Monday, October 31, 2011

My Final and Eeriest October Tale


Dire Premonitions

Sometime in early February of 2001, in the middle of the night, I woke up from an intense dream. I dreamed that my father was gravely ill.

Dying.

Just a dream, I told myself. 

It became a recurring dream. It happened five more times before March 14th, my mother’s birthday. 

I hadn’t been keeping in touch the family back in Pittsburgh much, hadn’t been home to visit for a while. Long story there. But I called my mother on her birthday, of course.


Fateful Phone Conversation 

While I was on the phone with my mother, in the background I heard my father grumbling to himself about stomach pains. “I hurt,” he said.

My father, Kenneth Shooter, was a man in the way you were supposed to be a man in his generation. I knew of many times when he’d been hurting. I’d never heard him admit it.

It was troubling enough so that I e-mailed my brother-in-law and my cousin, the two most responsible relatives I had who lived in the Pittsburgh area. I told them that they should get my father to a doctor, pronto.

The next morning, I got an e-mail from my brother-in-law saying that Ken was an old guy, old guys normally had aches and pains, and I was making a mountain out of a speed bump.

I replied that I was only eight hours away, if he didn’t get Ken to a doctor that day, I was coming there and whether or not Ken was sick would be the least of his problems. 

My sister and brother-in law took Ken to a doctor.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 


Death Sentence

The doctors offered no hope.

He was no quitter. The doctors sort of humored my father’s will to fight but didn’t try too hard. They surrendered the first day. 

I think he lived longer than expected on willpower alone. 

My father was a WWII vet. Second wave at Omaha Beach. Awarded a Bronze Star (should have been the Medal of Honor, in my opinion). Awarded the Purple Heart for the serious gashes ripped into his flesh by a grenade. That didn’t stop him. He kept going. 

Eventually, a bullet shattered the barrel of his carbine, scattering barrel-shrapnel through his guts. That did stop him, for a while, anyway. It got him a trip back to England on a stretcher plus an oak leaf cluster to go with the Purple Heart. 

The doctor showed me his x-rays. All throughout his midsection you could see little bits of metal, pieces of grenade and gun barrel still there 56 years later.

He was so angry about the terrorist attacks on 9/11 that he wanted to get out of his hospice bed, get his shotgun and go after bin Laden. Sane people wouldn’t let him get up, but I think patriotic adrenaline kept him alive an extra six days.

He died on September 17, 2001.

During those last few months of his life, we became closer than we had in all the years before. He needed someone he could talk to, and by virtue of keeping my cool and remaining rational, I was elected.

I didn’t make it to Pittsburgh in time the day he died, but that was okay. The whole seven months of his ordeal was our good-bye.
Ken Shooter, 19

Where’s the Whetstone?

My mother couldn’t maintain the house by herself. I helped her pack up, sell the place and move to an apartment.

My father’s workshop occupied the garage. I decided to sell most of the tools, but keep those that had been my grandfather’s, my great grandfather’s and a few others that I remembered using with my father when I was a kid.

I found everything I wanted to keep—except for a whetstone. It had an unusual shape, sort of like an ironing board. My father taught me how to sharpen blades on that whetstone.

I looked everywhere. I went through that shop carefully, methodically, starting at the cellar door and working my way, literally inch by inch all around. I searched for hours.

No luck.

I sat down on a toolbox. I couldn’t believe the whetstone was just gone. He wouldn’t have given it away or gotten rid of it. I was totally frustrated.

I said aloud, “Pops, I can’t find it. You’re going to have to tell me where it is.”

And suddenly I knew just where it was.

I stood up, walked to the far right end of the workbench I’d been all over a hundred times, without hesitation or doubt slid open a little secret compartment. There was the whetstone, along with a few screwdrivers of great grandpa’s.

The little compartment was ingeniously disguised. The sliding lid appeared to be screwed into place.  No way anybody would suspect that board moved. No way anybody would suspect the compartment was there. 

Why would he build a secret compartment anyway? To hold a whetstone and some small tools? There were plenty of more valuable items right out in the open.

My father built that workbench after I had moved away from home. I had no knowledge of the existence of a secret compartment. I had never so much as touched that bench during all the years it stood there. No reason to. 

Here’s a look at the workshop before I started packing:
Ken's workshop. Click to enlarge.

Here’s the whetstone:

It was ten years ago today that I found the whetstone. 

I’ll say it again—I don’t believe in things supernatural. But strange, inexplicable things happen. Therefore, I am very open minded about such things. However I found, or was guided to the whetstone is mysterious to me. 

The story above is absolutely true, and told exactly as it happened.


MONDAY:  How to Do Continued Stories and Next or Future Issue Teases 

31 comments:

Kid said...

Fascinating tale, Jim. You must have tried to think of a 'rational' explanation in the intervening years - did you ever come up with anything that would remotely account for it?

Joseph Tages said...

I believe you. I'm smiling here as I type this because the same thing happened to me. I loved a certain man like a father. He was my mom's cousin's husband. Treated me like a nephew. Died of prostate cancer in '06. Very much a handyman, carpenter, gardener, the works. Soon after we buried him, I was helping his wife pack some things and she asked for something from the garage. Can't recall what it was, so let's say it was a night light bulb. He used to keep every little nut, screw, and bolt he found in a bunch of plastic drawers like the ones fishermen use for storing bait. "Just in case someone ever needed it" he often said to me. I ran out to the garage and vividly remember thinking: "Look, just guide me with your mind from wherever you are right now. First drawer, I open, I know it'll be there." First drawer I opened, there was the little night light bulb. And you know what? I wasn't the least bit surprised. It just felt like he was still there. Very natural. There's some people out there, Jim... that not even death can stop them from loving us.

Don F. Stout said...

It sound so much like how my father was and what happened to him. Except it was much quicker for my dad. He got pains in his side, then 2 weeks later he was dead.

jimshooter said...

Dear Kid,

In a word, no.

J.C. Vaughn said...

Dear Jim,
Although you had told me much of this story over lunch once, I continue to find it fascinating. I had some pretty weird dreams before my father's passing, which only in hindsight did I believe were getting me ready for it, which I would say I was never going going to be...
Later!
JCV

Kid said...

May I ask then, do you think your father (or some 'force') was guiding you? I ask only out of genuine interest, not because I seek to debunk your account in any way. You see, if such a thing happened to me, I wonder how I would react and to what I would attribute the experience. Or would I just be amazed and uncomprehending? As I said, fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Wow...My father whom I loved more than anything else in the world died the same day yours did. September 17th 2003. He was one of Frank Lloyd Wright´s last apprentices. Designed many a house in the Atlanta area. It is a pain one never gets over. As good as Dad was at designing houses, his skills as a father far outweighed them.

ToB said...

Thank you for telling us about your father and this sad mystery. Real mysteries are rare these days. It is a touching and powerful story - and I'm glad you found the whetstone!

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

In the final published issue of Star Seed, you wrote about how your father reacted "[w]hen [you] got ripped off": "He kept saying, 'I'm seventy years old, what can they do to me?'" Now I understand the man who said that a little better. Thank you for sharing his story. I can't imagine what he went through during WWII. "That didn't stop him. He kept going." describes you as well. He even looks like you in that photo. His spirit lives on in you ten years later.

You come from a long line of builders, though you work with words and pictures.

The cool thing about being able to build is being able to customize your own stuff. Create secret compartments. I wonder if other readers have experience with such compartments -- or perhaps even made their own.

How old is that whetstone? It looks timeless to my untrained eye. Does it have writing on it?

Defiant1 said...

No doubt about it, I have no bout of doubt it regarding your tale.

Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, I TOTALLY believe it. My mother, 1000 miles away, saved me from a fire - seriously.

Rich said...

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool."

Richard Feynman

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that, Jim

Hisham said...

I haven't seen enough of your photos to be absolutely sure, but it seems to me you have your dad's eyes.

jimshooter said...

Dear Kid,

I really have no explanation. It happened. "Amazed and uncomprehending" is a pretty good summation.

jimshooter said...

Dear Anonymous,

Wow right back at you. A friend of mine owned a house supposedly secretly built by FLW for his mistress's mother in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. It was one of a number of houses in a development all allegedly designed by FLW apprentices. FLW historians, including Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan, who built a FLW museum at Domino's HQ in Ann Arbor, were utterly unaware of this house. I spent a day with Monaghan once and tried to convince him of this, but he adamantly denied that FLW built a house he was unaware of. Do you know anything about this? I can describe the house in detail.

niederklopfer said...

Great Story Mr. Shooter. Reminds of my relationship with my dad. My dad also died of cancer and just like you and your father we became closer the last few months of his life. God bless you Sir.

Jerry Novick said...

There are many stories like this surrounding the passing of a loved one - all of them a miracle of grace that cannot be explained or understood.

My own story: My father and I had been estranged for a few years. Not the horrible "no communication at all" estranged, but severely strained with a lot of unresolved blame on many issues.

Anyway, one night I am having some fun with my own kids, and I think to myself "I'm going to call Dad." I call, and we have the best conversation we had had in years. Resolved a lot of stuff. Really came to a place where we saw eye to eye and understood each other. Apologies all around (and my dad was not a good apologizer, but here he was taking responsibility for his part in things), started talking about bringing the wife & kids out to see him soon.

36 hours later, he was dead. After ten years of heart troubles that should have killed him long before they actually did. Man lived on borrowed time. Saved just enough to put things right with me. But I was the one prompted to pick up the phone.

36 hours... Grace prompted me just in time.

Dusty. said...

My father and brother (my only sibling and best friend) were named Kenneth. The anniversaries of their deaths just passed on October 5th and 14th, respectively. My dad died of a massive heart attack when he was 46 and my brother died of pancreatic cancer when he was 32. He was only 11 months older than me. I was always extremely close to both of them, and I'm glad you got close before your dad died, Jim. I never got the chance to say goodbye to my dad or brother. My dad was boom and gone and my brother was being treated for a pinched nerve in his back that kept getting worse. He started eating pain meds like candy and got into an auto accident, and it was about day 3 in ICU that they discovered why his system was responding when all he did was break his pelvis in the wreck. His liver was full of tumors, and it was eventually traced back to the pancreas. There is no beating that form of cancer, because when the symptoms come to the surface (stomach and/or back pain) it's too late. They call it the silent killer.

I don't believe in the supernatural, either, but every now and then, some weird thing happens that just can't be explained.

Jason said...

I don't have any supernatural stories, but I do have an echo of part of your story.

The father of a good friend of mine was also a WWII vet (whose life was saved only because he had an excellent bass voice, but that's another story) was a lifelong smoker. He was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer when his twin sons were freshmen in high school. The doc told him he had, at best, months to live, and that he would never see his sons graduate.

He died three months after their graduation.

As my friend's husband said, "Your father was a stubborn man."

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

The whetstone first belonged to my grandfather, I think. He died in 1939. From what remains of the writing on it, I guess it once said "Carborundum Company No. 198."

jimshooter said...

Dear Rich,

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Yep, I'm with you. That's why I draw no conclusions from my various weird experiences. But I also don't pretend they didn't happen -- one might even say "seem to happen" -- as recounted.

Defiant1 said...

Although I have stories that are a bit personal, I've also heard some uncanny stories from people I know.

A girl I dated said she was having problems in a relationship before I met her. Her mom out of the blue felt like she should call her. Failing to get through, the nagging urge to reach her built up. Her mom from Georgia called the police in Texas who walked in on her while she was attempting suicide. What are the odds of a mother saving her daughter's life from several hundred miles away based upon a feeling?

As I mentioned in a blog post, she did actually die in a traffic accident many years later. I knew she had loved this guy she'd been with in the past. Since I cared so much, I kinda said a prayer that I'd like to meet the guy to know what she saw in him. I wanted to know why she cared so much. So the day her body was to be shown at the funeral home, I was with her parents. We were talking about prayer, faith, and such. The doorbell rings. Her dad answers the door and his face turns white. This guy I had prayed to meet shows up at the door. He asked to see the girl. He didn't know she had died. The family hadn't seen him in over 5 years. He lived in New York and had driven thousands of miles out of his way because he just felt he should visit. No prior call ahead. He just showed up at the door. Years later when her dad died, I did the same thing. The family hadn't seen me for close to a year. I showed up at their house the day her dad was supposed to be shown at the funeral home. I had no idea he'd passed. I just felt I should visit.

A best friend of mine had two fraternal twin daughters. I had been able to keep in touch with him all the way through college, marriage, and becoming a jet pilot. I lost touch with him after he left test pilot school in California. All attempts to reach him failed until I saw someone post on an internet web page trying to collect money for him. One of his twin daughters had developed brain stem cancer. He spared no expense on her treatments and was even letting the doctors try experimental treatments out of a last ditch effort to save her. A TV show filmed the story. It was shown on one of those lifetime network medical shows. I never saw the show, but a mutual friend from high school told me she seen it. By the time I found out and contacted him, his daughter had already passed away. I made a trip to Maryland to visit him. While there, we talked. He said it struck him odd that his daughter even at an early age had a fascination with death. She would ask him what happens when you die. He said it wouldn't have been so odd, but his other daughter never did that. From talking, I could tell that he was fully intent on spending whatever it took to save her, and making any sacrifice necessary. I said, I guess it hit you hard to know that everything you did wasn't able to save her. He said "actually no." He said he knew things had changed when he walked in the hospital room after months treatment and his daughter was extremely cheerful one day. His daughter said her grandmother had visited her. I forget the grandmother's nickname, but it had cheered her up. He said that clued him in that she was not going to be around much longer. The grandmother that had visited her had passed away a few years earlier. Hearing that allowed him to accept her inevitable fate while she was still alive.

Payton G. said...

Jim...I want to thank you for this blog. Very insightful and entertaining.

I'm looking forward to reading Monday's entry and please continue to teach us the right way to create comics. I would love it if you would explain the essentials for doing a proper "done-in-one" story.

Mister.44 said...

I have no 'real' ghost stories other than a visit my wife had from an Aunt at the time of her passing.

But I do have some grandpa stories.

First off - wow - Omaha beach. I can't fathom the reality of it and hope none of us have to again. If he really had an M1 Carbine and not an M1 Garand, I would have been a little pissed about it. The carbine wouldn't have been much help at anything but closer distances.

My dad's dad was in the Coast Guard (career) as a Warrant Officer. He was on the Navy ship (commanded by the Coast Guard) USS Aultman. It was a troop and equipment transport from European theater to the Pacific.

Walt Disney used to make company patch designs, nose art, mascots etc for various military entities. Here is a silk screened print from my grandpas ship. Very appropriate with Donald rowing GI Plut to Japan. The number on the boat is the Aultman's nummber. http://www.flickr.com/photos/63283251@N04/5756532033/

My other grandpa fixed planes for the Navy in Hawaii. I have his dress blues I am trying to fit into a shadow box. Here is a pissy story. My grandma moved to a home, and my mom and aunts were clearing out the house, including the cluttered basement. My mom found a manual for a Pratt and Whitney Wasp II engine. This was grandpa's manual from his training in Corpus Cristi. These types of engines were used for the Navy trainers. It was on really good paper, as it was still nice and white. It literally had every nut and bolt in that engine. He had pull out charts, color coded to show how oil and fuel moved through it.

My mom was going to give it to me, but my aunts were like "lets see what we get for it at the estate sale". Now - if they got $100+ for it, I could be grudgingly approve, as the money goes to grandma and I couldn't really afford it. But I said, "If you're going to sell it for $20 or something, I'll buy it." I got to the estate sale late, but by the time I had gotten there it was gone. And how much did it go for? $20.

LESSON - if you see something that is irreplaceable from your kin - take it - latch on to it - bargain with the powers that be. Once it's gone, it's gone. I could buy the same manual on ebay - bit it wouldn't be HIS manual.

Finally - since I am just showing off this poster I made my dad. I took it off of a very grainy, blurry picture, but even though not all of the detail is there, I think it works. The box at the bottom I put in the campaign ribbons for the ship. http://www.flickr.com/photos/63283251@N04/5756532401/

jimshooter said...

Dear Mister.44,

Thanks for the stories.

According to my father's diary, when his company arrived at Omaha Beach, runners came back from the first wave only 100 yards ahead of them, collected all their ammo and took it back to guys up front. Then my father's company was ordered to advance. He threw away his ammo-less M1 Garand and "picked a carbine off a corpse" because he knew he could find plenty of ammo for a carbine.

Mister.44 said...

re: Garand vs carbine

Makes perfect sense, then.

To others with living vets NOW is the time to ask for the untold stories. Not everyone will be open, but you can only ask when they are still alive. I wish I had asked both of my grandparents more. I asked my great uncle if he served, but he broke his back as a kid and they wouldn't take him. Had no idea he broke his back. No one tells me anything.

I interviewed my god mothers husband for a report one time. He was an engineer aboard a B-17 and later a B-24. They stereotype those flying as 'farm kids from Kansas', and that is exactly what he was. If you look at the statistics you can see how dangerous those missions were. But I did learn a lot from my brief interview with him.

cease ill said...

Jim,

Dad had died, and my sister and I and many of us came home to Rome, GA for the funeral. In the kitchen, I tried to keep up spirits, as I felt a sweet resolution within me that made me realize I embraced Dad, good and bad, as such a wonderful, loving father, who'd left home at thirteen and made up what he knew about fatherhood on the fly. We verbally agreed he would want us to make the most of the situation...just as a toaster "dinged" in approval. But no one had touched that toaster that day...and it was, at that, unplugged.

Take care, Cecil

Anonymous said...

Dear Jim,

Jack Kirby also stormed Omaha Beach ... wouldn't it be something if he crossed paths with your Dad?

-Pete Marco

Jim S. said...

Since you are mentioning family, I was wondering if other family members are also tall? My mother is short, but her father was tall, and I believe that is where I got those genes. (I am a mere 6'3" ;)

--Jim

jimshooter said...

My father was 6'2". My mother, in younger days was 5'11". My sister is about 5'10". I'm 6'7".