Four Very Short Stories On Death And Dying - by Dan W. Miller
Working for such a fun guy made the grueling work so much easier.
The Commander Gets The Last Laugh
We all called him "The Commander." Such a funny guy that loved to tell great jokes and he always kept us all laughing. I just loved my boss and so did everyone that worked for him. Ernst Walta was the franchise owner of the United Van Lines in Thousand Oaks, California.
Ernie loved those fruit trees in his backyard. He was just like them. He gave and he gave without asking much in return. He was more than a boss. He was a father figure without Lording over us and pretty much "one of the guys." But no doubt about it, he was the ringmaster, chief and even a mentor too.
That's what made him so much fun to be around. A joker, chain smoker, beer guzzler who never took care of his diabetes even after he lost a foot, then a leg and then the other leg. Never lost his sense of humor, though.
I worked for him when I got out of high school and even 20 years later when I needed a summer job he gladly obliged.
It was hard work and at the end of the day he'd flip someone the keys to his beat up late model black Cadillac with $20 ("keep the change") to go on a beer run. Then we'd wind down in the back of the warehouse. Sometimes we overstayed our welcome and he'd remind us by announcing, "C'mon people! Let's go! I've got a home to go to!"
Well, a few years ago I'd heard The Commander had passed on to "that big warehouse in the sky." So I made arrangements to visit his grave. In the city cemetery there was a copper and concrete tombstone buried in the green grass under a beautiful shady oak tree. Such a peaceful resting spot. As I got closer, I could see besides his name, date of his birth and his death on it, there was also an epitaph with a frame. It read:
"I've got a home to go to"
I smiled until I laughed and then laughed until I cried. I layed down next to his site and looked up at the cotton ball clouds rolling by wondering if he sees me. The Commander had told me the ultimate joke even from the afterlife and got the last laugh again.
I helped Dad into that boat where all his deceased loved ones were waiting on the other shore. Then gave that boat a little push.
Sail Away, Dad! Sail Away!
Dad was on his deathbed.
He was ready to succumb to his cancer. He had become lethargic and his entire one side appeared paralyzed the past few days. We all just waited.
Then his breathing had become uneven. Cheyne-Stokes breathing they call it. Deep breaths mixed with very shallow ones. He was about to die. Suddenly, his entire face was a look of mild astonishment. Like the face one gets when they recognize someone from afar.
The paralysis had disappeared. With his eyes closed, he seemed to be glad to see someone. He was smiling. My Mother and sister and I looked at each other with wide eyes.
I said, "That's right, Pop. Do you see Nana and Papa and Don?" (His mother, father and longtime childhood friend who had died.) "Go to them. Get in the boat and paddle over to them. They're waiting for you." Then a look of calm elation covered his face and I could hear him almost quietly sigh. His big smile gave way to a firm closed mouth of happy reassurance and then he nodded his head.
After a few last breaths, he got into the boat and sailed away from us.
I called her Princess because she wanted to be treated like one. She accidentally overdosed on prescription medication.
I awoke from a long day sleep when I had only wanted to nap for an hour.
It turned into a full eight hours... in there... in another world with her with a feeling that was more than just a dream. It wasn't even an image of her that I saw but more of a feeling. A feeling you get when you know your loved one is there by your side even as you slept. But I just knew it was her. I had such a deep sleep of peacefulness. Of... being dead. She does this to me but only very rarely.
So I wrote this down as soon as possible. Danise... my "Princess" takes me in there. Only when she wants to. I walk in and she's there and only in there as always. She chooses when and I have no control.
Then I awaken amazed that I am alive and live to die another day. Her picture is still now. But she moves her head towards me, smiling and I'm tortured, I'm trapped in this world of mine.
I can't walk out when I'm in there. Nor do I want to... and only in there can I see her alive... when I'm dead to the world.
Someone to look up to even after death. Nile Kinnick All-American. PERIOD.
Our Nation's All-American Forever
He was the "all American boy" every father wanted his daughter to marry and the son that every mother wanted to have.
Nile Kinnick was the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner, a Phi Beta Kappa student, a courageous fighter pilot and an American hero for the ages. Not many college football fans even know this but it's his likeness that's on the face of the official coin tossed by the referee at the start of EVERY Big 12 football game.
But he was also a humble man of his accomplishments full of pathos and wonderment of the Earth's natural beauty.
Nile Clarke Kinnick was born on July 9th, 1918, in Adel, Iowa. He was listed at 5' 8" and 170 pounds when he played football at the University of Iowa, earning the nickname "The Cornbelt Comet." Kinnick was on the field an average of 57 of the 60 minutes a game in 1939, only being forced out late one game because of a separated shoulder.
By passing, running, punting or kicking, Nile was directly involved in 107 of Iowa's 130 points that season and also made eight interceptions in the eight game season. A recent "College Football News" ranked Nile Kinnick as the ninth greatest college football player of all-time.
He was also named 1939's Top Male Athlete in the Country by the Associated Press. The honor was particularly noteworthy considering his competition included Joe DiMaggio and Joe Louis! Turning down a huge offer from the NFL, he chose to attend law school at the University of Iowa.
In August of 1941 Nile was Iowa's assistant football coach and joined the U.S. Naval Air Corps Reserve. On December 4th, three days before Pearl Harbor, he reported for active duty stating, "May God give me the courage to do my duty and not falter."
A Flight Into Eternity
On June 2nd, 1943, Nile was flying a training mission off the coast of Venezuela when he experienced engine problems. Rather than try a possible crash landing back onto the deck of the U.S.S. Lexington and endangering personnel, he attempted an emergency landing into the Caribbean. Noble to the end, Nile Kinnick's body was never found.
In his final letter and last words, Nile wrote of his hometown Iowa to his girlfriend:
"I love the people, the campus, the trees, everything about it. And it is beautiful in the spring... And I hope you strolled off across the golf course just at twilight and felt the peace and quiet of an Iowa evening, just as I used to do."
Nile C. Kinnick's name has endured. Not only did the Iowa Hawkeye football team retire his number 24, the university renamed the stadium after him in 1971.
Our nation's native son, who died far too young lives on... forever.