Friday, January 20, 2017

In Comfort

  Three weeks ago I wrote how I went to see the ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Movie’ with my neighbor Don on the day after Christmas. Don has lived in the house next to our garage as long as we lived there. Don worked 4 blocks away at the hospital cleaning up and bringing hospital stuff to the incinerator. He would come over the house for Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas dinners when he wasn’t visiting his other relatives. When Don retired he drove his car (a 2001 Cavalier) in town until he had an accident and lost his license. After that Kathy took Don to the grocery store with her on Mondays and I would occasionally give him a ride if he needed to get drugs at the drug store or run some other errand.

  Last week Kathy couldn’t take Don to the grocery store on Monday because the kids were heading back to school from their winter breaks and she was going to spend all day driving 110 mile round trips to the airport. She called Don’s cell phone and left a message that she would be going grocery shopping on Tuesday. This was not an unusual occurrence and Don would call if he was out of eggs (Don would eat 4 eggs for breakfast every day) and we would pick up what he was out of.

  On Tuesday Kathy went to the garage to go grocery shopping and Don wasn’t waiting by his back door. Kathy went to Don’s back door and knocked but there was no answer. She opened the door and called Don and found him face down on his bathroom floor. Don has passed away sometime over the weekend. Kathy called the police and Don’s nephew to let them know. We looked for the next couple of days for the obituary to be in the paper and finally there it was and the first sentence was:

  Donald “Don” Hornberg, 84, of Marshalltown, Iowa, passed away on Tuesday, January 10, 2017, in the comfort of his own home.

  Well, there you have it! Someone found dead on their bathroom floor actually ‘passed away…in the comfort of their own home’. I was never in Don’s house but I have to think he had more comfortable furniture than his bathroom floor. I read the rest of the obituary (and you can too by clicking here) but had a hard time getting past the fact that if the very first sentence was hardly the truth how much of the rest of the obituary could be believed. So since I have had way too much experience in writing obituaries this past year I thought I’d write what I knew about Don and at least it would be the truth.

  Don never married or had kids and lived in a rundown house next to mine for the last 30 or so years. As I mentioned Don worked in the sanitation department of the local hospital for many years. He liked working there and would tell me that how well he was treated by the big shots at the hospital and when he got sick the doctors would give him sample medications to save him the expense of buying it himself. I have been sorely tempted to make the hospital a source of ridicule in the Broken Pawn. They spent a fortune to rebrand themselves from the Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center (a name that makes it readily apparent where you are and what you do) to the ambiguous Central Iowa Healthcare. Then they spent $35 million on 'Phase 1' of a new facility on the south side of town two years ago. All this spending led to bad press when the emergency room doctors quit because they weren’t being paid. Eventually the CEO had to resign and the hospital recently filed for bankruptcy. And this is a non-profit hospital! But I never trained my sights on this hospital because of Don’s stories about how well he was treated.

  Don’s main passion was pop culture. He loved movies, country music, and coins. He was the first person on the block to have a satellite dish and he subscribed to 5 HBO channels so he would be sure not to miss any of their featured films. He recorded movies on tapes and later DVD’s and would order collections of his favorite television shows. His favorite show was ‘Smallville’ but he enjoyed all the superhero shows like ‘Agents of Shield’ and when a new superhero movie came out would go to see it with us or by himself. Don was an avid coin collector and would get the mint set of each year’s coins. He had a few silver and gold coins but didn’t talk too much about them. Every couple of Christmases he would get our kids a set of mint coins for the current year. Collectibles never seem to be worth what the owner thinks they are so I don't know how much Don's coin collection was worth except it was worth a lot to him. A lot of single guys who never get married end up with a lot more money than anyone would ever expect. I doubt Don was one of those guys although it wouldn’t surprise me either. One thing I’m sure of is that I’ll never know.

  Don never owned a computer or used the Internet. I don't know whether that was a blessing or a curse. He may have become a big time trader in movies, coins, and records. Or he may have become a spending addict buying all kinds of things on the web that he couldn't afford and didn't need. Don had a small town attitude but was pretty sophisticated about coins and collectibles so I tend to think he would have tended to the former but it remains yet another thing I'll ever know.

  Another thing Don was passionate about was Alcoholics Anonymous. Don was a long time member and used to sponsor other recovering alcoholics. I never saw Don take a drink and he didn’t talk very much about his drinking days but he seemed to take pride in his mentoring other alcoholics. I never belabored the point and since I haven’t had a drink in over 25 years I wasn’t someone in need of mentoring. Was Don a falling down drunk who was saved by AA or a guy who occasionally had a drink he shouldn’t have? It is just another thing I’ll never know.

  Don loved Texas. He had spent some time there in his youth and he talked about it with so much joy I would constantly forgot that he was born and bred in Iowa and not a Texas transplant. I think he moved there to be with some family that moved back to Iowa and he moved back with them. Don always enjoyed our beagles but was a cat person himself. He always had an indoor cat and would occasionally feed the outdoor cats. He had a cat when he died which was gone when Kathy looked for it.

  When Don had a car accident and the state took away his drivers license Kathy would take him to the grocery store each week and I would see him walking to the Liquor Depot to get Lottery tickets or to the Courthouse to catch a bus. I’d give him a ride if he needed one but I think losing his license was one of the best things to ever happen to Don. He was always kind of overweight and was always short of breath but once he had to walk Don stopped being short of breath and seemed to be in much better shape than before. I think it added years to his life and quality to those years as well.

  So that’s the Don I knew. There were a lot of things I knew about him and a lot of things I didn't and never will know about him. He was just a normal guy who had a pretty simple life that was full of the things that interested him. I always enjoyed talking to him about movies and coins and such and wish I had more time for stuff like that. While I know he didn’t die in the ‘comfort’ of his home I do know he had a comfortable life.