Carolyn BerryOwner, The Berry Fit Company
Written By: Carolyn Berry
Written by Roger Dahlgran, fourth of six children
for Harold Dahlgran at his passing
December 22, 2011
For those of you who don't know me, and for those of you who don't recognize me, I am Roger, the fourth of Harold's six children. I have been selected from among my siblings to give a testimony to Dad's life. The method of my selection is noteworthy b ecause it illustrates that some things in a family never change. It's just like when we were kids. When my older brothers and sister wanted to try something with an uncertain outcome the idea that always popped into somebody's head was, "Let's have Roger do it and see what happens." So here I am. Let's see what happens. I also need to add that, despite the selection technique, I consider it an honor to reflect in public on Dad's life.
My plan is to start with a reflection on who my Dad was, then move on to express some reflections by his children and then close with some thoughts on his departure.
So who was my Dad?
Fathers are difficult to get to know. Upon reflection, I've concluded that mine was more complex than I originally gave him credit for. On one levvel he was an enigma because he grew up in a time when men did not freely share their innermost thoughts and feelings. He held true to this throughout his life. As a result, my brothers an sisters will keep him in our thoughts for the rest of our lives as we piece together who he was. There are, nonetheless, some things that we know for sure.
First, foremost, and always Dad was a farmer. He was a tiller of the earth, a grower of crops and a tender of animals. He was happiest working outdoors and helping things grow. Farming for dad was less of a business and more of a calling. Retirement from farming was not something dad aspired to and he resisted it for as long as he could. Even in his final years after moving to town, he continued to listen to market reports, even though he had no financial stake in the markets.
In my mind's eye I see Dad in his seed corn had and hooded sweatshirt with his farm pets; cats, and dogs, mostly but occasionally he would take in a raccoon, a squirrel, or a pigeon. I can see him walking across the yard toward the shed, with a cat perched on his shoulder, being followed by several other cats and at least one very loyal dog. Cats and dogs know who will treat them well and Dad treated his animals well. In retrospect I realize that these pets that I am seeing are his surrogate children because I am seeing this after his children have grown up.
Dad has six children and later five additional step children. As children, we demanded and got all of his attention but each of us, individually wanted more. He treated each of us as if we were special, just as he treated each of his cats and dogs like they were special after we were grown. He listened to our hopes and encouraged us to pursue our dreams. If our dreams didn't square with his world view, he tried to not let the disagreement stand between him and the one he loved.
Because of where we are and when we are here, Dad would want me to share that he was a loyal member of the Republican Party for most of his life. You could say he got his foot into politics when it was prominently featured along the edge of a National Geographic photograph that accompanied a story on the 1996 Iowa Republican caucuses. He was, on that day, involved in the political process and I remember Dad's excitement with having his foot in this picture. While Dad's political views didn't go beyond participation in local caucuses, except perhaps when he served as the mayor of Riverton, they certainly generated political discussions and awareness of hot issues like the Vietnam War. Dad was an avid reader and was always interested in world events. That interest rubbed off on his children. It was a source of concern when his children went to college and some began to develop moderate or even liberal leanings. Dad was committed to good citizenship. As a member of the Greatest Generation, he took part in World War II and he always believed in his country and in following the rules of citizenship.
Dad valued education, so long as it occurred in Ames, and not at lesser universities like those in Lincoln and Iowa City. His college experience was transformative and he was committed to seeing that his and Mary Elizabeth's six children all achieved bachelor's degrees. None of us asked if a university other than Iowa State was acceptable so Iowa State stamped the Dahlgran name on six bachelor's degrees at the rate of one every other year. Money was always tight but Mom and Dad scrimped and saved and made sure that we worked too, so that their dream of getting all six of their children Iowa State University degrees would come true.
Dad was frugal. Growing up during the depression had a big impact on my father. He saw that assumptions about money, wealth, and well-being could easily dissolve. As a result, he did not take big financial risks, he wasted nothing, and saved everything in case it might serve a useful purpose later. This created piles of junk, and rows of old equipment and old cars on the farm. When examined through the trauma of the great depression, this treatment of what we called junk makes perfect sense.
Margie tells me Dad was stubborn at times. His resistance to something he didn't want to do would be less likely expressed as an argument against it's logic, because frequently there was not a good argument, but rather a silent procrastination.
Dad had a straight forward sense of right and wrong and a wry sense of humor.
And finally, I have to say that Dad was incredibly lucky with women. He was a handsome young man and stopped aging at 70. He felt he was incredibly lucky to find our mother, they had a wonderful marriage, but alas they would not grow old together. Mary Elizabeth, his first wife died when Dad was 55. He was incredibly luck to find an equally wonderful, kind, caring and gracious woman, Margie, to be his second wife. she is a kind and generous step mother who has seen Dad into and through old age. Dad could not have found a better partner for the last half of his life. Margie's loss is profound and she will miss dad greatly.
Dad's gifts to his children
None of us children are anything like our dad so I asked my brothers and sisters to think about and describe the spiritual gifts that Dad gave them. Even as I speak, these gifts are being passed from grand children to great grand children and from great grand children to great-great grandchildren. here are some of the things mentioned:
Thankfulness. Appreciate what you have not because you may not have it tomorrow. This sounds like the outlook of someone who went through the depression or lost a spouse.
Punctuality. Be on time because a family with six kids rarely ever was. We never did know how a church service started.\
Wry sense of humor. Right up to the end, Marge would ask, "Harold, do you have any pain today?" and the reply was stated with an appreciative chuckle, "Only you." Or at some other time, I can tell you the first risque joke I overheard Dad tell. The fact that I remember it indicates the trauma it inflicted.
Sense of history. Dad passed on his appreciation for antiques, old buildings, old housing and the lore from previous generations.
Work ethic. Dad taught us that nothing would be given to us and we had to work hard to accomplish our goals.
A love of nature and the outdoors. This comes from the farmer who loved being outdoors and tending his animals.
Fiinally I want to reflect on Dad's passing. While December 20th, at 12:55 am marks the end of Dad's earthly presence, the process leading to this point began about ten years ago. We notice that a slight fog, just a vapor really, had descended on dad's thinking. The vapor became a fog and the fog thickened. It took away his ability to state his thoughts precisely or reason through a problem. Over the years, the fog got thicker still, his statement of thoughts became fuzzier, and the reasoning mechanism deteriorated further. Eventually the diagnosis was Alzheimer's disease. Toward the end, conversation became very difficult and his favorite top of conversation was "It's not what you know, it's who you know." Despite that, Dad still enjoyed hearing from us children.
On top of the Alzheimer's, Dad also suffered progressive loss of vision and he had significant hearing loss, undoubtedly caused by working with farm machinery. So his thinking was foggy, and toward the end he could not see and couldn't hear very well. This should make for one deeply depressed, frustrated, angry man. Ironically, the more impaired dad became, the more contented he became and we all know why.
Along with his diagnoses, came prescriptions for care that allieviated the symptoms. Caregiving fell on his loving wife Margie. The care and devotion she showed are just incredible. During my visit in November, a member of the community told me, "She is so attentive to Harold's needs." and when Dad took his last fall, Liz arrived to find Margie had a pillow under his head and was on the follor with him to comfort and reassure him.
On one of my visits I told Margie that she was a saint, but she didn't feel like she qualified. Margie's grief is real but any sense of relief that the nightmare of Alzheimer's suffering is over is also justified.
Dad did not want to leave this life and he surely must have enjoyed having us at his bedside as he died. I will close with Liz's facebook posting because it so beautifully summarizes what we all feel, "I have been truly blessed to have a great father to hold my hand on my way through life's journey. And been more blessed to be able to hold his hand as he took his last breath and begin his new journey at 1 am. I love you dad."
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