One final gift from someone who gave so much

December, detangling decorative holiday lights stuffed in a box from the cellar is a little harder this year. My feed truck is broken down. The dog died this year. My younger sister passed away last January and then Dad in March, short of his 80th birthday. This is about Dad's gift.

After serving four years in the Navy on Guam, Dad married Mom and started as a share farmer in Minnesota. He and mom raised pigs, chickens, a few cows and corn on another man's land. To make extra money to buy the land, Dad traveled the Midwest building pole barns for other farmers. Mom raised us three kids and did a lot of farm chores.

One year the barn caught on fire and burned to the ground with all my folks' farm equipment inside. Dad managed to get the cows out but the man who owned the property died soon afterwards. Since My parents had just a handshake agreement with the man they had to move to town after the man's family settled the estate and sold all the property to someone else.

So Dad became a carpenter and a plumber. Being a plumber in Minnesota, Dad was on call a lot in winter. Driving at night through a blowing blizzard to get to a cold family to start up their stalled furnace or unplug frozen pipes, Dad worked hard. He and mom bought a house in town. Mom worked in the school cafeteria to be home when we girls came home from school. Dad, pretty good with numbers and people, I asked him why he never went to college. All he said was, "Somebody's got to do the work." Yet he supported two daughters through college.

Dad smoked since he was 14 years old. He gave up cigarettes in the , but his lungs were damaged by then. Before 70 years old he was on portable oxygen. Freezing cold plumber days and heavy carpentry work had worn out his knees and bad arthritis had set in his hands. As an older man his hands were too swollen to hold a sandwich. So he had both knees replaced and learned to hold a fork differently.

Dad got dentures around the same time he had cataract surgery. But his eyes were still so bad he fell on a concrete foundation during one grandson's honor society induction so he got an artificial hip too. Dad, a kind, giving, clever man didn't talk much. But he knew a few good stories. He saw all his grandchildren go to college. His only granddaughter marry. He cried when he lost his wife of 48 years, 10 years ago, and again this January when his youngest daughter died unexpectedly at the age of 48.

Dad never lived beyond his means. Saved money, owned his own home, built a retirement account.

But quickly medical expenses took most of the gold Dad had saved for his golden years. His family assured him he would always have a home and never have to eat dog food like some elderly poor without benefits or family.

Dad never complained about his choices in life. He seemed pretty content making miniature hay-wagons in his retirement and various wooden holiday decorations to give to anyone, bankteller, oxygen delivery man, waitress, family, friend, foster children, anyone, kind to him.

In March, when Dad died, the hospital said he was an organ donor. This was not a surprise, but what could Dad donate? His damaged lungs caused his heart failure. His kidney and liver, strained. His hips, knees and teeth, artificial. He wore hearing aids, had serious arthritis, bad eyes. What could he donate?

"Your Dad has beautiful skin," said the organ donor coordinator. "It could be used on burn victims, in breast cancer reconstruction and on injured military member."

Dad gave one more gift. Please consider being a donor. We all have so much to give. Happy Holidays.

Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.


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