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Strictly personal: Two area codes

Feb. 24, 2009

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These days when I'm asked how things are going, two area codes come to mind.

I've got a daughter living within Tennessee area code 931 and parents in Iowa's 319 area. On caller ID, they appear as 931 and 319. A dyslexic might not catch the difference but there is one - a big one.

My daughter had already given my wife and I the gift of two wonderful grandchildren, Chase and Rylie, and on February 6 came the magical arrival of a third, Tyler. 931.

My dad had his 82nd birthday February 20. About 13 years ago he had multiple by-pass surgery, and then in 2006 he started dialysis when his kidneys failed. A week or so ago his heart doctor told him his arteries are choked and there isn't anything medicine can do about it this time. 319.

I don't know how many grandkids you could collect before the thrill of walking down that hallway to the nursery viewing window for the first time became routine. Having had two prior dress rehearsals, when our son-in-law stuck his head in the waiting room and asked if we wanted to see Tyler he didn't have to ask twice.

"Oh my! There's Tyler, the one under the lights. I think he's the best baby here. Nine pounds, already quite a lad! Let me call the Great Grandpa and Grandma and tell them the special news." 931.

Dad answers, his voice tired and at half volume.

"That is big news, what's his name?"

"Tyler"

"Taylor?"

"No dad, Tyler. Tyler Ryan."

"That's a good name."

Dad pauses briefly, as if to contemplate his next words. He's a card carrying member of the Greatest Generation, which means he has never been one to embrace, express deep thoughts or tell his two boys what he considers family or personal business. He never wanted us to worry; he'd handle that.

"Did your mom tell you about my last trip to the doctor?" Dad asks.

"Yes Dad, she did."

"So you know they said they can't do anything for me. I've had 82 very good years. Your news about Tyler is very good. One person arrives while another fades away." 319.

"You're not fading away, dad," I protest quietly, still gazing through the nursery window at my newest pride and joy.

My thoughts turn to this wrinkled lion in his late winter. A few weeks prior I had visited the frozen tundra of northeast Iowa. People there are self-reliant, tough. Mom was brushing snow off the windshield without a coat and it was five-below zero. She said it didn't seem that cold, no doubt true since a week prior it had been -29 air temperature.

Inside dad was lying on the den rug; that's where he now sleeps, often wearing an oxygen tube. A nurse friend told us there is more oxygen on the floor. He's lost lots of weight; dialysis is hard on the body and, unfortunately, the heart.

Who could now realize that this feeble, thin-haired man was once the life of the morning coffee gang and among the longest drivers at the golf course? Club champ one year; there's that hole-in-one ball on its dusty pedestal shoved in a now forgotten dresser drawer.

This same old timer that passed out trying to walk up the restaurant's front stairs before Sunday dinner pitched on the church's slow pitch team until he was in his early 60's. I once heard he was offered a minor league contract by the Cardinals when he was getting out of the Army after "the War". It's a rumor because he never talked about himself, at least not around us boys.

Tyler's older brother and sister are already in the tiny tot leagues. They have fun playing soccer and Chase can slug a t-ball darn near out of the infield when he catches it flush. Rylie is more interested in her special pink soccer shoes than the game itself. Who knows what's ahead in their lives and that of kid brother Tyler?

Two area codes, two cycles of life. 319 and 931.

Ring, ring, it's the telephone. God is calling.

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