Saturday will mark the three-week anniversary of the day my friend Darrell fell through a hole in his deck. You’ll recall that I wrote about it a couple days later. And in that story, I asked you to speculate on what Darrell’s last words were as he headed for the deck below.
I had already asked Darrell if he remembered saying anything on the way down. I asked him the day after the fall, when his brain was in a fog from the good drugs he was getting. He thought he had said “Oh, f**k!”
At least three of my readers guessed the right expletive, but didn’t get the phrase exactly right. Sarah Vogel, Marty Boeckel and Steve Andrist all knew Darrell well enough to guess what the key word might have been. They’re going to win a prize.
But wait! There’s more!
A week later, Darrell and I were visiting, and he said, “I read your blog. And I remember now what it was that I said as I went through that hole. It wasn’t what I told you.”
Darrell said as he stepped off into space, he figured this might just be the end, and he wanted his last words to be memorable. So he shouted,
Well, we all know what that’s about, and they were memorable words, all right. The problem is, I misled you by saying he might have used an expletive, and so most of you did. Sarah, Marty and Steve all dropped the F-bomb. Which would have been fairly typical for Darrell. But if, indeed, this was to be the end of Darrell, he didn’t want to be remembered for that. Hence, quick thinking in a split second, it was,
But, without consulting Darrell, I’m going to give away a couple of his potatoes to each of them anyway. Just one little problem. Darrell can’t get down the back steps to dig his potatoes. And he’s not taking a short cut like he did last time.
I had volunteered to come over and dig his potatoes this weekend. We’re kind-of neighbors. I live just about a 4-iron away, over the hill, from him and Kathy. Just one problem: I’m laid up myself, back in the hospital trying to get rid of a nasty leg infection. Not sure when I’ll get home.
Yeah, we’re quite a pair, Darrell and I. I suggested we go to the county fair and enter one of those sack races. After all, we have two good legs between us. But there’s a little good news.
Darrell has a badly broken leg and hobbles around the house on crutches. He says another month or so, and then he’ll start rehab. But for now, he needs a wheelchair to get in and out of the house, and so he’s installed a ramp at the front door. It works great for getting out, but he can’t get back in. So he has to call Kathy or a neighbor to push him up the ramp and open the door to get back in.
It’s not a fancy ramp, by any stretch, but that ramp wins him a prize. Darrell is now the first of my friends to need a ramp to get in and out of his house. We’re all getting old, and I’ve been wondering how long it was going to take for all of us to need ramps to get in and out of our houses. Darrell wins! I’ve made a checklist of likely suspects, and I’ll keep track of who’s next.
For now, as soon as I get out of the hospital and back home, I’ll go over and wheel him down the ramp, and around to the back, and we’ll go dig potatoes. Steve, Marty, and Sarah, expect a phone call in the next week or so to come over and get your prizes. It won’t be much, but at least you’ll get to visit with Darrell and Kathy. A trip worth making.
By the way, Darrell and I shared a bag of seed potatoes last spring, and I’ve been sampling those “new potatoes”—Yukon Golds—as they come out of MY garden. They make mighty good hash browns. I can’t wait to get home and eat some more.
Oh, and also, you might be wondering if Darrell’s upset with me for poking a little bit of fun at him during his time of distress. Well, don’t worry about that. We are used to each other poking fun.
We’re awfully good friends and our friendship goes back a long, long ways. More than 40 years, actually. Here’s a short story, which I will tell to the best of my memory. I might get some details wrong, but that’s okay—it was a long time ago. And Darrell can correct me.
One day in the summer of 1974, or it might have been 1975, I was working as a reporter and night editor at The Dickinson Press, and Darrell was a reporter and news anchor for KDIX-TV, just across the street and around the corner from the Press office.
Somehow, one or both of us got a tip that there was a big event going on down in Adams County. I’m from there, and Darrell had grown up in neighboring Hettinger County. We both ended up driving to Bucyrus, a little town on U.S. Highway 12 about ten miles west of Hettinger, to cover the story.
Actually we drove to a farmyard south of Bucyrus, a farm owned by a fellow named Russell Schorsch. Russell was a burly middle-aged grain farmer who didn’t like the government. If he was still alive, he’d have been at the Capitol on January 6. Russell was convinced that the government was spying on him from airplanes, and so every time a small plane flew over his place—mostly crop dusters, I think—he’d dash out onto his porch with his .22 rifle and shoot at them. He might have even hit one of them.
Some pilot reported him to the county sheriff, who sprang into action, driving out to Russell’s farm to talk to him, or maybe arrest him. Well, Russell didn’t like sheriffs either, and he refused to come out of his house, although he could be seen brandishing his .22 through a window.
The standoff continued through the day and into the evening and finally Darrell and I drove back to Dickinson to report our stories, and drove back down the next morning. By the time we arrived, negotiations were underway again, stretching past noon. It was a hot summer day, and one of us suggested a cold beer at the Bucky Russ Bar (really, that was its name) in Bucyrus might be a good idea. Being good, eager, conscientious (and thirsty) reporters, we arranged for the sheriff to call us at the bar if anything changed. It was just a few miles away. It was a great way to cover a story on a hot summer day. And it wasn’t the las ttime we befriended a county sheriff.
We spent the day getting to know each other, had a few cold ones, and then decided we better get back out to Russell’s and check on what was happening.
Overnight, the sheriff had called in reinforcements. We arrived at Russell’s house just as North Dakota Crime Bureau Agent Norbert Sickler drove into the yard in a pickup pulling a trailer.
On the back of that trailer was a strange looking vehicle, a mini-Sherman Tank sort of thing. Norbert got the little one-man tank, about the size of one of today’s Bobcats, off the trailer, crawled in, and took a bullhorn and told Russell to come out, unarmed. Russell refused. So Norbert closed the hatch, fired up the tank, and drove right up to the front door.
I wish you had been there. It was one of the funniest sights I had ever seen. I can still close my eyes and see that tank up against Russell’s front door. Darrell and I had to work really hard to keep from laughing in front of the sheriff. We had just enough beer in us to make a semi-serious crime scene look really funny.
I don’t think Norbert drove his tank through the door, but he would have if he needed to. Instead, Russell looked out the window, saw a tank on his porch, probaby said something similar to what Darrell first remembered what he said when he fell through the hole in his deck, and came out with his hands in the air. The sheriff took him into custody and headed for the Adams County jail. We headed for Dickinson to report the news.
Darrell got some film of the whole event for the six o’clock newscast. I don’t remember if he was able to do the story with a straight face or not. I got a pretty good picture of Norbert and his tank, and laughed all the time I was writing the story. It was front page news the next day, complete with pictures. Damn, I wish I still had those pictures.
Anyway, that was the first time our paths crossed, Darrell and I, and we’ve revisited the story many times over the years. Still do. And we’ve visited the Bucky Russ a couple times too. We’ll talk about it in the potato patch next week. I think we’ll invite Sarah and Marty and Steve. Darrell will let me know if I got most of the story right. If not, he can write a guest blog and correct me. Wouldn’t be the first time he’s needed to do that, either.