Dan Gisvold at Bear Creek

Friday, December 31, 2010

First Night

Dan use to go to a city event in Missoula on New Year's Eve called First Night. He loved it because there were concerts of all kinds everywhere and it was designed for families. The point was to have a good time without the alcohol. He really liked the fact that he could take his granddaughter to this city wide event and know that she would 1) have a good time and 2) she would be safe.

He loved it. Mostly he loved the music-choral groups, bands, rock 'n' roll, country, classical, whatever. He use to gush about it. He always wanted me to come up for it. There was no way you were going to get me to Missoula, Montana on New Year's Eve. It's called cold, very cold. And there is a little thing called snow.

But I think of him tonight and know that he is listening to all the music he could want to hear.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Valley Fever

One of the biggest things in Dan's life as a child was when he contracted Valley Fever. He had gone to Shark's Tooth Mountain with his Boy Scout troupe and dug in the dirt for shark's teeth. We didn't know then that the area was rife with the Valley Fever spore.

I remember that he had to remain in bed. Period. So Mom had a hospital bed brought into the family room and Dan stayed there for six months. The doctors told her that he either did that or he went to the sanitarium in Springville. Mom, the nurse, was not going to have one of her children in a hospital someplace where she couldn't take care of them. So in the family room he stayed. He was in 7th  grade and my 3rd grade teacher came in to tutor him. Mrs. Edwards. It was embarrassing for both of us.

He never recovered from that educational setback. He hated school after that and, despite the fact that he was the smartest member of our family, almost flunked out of high school. But he read everything. He always had his facts straight and could argue anyone into a corner just because he always knew his subject. Thank you, Mrs. Edwards.

He even hated college finding it confining and staid. An academic he was not. A true intellectual he was. I think I have mentioned that he would recommend books for me to read or music for me to listen to. If you get a chance, find a group called Celestial Navigation. You will see what I mean about Dan's mind.

Valley Fever kept him from donating his lungs but the lessons that he taught me because of it will live on in me and mine.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Climbing Trees

Our home in Lindsay had a huge Balm of Gilead tree in the back yard. It was just outside my room and next to the swing and the sandbox. I remember climbing it one time and seeing Dan up near the top. I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10 so Dan was around 12. He was always doing things that would scare our Mom do death. And climbing that tree was one of them.

As I remember he got in trouble for not only climbing the tree but "enticing" me to climb it. He did no such thing but I didn't say anything because this was during the period that Dan did not exist. I was also scared that I would get into trouble and the wrath of our father scared me more than anything.

Thinking back I realize that Dan was an adventurer. He always wanted to do something new. Something he hadn't done before. He blazed a lot of trails for me and I never even knew it. He got me on a motorcycle and was working to get me to drive one.

But Dan liked to think on his own. He was in that tree to be alone. To think and to dream. He had lots of dreams. Some of them came true and some remained dreams.

I guess that is or will be true for all of us. We just have to climb our own trees and find our own way.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Birthday

Three years ago Dan was given a t-shirt that read "I'm not 60  I'm 59.95 plus tax". He wore it all the way to his 60th birthday. Right after his birthday he mailed it to Melvin who proudly wore it through the year to his 60th. Melvin then gave the t-shirt to me. I wore it once this year. I think the t-shirt is really funny. I don't think my birthday this year is. Turning 60 is a big milestone for some reason. I don't look 60 and heaven knows I don't act it.

Dan kept saying it was just a number. But now it doesn't feel that way at all.

So, Melodie and Jed went with Mel and I to dinner tonight to commemorated my 60th. My good friend Kathy sent flowers and had them make me a cake with a penguin on it. It was a wonderful dinner. The kids gave me a one-piece pajama with penguin feet. It is hysterical!  But we all missed Dan. He belonged at that table making bad jokes about his baby sister. It made me sad.

But we were all together. We held hands and toasted Dan. We shared our day and laughed and ate way to much. Then I called my brother Bill to raz him for not calling me. We laughed and we shared our day.

A gift of family. Not a bad gift for an old (well, sorta) lady.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Real World Intrudes

For the last 4 days I have allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in until the dogs wake me up. That's been around 8 or 8:30 in the morning. It's cold and they like sleeping on top of me. Even today, I slept in. I had no court appearances, no clients coming in, the courthouse was nearly shut down so I figured I could keep the real world out for just a while longer. For a while longer I wouldn't want to scream at people to get real and take care of those around you. For a while longer I wouldn't have to hide that my insides feel like they are gone.

Actually, I was beginning to feel like I was doing better, that the emotional ship was righting itself and I was again beginning to be in control of my life and my feelings.

Yeah, right.

That's when the mail came. Addressed to Daniel Gisvold were two bills. Both from St Elizabeth's Hospital in Red Bluff, California.One for the emergency room and one for the radiology including a CT of the head. As I read the forms I could only think that he was in that hospital all alone and dying and my anger began to rise. How dare they send him a bill, for God's sake.

Then I read the bottom of the form. They had billed Dan's insurance which had paid all but a very small amount. They had been quick, efficient and, at the time that Dan was in that hospital, they had no idea that he was going to die. They were taking care of those around them.

For the rest of today, I have gone through the motions. I see him and hear him in everything around me. Today is my 19th wedding anniversary and I can hear him razzing Melvin about keeping me around. I hear him telling me that Christina needs to get her act together on Gray's Anatomy. I see him in his western shirt talking to people at our Christmas concert. I hear him telling the dogs to get away from him. I see him stretched out on our couch watching a football game.

I thought I was back in control. Yeah, right.

Damn bills.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


One of my Cocker Spaniels likes to eat. Not just dog food. Zelda likes blankets, socks and plastic. She especially likes plastic on chicken wire. And it is plasticized chicken wire that we have used to fence in the dog area of the back yard. As a result, Zelda has seen much of the neighborhood that she was not suppose to see. On occasion she took LadyBug and Mohawk (the other two Cocker Spaniels) with her on her adventures.

So when Dan came out to California the first order of business at our house was to re-fence the dog area. This was not Dan's idea of a fun time as he had to do this in Montana to keep horses in line. But being the sport that he is he helped me unwind wire horse fencing and attaching it to the posts. It took us all day but we thought we had Zelda licked.

Ya Know What? Zelda not only chews, she digs. Especially when gophers dig under the fence. She just follows the gopher hole. So Dan and I piled up dirt and rocks and buried chicken wire underneath mounds of rocks and dirt.

Zelda climbed up a horizontal tree trunk and pulled the horse wire off, chewed the chicken wire and went for another adventure!

Dan changed her name to Hoodini! He kept telling me to electrify the fence like they did for the horses. I had to explain that a Cocker Spaniel is not a horse. Since he was not a dog fan this argument never got very far in his mind.

It didn't matter. We put a gate up so that the dogs can't go in the dog area without human supervision. It has done a lot for the amount of reading I get done and Zelda and her co-conspirators behave when humans are present.

I took them out tonight and saw the left over horse fencing. I hope there is no fencing to be done in Heaven. It would really piss Dan off.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Last Year

Last Christmas Dan sat on our couch, Melodie and Jed were here and we all opened our presents together. I had decorated the house but without a tree. The place was bright with lights. We laughed and ate. We watched A Christmas Story and made bad puns. My lemon meringue pie tasted great and looked terrible. Dan was letting his hair grow. It was one of the best Christmas evenings that I had ever had.

Our childhood has serious Christmas memories. Mom did the house up with almost every nook and cranny covered in some kind of decoration. The tree was always a display of glitter, lights and ribbon. We had big family dinners and lots of going and coming. I still have her Christmas Elves that I use to decorate my house at Christmas. 

But this year there are no decorations. No bright lights. We even avoided presents for the most part. I sent my Christmas greetings over the internet. I simply could not go through those motions this year. But Melodie and Jed came over and we ate and laughed. We watched A Christmas Story and made very bad puns. My lemon meringue pie tasted great and looked terrible (someday I will get it right).

It was a pretty good Christmas.

I just wish Dan were here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve aka Bill's Birthday

My brother Bill was born this day several years before me. (He would be proud that I did not mention that it is a whole 6 years before me.) Our father was an accountant so Bill was a well timed tax deduction! As a result, in our family, Christmas Eve was BILL'S BIRTHDAY and Christmas Day was CHRISTMAS. They were separate and distinct. Mom always made an angle food cake with white frosting and we ate dinner in the dinning room. We used the GOOD china. She did this for each of us when our turn came.

Because I am a bit of teaser (I was raised with two older brothers--remember that!) It has been my custom to call each of my brothers on their respective birthdays and sing the worst rendition of Happy Birthday or its equivalent. After all, I am the one who took after our father and sings. I even sing tenor.

When I sang for Dan last August he groaned as usual. He made some ridiculous comment that the Vocal Arts let me in as a charity case and life went on as usual. Dan had turned 63. Today I was reminded of all the times I called each of them as Bill's first remark upon returning my call was...."Oh, no, here it comes...."

I guess the point is that each of them would call back on that special day even though they knew I would deliberately sing off-key. It was the love, it was the sharing.

I can't call Dan anymore but as he lay in that bed in Redding, as I stroked his hair and watched him slip from this earth, I sang "Danny Boy" to him--very low, very on-key. The pipes called him to another place. I will bide and build a relationship with Bill that I have long neglected. Another gift from Dan.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Waiting for Godot

Concentration is a hard thing to come by these days. So I left work early and ended up at the end of Harloe Street in Pismo. I walked past Dan's old apartment and stood at the railing overlooking the Pacific ocean. The Pismo pier was off to my left and Dinosaur Caves off to my right. The ocean was still muddy from the recent storm and there were no surfers. There were two beach volleyball games going on right below me.

I stood there and tried to think of all the things Dan and I talked about on the evenings that we drank tea here. I can see his face, I can hear his voice but I can not remember the words. I sat on the little bench and watched the waves and waited for Dan. I waited for the words.

When I got home Mel had me come outside where he was barbecuing dinner. He pointed to the cloud filled sky and told me that he had just asked Dan to tell him if he was in heaven. The spot that he pointed to had just opened up to blue sky and sunlight.

If I needed more than that brother Bill called tonight. We no longer just end our conversations. We say I love you. We don't just discuss business anymore. We are more in touch with each other than we have ever been. I see it as another gift from Dan.

Believe or don't believe, it doesn't matter. What matters is that waiting isn't the answer. Asking is. Doing is. Sharing is.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

There was a period in my childhood when Daniel did not exist. And at the exact same time, I did not exist in Daniel's childhood. We did not speak to each other, we did not acknowledge each others existence. If he came into a room I left and if I came into a room he left. It got so bad that when we traveled across country in the car I sat in the front seat between Mom and Dad so that I didn't have to sit next to Dan! As a result, I was almost decapitated when Dan was sent to the back of the station wagon for something and Dad had to slam on the brakes. Dan came flying into the front seat, right over my head. Mom made a great two hand catch getting me to the floor and stopping Dan! I can still see the yellow plastic glasses stained by red Kool-Aid that were on the floor at Mom's feet.
The battle with Dan ended of its own accord somehow. I don't know how. But I know that he and his friends guarded the house the night of my 16th birthday when 24 girls showed up for an amazing slumber party. Unbeknownst to us at the time there were attempted forays to breach that security by several young males. They didn't make it....And of course, no one except Marlyn slept that night. I remember that because we have a picture of her in Snoopy's dog house! I am still looking for that picture.
Snoopy's dog house came from the DeMolay float in the Orange Blossom Festival that Dan and Jon Awbrey headed up. We had that house (with Snoopy on it) for years.
Dan was my protector. Even when I didn't exist. Pretty cool for an older brother.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Life Goes On

One of Dan's "talents" was his ability to make a pun out of just about anything. We would have whole conversations based on puns. It was enough that my daughter would threaten to stop the car and make us walk!
(Zelda (my cocker spaniel) taking a nap was having the pause that refreshed.) He would call me to tell me his latest pun and I would just groan while he insisted that the joke was the best ever told! I wish I could remember them all.
This line of thought started when my daughter hit me with a pun this morning. I wasn't sure whether to groan, laugh or cry. So I did a little of each. While I was doing that I realized that she and I are still here and still working each day. We are getting up and going to bed and putting one foot in front of another.
Then a wild thing happened. I got an email (4 separate ones, really) from one of Dan's best high school friends. He is now the grandfather to a set of twins! He, of course, sent pictures. The babies are darling.
Then I began to think that as one passes others enter this world. The mystery of life continues and it can not be wasted. As much as I want to curl up in a corner and hide from the world until there is a thick scab over this pain, I can not and I will not. Dan would be very upset at the wasting of time in doing that.
I began thinking about Dan's friend that had emailed me. Jon was always at our house or Dan was at his. They were both in DeMolay. Jon's mother did the flowers at my wedding. (Dan was the best man.....that's a whole nether story!) I had to smile on those memories.
They are all things that made me into the me that I am. Because of Dan I am who I am. I promise not to waste that gift.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lunar Eclipe

Remember the song "Total Eclipse of the Heart"? I know it was meant in the romantic sense but for me, right now, my heart feels like the sun can not shine on it. The current eclipse brought this to mind, of course.

And then, as is my usual stream of consciousness, I thought that Dan would have wanted to see such a thing.

And then it occurred to me that he had. We both had.

On July 9, 1982, nine days after our Mother had passed on from ovarian cancer--Dan and I and brother Bill, along with some other friends sat in the big backyard at our family home in Lindsay and watched the moon turn blackish-orange while we emotionally swam in a pool of grief and relief. Mom was gone but her suffering was finally, finally over. It had been a long and very hard journey for her. I can still smell the grass on that hot summer night. I can feel the metal of the folding lawn chair. I can hear the rustle of the Balm of Gilead tree that grew next to my room.

The memory of that night takes me back to Dan and Bill and I playing cowboys and indians under the Balm of Gilead and playing goal-line-stand in the very spot that we sat to watch the eclipse. I remember playing baseball and flying model airplanes in that huge backyard. I touch those memories tonight with greater gentleness. We will never be three again.

Total eclipse of the heart.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Animals and Kites

Watching my dogs and cats today made me laugh. Dan did not like any of them. It's not that he didn't like them it was that he didn't understand why they wanted to be with him all the time!
So, one day last Spring, when he had been giving me a bad time about not going to the beach with the dogs enough, I got him to go with me. This picture is Dan and LadyBug. Neither one liked being in the water. Both liked watching it. LadyBug would watch the other dogs and Dan would watch the people.
Usually he would take his kite. It was huge. And it always brought a group of people (mostly kids) who would watch him make that thing dance.
So our agreement was that when Spring came we would fly kites and walk the dogs more often. He really liked the feel of the ocean. He said the sound and the movement calmed him down. I don't know if I wrote this before but whenever he was at his apartment at the end of my work day, he would make a cup of sassafrass tea for me. He loved that tea and I hated it. But I drank it with him as we sat on the bluff overlooking the Pacific. I would tell him the frustrations of my day and he would ask me what I wanted to do with my life because life was too short to be that frustrated.
I think I want to drink sassafrass tea, walk the dogs and fly a kite.
God, I miss him.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Trucking in the Rain

It's raining. Not in sheets just a constant, steady rain. Dan used to call when he was on the road in the rain and complain. Not about the rain but about drivers in the rain. "It's just rain. It's water. Just drive the damn car!"
When I told him that driving in the rain made me nervous he'd say "You know how to drive? Then drive." He always wanted people to know that trucks don't stop on a dime, especially when it was wet or cold. "Give me some room and I won't make you flat!"
He once told me that if anyone ever knew how relaxed he was when driving they would just freak out. Eating a sandwich, talking on the phone (I made him get a blue tooth), listening to his music all while he was driving 20 thousand pounds of cargo down the road- that was his method of operation.
He managed to avoid to huge accidents although he did land in a couple of ditches in the snow. He was good and he enjoyed the driving. He hated the loading and unloading. He hated unorganized situations and that is just what loading and unloading was.
And tonight it is raining. So I think of him driving. I think of him passing my house on the freeway. He would call when he got within a mile or so. I would go out on the upper balcony and he would blink his trailer lights and I would wave as he went by on the freeway below us. He couldn't see me but I could see his truck. I felt like a kid and I think he did too.
It is raining and I miss him.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Old Friends

I have been talking to people I haven't seen or heard from in 30-40 years. Sometimes my memory of them is vague and then they start a story about Dan. Their memories bring up my memories and I see Dan as a kid in our house in Lindsay or in the high school band.
When Jon Awbrey called the memories were so strong....Dances at Camp Nelson that I was allowed to go to because Dan and friends were there. Of course, they could have cared less what I did as long as I didn't tell Mom and Dan what THEY were doing!
Dan loved Camp Nelson. Our cabin there was a place he could be himself, go fishing, hike off by himself.
Just a few months ago he bought the cabin right next to our family cabin so that he could have a place of his own up there. He planned to start fixing it up in the Spring.
As friends call, it all comes back. Camp Nelson will never be the same.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Music

Talking to a friend tonight. A singer in the Vocal Arts with me and my daughter and son-in-law. She was saying that she always noticed Dan when he was at a practice or at a concert because there was such joy on his face. You could see that he loved the music. He loved it not just because his family was there but because it was good music. It was timeless and it touched his soul.
I knew what she was saying. He loved music. His selections went from Bluegrass to Beethoven. He was always sending me cds or music clips of groups that he liked or that he had seen. When he was in Montana he helped with a group that brought live concerts to the town of Hamilton. He loved it. He wanted the Vocal Arts to go there and perform.
When we sang Danny Boy for our Irish concert, I managed to wrangle the introduction. Right now I can't find the recording of the intro I gave in Cambria when Dan was there but here is the link to the YouTube tape from the concert at the San Luis Obispo Mission. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdgcLdNH9Lw Or just go to YouTube and search for Vocal Arts Ensemble.
Anyway, at our Christmas concert, a week before he died, Dan was talking to a friend of mine saying that he had a recording of us singing Danny Boy and "don't tell my sister, but I play it every now and then". I socked him in the shoulder.
He loved Wilson and McKee, he loved Emmy Lou Harris, He loved Jethro Tull. He loved music.
I am so happy that I could sing for him. I am even happier that my daughter could sing for him. He loved her so much.
We both miss him so.


I have lost people to death. I have felt grief. But losing a sibling, a brother, who was my best friend has created a pain that I can not describe. I talked to him every day usually as I left for work. I would ask what kind of load he had and where he was going.
I learned a great deal about trucking and how we all get our supplies-food, clothing, any other necessities. Dan took them from one place to another every day. I learned how to drive around a big rig-to give them space to stop or space to see me on the freeway.
We would often talk as he drove down the road. He would rant about the latest political issue or whatever was on his mind. Books and music were his favorite issues. He was always trying to get me to read some book or another and I usually did. His picks were always right.
I think I will read one of those books again tonight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

He is gone

Today we turned off the machines. The transplant teams began their work and families that we have never met will receive the gift of life because of my brother.

His name is Daniel Edward Gisvold.

He was born on August 4, 1947 in Sacramento, California. He was six feet tall and skinny. He was 2 1/2 years older than me. He was a truck driver. He was a motorcycle rider. He was a voracious reader. He loved music--any kind as long as it was well performed. He loved people in general (not necessarily in the specific! ;-) )

He is gone. This is the story of how he left us.

At around 8pm on Saturday, December 10, 2010, I got a call from Dan. He was upset. He said something was wrong with his eyes, that he couldn't read the signs and that things didn't make sense. I asked him where he was and he could not get the words out. I knew that he had intended to drive to Corning, Ca. so I asked him if he was there. He said yes. I asked if he was off the road and he said yes. He kept saying something was wrong, something was wrong and there was panic in his voice. I told him to look for someone walking by his truck and he stopped another trucker who took the phone. I told that man to call 911. Dan got back on the phone and kept saying that something was wrong and that he was scared. I told him to breathe.

Then the EMT was there. And I heard Dan groan. It was a painful groan and I kept screaming his name into the phone. He didn't answer. Finally, the EMT got on the line and said Dan was being combative and was trying to crawl out of the ambulance. He wanted to know if Dan used drugs to stay awake. I asked if he had gotten a blood pressure or a pulse and he read them to me. They were low. I told him that Dan hadn't taken anything stronger than an aspirin for 30 years. He put Dan on the phone again and I yelled at him to let the EMT do his job. He kept asking me what was going to happen to him. I told him I didn't know but he had to get to a hospital because he was having a stroke. He kept saying he was terrified and I kept telling him that I understood and that he needed to get to a hospital.

Then a cop gets on the phone and asks if Dan used drugs. I told him the same thing. He hung up the phone.

That was the last I heard from Daniel.

The next call I got was from St Elizabeth's Hospital in Red Bluff, Ca. The ER doctor said Dan was calm and they were running tests. He asked for some history-which I gave him.

The next call was from the same doctor saying that Dan was bleeding into his brain and that he was being transferred to Mercy Hospital in Redding, California. That hospital had a neurosurgeon on call.

I kept thinking that this was going to be minor. That Dan would be just fine. That he always was just fine. But when I got that call I knew I had to go to Redding.

I called my daughter and told her to pack. It is an eight hour drive from her house to Redding but leaving at 10 we would be there by 6am. Meanwhile, I had called our older brother Bill who lives in the Bay area. His plan was to drive up to Redding in the morning. As I was leaving my driveway, I got a call from Bill telling me to go to the San Luis Obispo Airport at 11pm as he had chartered a plane for my daughter and I.

As I sat in my daughter's apartment waiting for the appointed time to go to the airport, Dr. King from Mercy Hospital called. He told me that Dan had suffered a catastrophic brain bleed from which he would not recover. They had put him on life support until family could arrive and he wanted to know if Dan was an organ donor. I told him that he was and that our plan was to fly there immediately. We landed in Redding at @2am.

There are things I will never forget...the sound of his voice on the phone, the feel of his hair in my hand as he lay there slowly dying, the kind words from the hospital staff, my last look at his face as I left for the last time.

He died December 13, 2010.

I will miss him for as long as I live.

I hope that soon I can talk about his life.