. I was standing next to my dad. We both had cast our lines into the clear blue lake. I thought I felt a tug. Yes! I had a fish. I started reeling in my line. My dad had one too! We both cranked on our fishing poles hoping we’d caught more than just a big weed. The lines came up. Oh no, my dad’s and mine were tangled together. But there was a fish on one of the lines. We reeled in into the boat. My dad worked on the lines, and said, “It’s your fish! It’s on your line!” I looked at it, and thought it was on his but he was trying to be nice to me. So I just went along with it.
Afterward we were back up outside the cabin. “You can do it,” He said, at the wooden picnic table under the green trees. I had the small fish in my hands at the cutting board. I didn’t really want to clean the fish. It seemed kinda gross. But he wanted me to and was so excited that I didn’t want to let him down. With his wide eyes and soft encouragement, I worked at cleaning my little fish, even though I was scared of it. When it was done, I felt pretty proud of myself and even felt better when I saw how proud he was of me.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 1983, age 7
In his hospital bed by the window, he sat with the covers wrapped around him. Smiling from ear to ear, he was so glad to see me there. Just two weeks before, we’d found out he had leukemia. I’d brought my green spelling notebook from my cousin’s elementary school, where I was attending while my dad got better in the hospital. We were supposed to read and spell our words to our parents and have them sign it as proof. I took it out of my bag and recited the list to my dad. “That’s my girl!” He said. I believed him. It was the last time I saw him alive.
And now, Portland, Oregon, May 2015, age 38
I’m expecting my dad’s grandchildren. I think about my dad as “Grandpa Keith” often. When I see my uncles, his brothers. How they laugh and play with my nieces, so easy going. How when I show up they are beaming with pride at whatever I’m doing. How good they are with woodworking and their hands. The crinkles next to their eyes. Their easy laughter.
I imagine my dad playing horsey with my kids on his knees, playing monster on the floor, teaching them to believe in themselves, even when no one else does. Working on cars together, reading them books, chopping wood. What would he think now? Me, his oldest and biggest daughter- I’d be three inches taller than him, a fact that would make him burst with pride- finally having babies. I know what he'd think- he'd be happy and proud.
Pregnancy has triggered memory after memory, slipping into my psyche at surprising times. Most times I realize I’m the only who holds the memory. My sisters were too young to remember anything about my dad as a parent. I tuck them away, hoping I can harness them for use in the coming years as I try out being a parent myself. Hoping I can be softie with an easy laugh, a believer in them and teach them they can do anything too.