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Most of you know that we’ve been busy for the past two weeks since our daughter and her family were left homeless and without belongings after a devastating house fire. Once they were settled into suitable shelter and after they were able to purchase a few articles of clothing and other basic needs (thanks to your generous contributions and support), Denene and I headed home.

Along the way north we learned that my uncle, the last remaining uncle on my mother’s side of the family, was rushed to a hospital where he was to undergo emergency heart surgery. The first hospital was not adequately suited to perform the surgery so he was transported by ambulance to a hospital in Delaware, just a few miles from our house. Of course, we were in North Carolina at the time, dealing with the fire situation.

Unfortunately, as the surgical team started the tedious operation, they quickly learned that they, too, were not equipped to handle such a delicate procedure as the one before them. Therefore, once he was again stabilized they rushed him to a hospital in Philadelphia. This hospital, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, is said to be one of the best in the country for the type of procedure needed for my uncle.

We arrived home late at night/early morning from the trip to Ellen’s, and the next morning I was off to Philadelphia where I sat for several hours, making the usual nervous small talk with my aunt and cousin—the stuff people babble about while waiting and hoping for encouraging words from surgeons.

During our wait a paramedic flight team rushed a patient down the hallway directly in front of where we sat. The two EMS professionals were surrounded by a gaggle of police officers, both uniformed and several others wearing plainclothes. Then came family members of the patient.

I told my aunt that the mere presence of so many police officers could only mean a few things. One: The patient was a dangerous criminal who needed lots of security. Two: He was a witness to a terrible crime and needed lots of security. Three: An important public figure and needed lots of security. Four: The patient was a police officer who’d been injured or fallen seriously ill while in the line of duty.

Before long, the hallway filled with even more police officers—motorcycle cops, K-9 officers, patrol officers, detectives, supervisors, and, well, you name it and they were there, and all with wrinkled brows, a serious and intense lack of smiles, and the absence of the usual cop-type joke-cracking and hospital humor. Had to be an injured police officer. No doubt about it.

While anxiously awaiting news about my uncle, a man walked over and sat in the empty chair beside me. He nervously twisted and intertwined his fingers, stopping occasionally to rub a hand over the fingers of the opposite hand and then after a moment or two switched to rub the fingers of the other hand, and then back to the finger twisting. His brow was deeply furrowed and he glanced around the room, obviously focusing on nothing in particular. I’d been there before, in that same mental state, when Ellen was undergoing cancer surgeries and when my parents and grandparents were nearing the ends of their lives. His heart-shattering, emotional pain was almost palpable.

He soon turned to me, a stranger, and said, “My son is a police detective and he and a couple of his coworkers were knocking on a door to speak with someone about a case when he suddenly collapsed. It’s his heart.”

Needing to talk to someone, anyone, he went on to explain how the other detectives did all the right things and, as a result of what was later learned to be a major cardiac event, the young detective, a man half my uncles age, was flown to the same Philadelphia hospital where he underwent the same procedure as did my uncle.

Both operations were performed at the same time, in separate operating rooms.

The anxious father and I chatted for several minutes, with he asking about my former career and I about the career path of his son. Then the man, Mr. Moretti, told me about an officer who’d once served with his son (Detective Andrew Moretti) at the same Pennsylvania agency, the Plymouth Township Police Department.

It was seven years ago, he said, when the officer about whom he spoke, Officer Brad Fox, was shot and killed on the eve of his 35th birthday. At the time, Officer Fox’s wife was expecting the couple’s second child.

Nick, a Belgian Malinois and Officer Fox’s his K-9 partner, was also injured in the shooting, but survived.

I remembered including Officer Fox in my long-running Friday’s Heroes column, the posts that recognize the officers who’d lost their lives in the line of duty during the week of the posts. I’d written those articles for eleven years and, yes, I recall most of the names and many of the faces. A few I’ve known personally. One was a former coworker.

So I pulled up the post on my phone and showed it to Mr. Moretti. As he read it, Detective Moretti’s wife entered the waiting room and her father-in-law introduced me as a retired police detective. Then he walked out into the hallway, wading into the midst of his son’s co-workers, work partners, and peers.

I nodded toward the mob of police officers standing in the hallway leading to the operating theater of the cardiac care unit, and said to her, “Were you aware that when you married a cop you married an entire department as well as thousands of law enforcement officers all around the country?”

“It’s true,” I continued. “We’re a family, you know.”

She said she’d entered into their marriage with eyes wide open and knew exactly what was in store for her, and that I was correct, their extended family was one that reached the four corners of the country and all areas between. They’d seen evidence of that when Officer Fox was killed during the ambush attack.

It was then when the surgeon came out to deliver news about my uncle. His condition was serious but he’d survived the operation. There was much to be done in the days following the surgery … one step at a time.

When I finally left my uncle’s room that night, the elder Mr. Moretti stood in the hallway. The smile on his face told the story that his son, too, had survived the surgery. Relief had eased the worry lines that had earlier shaped his forehead and the area around his eyes. His jaw was relaxed and he displayed a cheek-to-cheek toothy grin. His wife stood at his side, tired but happy. The detective’s wife was ecstatic.

I wished them all well and headed toward the elevators, still limping from my recent hip replacement, and with the weight of worry for my own family members resting heavily on my shoulders. On the other hand, I was happy for the Morettis.

The next day, Detective Moretti was up, sitting in a chair, chatting away with his smiling wife and a group of police officers, a crowd so large that many were forced to stand outside in the hallway. I felt extreme joy to know that he’d “made it,” even though I’d never met him. Hey, we’re all family, right?

A few doors down from the happiness inside Detective Moretti’s room, my uncle, still basically unresponsive, was in the process of experiencing a heart attack and severe respiratory distress.

I’d just entered his room when the event began and the room quickly filled with doctors, nurses, surgeons, respiratory therapists, anesthesiologists, and more. Total but highly organized chaos. An hour later he was once again stable and that’s the situation today—stable.

So, my uncle, Pete, a veteran who’d served in Korea, is currently in a Philadelphia hospital room fighting for his life with the assistance of various machines, tubes, a ventilator, blood transfusions, and numerous dedicated and caring medical professionals.

My daughter and her family are living in a motel, with no home and no personal belongings. She’s recovering from cancer and the after-effects of aggressive chemo and radiation. She and her husband and son are emotionally and physically drained. They’re broken and they’re broke. Her hospital bills now exceed well over $1.25 million.

My mother-in-law is still battling serious cancer and still receives chemo each week. She’s weak.

Our wonderful daughter-in-law Stephani was recently diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness that has totally disrupted her life. As a result and after trying numerous other medications/injections that cost a couple thousand dollars each, she must now be hooked to an IV for hours at a time every few weeks to receive infusions of a new drug. She’s desperate for relief and for remission. “If it works, it will be worth it,” she said to me a few days ago.

This is the spot for a long … sigh …

When I walked down the hallway to leave the hospital this past Tuesday night, I overheard Mr. Moretti telling a group of officers that seven years ago I’d taken the time to recognize Officer Brad Fox’s service and sacrifice, and that I’d actually remembered his name after all the time that’s passed since he was killed in the line of duty.

It is my hope that Officer Fox’s wife and children know that he, like all the other officers who’ve lost their lives so that we can remain safe, will forever be remembered for their heroism.

And, speaking of heroism, Officer Fox’s death came as he and his K-9 were searching a secluded area for a suspect who was on felony probation, and who was the prime suspect in the disappearance of his fiancee.

I know, this post was absolutely all over the place, but so are my thoughts and my own emotions. I guess what I want to say most right now is thanks to each of you for your support for me and my family during the tough times we’ve experienced.

So yes, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys mean the world to me—you’re family—and I wish I could somehow repay your kindness and extreme generosity.


Officer Bradley Fox, 34

Plymouth Township Pennsylvania Police Department

September 13, 2012 – Officer Bradley Fox was shot and killed by ambush after responding to reports of a hit and run. The suspect opened fire as Officer Fox approached, wounding both Fox and his canine partner. Officer Fox is survived by his expectant wife and daughter.

It seems like just yesterday when they were last here,

Sharing their laughter and their love,

Playing silly games and offering warm hugs.

 

Telling bedtime stories,

Of giants and beanstalks,

Jack Horner and Miss Muffett too.

 

Family meals,

School plays,

And summertime fun.

 

The beach,

The boardwalk,

Taffy and arcades.

 

A milkshake and french fries,

Special times,

Fun times.

 

It seems like just yesterday when my mother held me in her arms,

While an aunt made goofy faces,

And funny sounds.

 

Grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins,

Ah, yes, the cousins,

All sizes, all shapes.

 

Boys and girls alike,

Playing in the old barn,

Cowboys and cowgirls.

 

Pretend horses, and sticks for guns and bats,

Toy trucks and wagons,

A ride.

 

With me in the middle,

An uncle pulling,

And another to the rear.

 

Such joy,

When sometimes doing things,

Things we knew we shouldn’t.

 

Yes, we were carefree,

And worried not,

Life was forever.

 

Fireflies,

Hide-and-seek,

And freeze tag.

 

Seasons came and seasons went,

Holidays too,

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and each new year.

 

Sleigh bells,

Santa,

The tree, the lights, and the angel perched high above.

 

Turkeys and hams and holiday treats,

Presents and eggnog,

Joy and comfort.

 

But it’s mostly quiet now,

As I often sit, lost in thought,

They’re gone now.

 

My grandparents,

My parents, uncles, and aunts.

The givers of hugs, love, and much-cherished treats.

 

Times change,

Wrinkles come,

And memories fade.

 

Falling leaves,

Long, cold nights,

And sad, lonely hearts.

 

It’s almost Christmas,

And it seems like just yesterday,

But they’re no longer here.

Priority: a thing regarded as having more importance than that of another.

As the Atlas fire, the inferno here in Northern California that destroyed over 50,000 acres, crept closer and closer to our neighborhood, Denene and I were forced to decide what to take with us should we need to evacuate. Clearly, a few of our priorities differed … greatly.

Denene remained fixated on family photos, antique silverware, important papers, clothing, and the like. Me, I went straight for the meat … books. Realizing, of course, I couldn’t take all the reading material lining our shelves, I selected three. Two are antiques that mean quite a bit to me. The third was a signed book with a personal inscription. I have several signed books and they’re each extremely valuable, but this one has special significance.

Next, I carefully wrapped and packed three rocks. Two of the stones came from Mt. St. Helens. The third is a rock featuring a hand-painted image of Barney Fife. My daughter painted it for me.

I selected a small airplane made from tongue depressors and a narrow piece of wood. Tyler, my grandson, made it for me when he was super young. An antique carpenter’s level, Jew’s harp, and an old and quite rusty Ballantine beer opener also found their way into my “go bag.” They belonged to my grandfather. A paperweight my father gave me when I first became a detective, drawing supplies, a hat gifted to me by a friend, an item signed by the Oak Ridge Boys, and my name/desk plates (police) from my old office. Each of those things went straight into my case.

Of course, when the time came to leave our home I also grabbed photos, computers, chargers, cash, and checkbooks. And yes, our entire family of Alexas and Echo tagged along, as did Dead Red Fred who, by the way, was in a huge hurry to leave. All his life he’s had a fear of being melted down and made into a little red rubber ball.

But, we’re back home now, all safe and sound. I greatly appreciate all the well-wishes and prayers. I also deeply appreciate the outstanding efforts of the firefighters, police, sheriff’s deputies, air support, CHP, National Guard, and others who worked around the clock to save as much property and as many lives as possible.

Priorities

I also thank you for the thoughts and prayers for our daughter who underwent emergency surgery last week. She’s recovering from that procedure but the situation is ongoing, and serious. We appreciate your continued prayers. The same for Denene’s mother. Her situation is ongoing and serious. My brother is scheduled for surgery in a few weeks.

My priorities remain with my family.

“Things,” signed books and rocks and airplanes and yes, even Dead Red Fred, can all be replaced.

#Priorities #SorryDeadRedFred


Priority: a “thing” regarded as having more importance than that of another.

I suppose the level of importance depends upon where and with whom in your mind the “thing” lives.

 

A weed eater that refuses to start no matter how many times I pull its cardiac-event-inducing rope. A leaf blower cut from the same cloth. An asthmatic air compressor. Pliers that no longer … ply (is that even a word?). And, well, you get the idea. My tools are broken.

It seems like just yesterday when I could sound the alarm, calling all my tools to be ready at a moment’s notice. And there they’d stand, handle to handle with looks of determination on their gleaming metal surfaces. Together, we could build or fix anything.

Recently, however, when I called my tools to action their response was lackluster at best. Why, it nearly took an act of congress (well, a congress that will actually do something) to get them out of their drawers and off the garage shelves.

When I finally managed to assemble my once faithful tools … well, I could hardly believe my eyes. What had happened to my rugged and sturdy friends? The screwdrivers, for example, were nervous and barely able to stop trembling long enough to connect with the slots on the screws needed to secure pictures and other do-dads to our freshly painted walls. Other hand tools were equally as shaky. It was a true puzzle. After all, they were all perfectly fine when I put them away after our last team venture.

#brokentools

Nuts, bolts, nails, and other fasteners were also in on the mysterious rebellion. The boxes of screws that line my workshop shelves quickly stepped forward to mess with me as well. That’s right, sometime between the last project and the new one, my assortment of sneaky drywall screws had reduced the size of the text on their containers. I couldn’t read the labels! I think it’s an attempt to prevent me from using any, keeping their twisted family members together.

There’s more—worn out wrenches, dead drill batteries, and to top it all off, my hammers are heavier than they used to be. What, I wondered, could they have possibly consumed that caused them to add all that extra weight? Was it due to a lack of exercise? Adding insult to injury, some prick glued my sledgehammer to the floor. Can’t budge it.

So, standing in the center of my workshop I slowly examined each item on each of the shelves. I was a visitor to an old-tools retirement home. Then it hit me, and my mind took me back to when I was a kid staying with my grandparents, something I did every summer.

Grandfathers Can Do Anything!

My grandfather was extremely handy. He could build, fix, paint, hammer with the best of them. In fact, he may very well have been the best fixer-upper man on the planet. In my eyes, he was the king of all things hammer and nails. I watched him work and, in turn, I learned his secrets. AND, I recalled that he performed his DIY miracles using…broken tools. Yes, his tools, too, were in a shoddy state—hints of decay, worn pull-ropes, dents, nicks, scratches, and so on.

Broken tools – life is short.
#brokentools

My fingers in those days, small and stubby, were not of sufficient length to fully close around the handle of my grandfather’s rusty-red pipe wrench. Nor were my young muscles strong enough to heft the blasted thing from its spot in my grandfather’s homemade wooden toolbox, a box filled with damaged goods. While digging through the vast assortment of antiquities, I remember thinking that when I grew up I’d never let my tools get in such a state.

My Grandfather’s Toolbox

Well, it’s been fifty years since I first dug my paws around in my grandfather’s toolbox. It took me that entire half-century to realize that broken tools are THE sign that someone has reached the threshold that divides the uphill climb of youth to the point where it all goes downhill. And there, my friends, is the place where I am today, in the midst of broken tools. I have become my grandfather.

Now, I could sit around the house and pout and whine about my advancing years and the dismembered and rusty work implements in my garage. But that’s not me. I’m not yet ready to totally succumb to the dreaded “broken tool syndrome.”

In fact, I did what all adult men should do at the first sign of the dreaded disease. I drove straight to a local home improvement store where I purchased a new, battery-powered weed eater and a battery-powered leaf blower. Why battery power? Because I’m too freakin’ old to pull those ropes! That’s why. Besides, the city doesn’t allow large livestock (grazing animals) in our yards. They do, however, allow residents to own a few chickens, but they only eat bugs, not grass and weeds.

Yes, my tools are broken, but I’m not stupid. I know I’ve grown older and arthritis doesn’t permit me to do many of things I used to enjoy. Yard work falls directly into this category. Sadly, I’ve had to hire a professional to assist me with my outdoor chores. Fortunately, we get along just fine. He’s a bit stubborn at times, but gets the job done.

By the way, the hammer pictured above (with the broken mirror) belonged to my grandfather. Prior to his ownership, it belonged to his father. I still use it.

Grandfathers and Grandkids: Broken Tools

I plan to pass on all of my grandfather’s tools to our grandson, Tyler. Actually, he first used a couple of them when he helped me with a project several years ago. His hands were small, too small to hold them properly, but he tried. We even used some of those tools to cobble together a few wooden toys—police tools. And then we played cops and robbers, for hours.

Several years have passed since those days. Tyler is now in high school. He’s a champion wrestler and martial artist with a room filled with trophies and numerous other awards.

It was an important moment for me, the day I first placed one of my grandfather’s tools into the hands of my grandson. Silly, I know. I also know the sentiment surrounding these tools will most likely fade with time, possibly as soon as the day I’m no longer here.

Still, I will rest easy knowing they’re in Tyler’s hands.

#ThankGodforkids #Grandkidstoo

#WilliamLeeGolden #OakRidgeBoys