How I Became Grandpa Don

Chapter 12

For Better or For Worse
 1976 - 1977

Recorded by Donald J Plefka (Grandpa Don) 
January, 2003

It is there all through life but this chapter in particular demonstrates "... for better, and for worse". ... Read on ...

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1976   1977    
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We were grateful that we told the kids about my being adopted because Dan met the daughter of a cousin of mine at a party. Lucy Plefka let him know that it would be OK for them to date because they were not really related. Dan was able to say that he knew about it. He brought her home many times, as he did with all his friends. On one occasion Lucy came into the room swinging her purse. As she came near Anne Marie, Hercules jumped up and bit her arm. After that, everyone was careful around that otherwise gentle dog. And, ... DO NOT THREATEN ANNE MARIE!

Dan had brought an orphaned cat home from the animal hospital. The dog and cat tolerated each other when they got acquainted. However, once in a while, it was comical to see the cat stalking the big German shepherd. "Herky" would slowly back up as the cat advanced slowly toward him, crouching as if to spring at any moment. When the big dog backed to a wall, he would just lay down. The cat, having proven his point, would turn and haughtily walk away.

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January 1976

Tom, our youngest, becomes a teen!

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Me & Max

Dan went work for KB as a time keeper on a project at the Corn Products Argo plant in the summer of 1976. The time keeper job is the next best thing to being a "summer apprentice". Then in the fall he went to Moraine Valley College.  

Anne Marie would drive Tom to the park for basketball practice and stay to watch. One day, after practice, Tom came to us and told us that his coach asked him to ask us if it was OK for him to ask Anne Marie for a date. (A lot of "Asking"!) We thought that was extraordinary. We knew Dominick had a good reputation but was much older. We figured that the interest would not last ... if she did go out with him so we said OK. To our surprise, she did go out with him. We began to see a lot of Dominick Albano.

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Christmas 1976

Anne Marie & Dominick

One of the 'perks' at Kelso was that when a new company car was purchased, we had the option of buying our old one at a great price. At first, that was every two years. Later that was extended to three and then to four years. After a time, we got to choose, not only the make and model but the dealership. There was an allowance for the "standard" car and we paid the excess amount. 

In 1977, Tom was confirmed and graduated from grade school and in the fall, followed his brother to Marist High School. He was on the baseball team during his freshman year. 

Dan decided that school was not for him and the taste of  the construction business was to his liking. He expressed a desire to quit school. There has been a tradition of nepotism at Kelso-Burnett. Some times it works out well and on rare occasions it is a disaster. There was an opening for a draftsman in the office, so I gave him a quick course in electrical drafting and arranged an interview with my boss, Charley Johnson. I could have hired him myself but I wanted more of the responsibility to be on him and Charley. Dan started full time at Kelso March 27th, 1977. (He is now [2003] a Vice President and branch manager)

Confirmation Day

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Tom & Mom

Graduation Day

Tom & Dad

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With Grandpa

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Dan's 20th birthday

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Tom & Mom enjoy the party

Little Grandma & Big Grandma enjoy it too.

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During 1977 and 1978 I negotiated a contract to do a "design and build" project for a new plant in Franklin Ohio. We were locked into a lump sum contract based on the "scope" of the project. We decided to hire a general foreman locally rather than bring one from Chicago. Our general superintendent, Bob Murphy and I met the local union business agent and his pick for the GF position at breakfast and then went to meet the general contractor's rep at the job trailer. During introductions, I told the general contractor that our GF represented Kelso and we would back him 100%. When we left the trailer, the new GF asked, "How, could you do that? You don't know me!" My response was, "Have you ever given me any reason not to trust you?". That man did his utmost to prove his loyalty and worth. I was beginning to appreciate the trust people had in me and to apply it to others.

But, ... there were problems! I had seriously underestimated the cost of the project. It became a financial disaster for Kelso-Burnett. There was nothing our GF could do to save my butt, although he did his best. And, there were other problems too.

Anne had been diagnosed with diabetes. There was a history of it in her family and it had been fatal to several members. She was in pain from the complications, having trouble with her eye sight and was tired all the time. Walking was a real problem because of peripheral neuropathy. She was depressed because she felt it was only getting worse and there was nothing that could help. My going away from home a lot on trips to Ohio did not help her depression. 

On one occasion when Anne was feeling particularly unloved, she announced that she was leaving and stormed out of the room. I found her in the basement ironing. She could not leave me with un-ironed shirts. How could I not love that person? All I had to do was put my arms around her and hug her and thoughts of leaving were gone, at least for a while. 

Anne enjoyed going with me to Franklin for a mini vacation. She would shop or read while I was at the job site. There was a nice motel and some good restaurants. But the relief from the depression was short lived. 

Her depression transferred to me. I was depressed about her condition. At times, she could be a very miserable person to live with and those times were becoming frequent. I was depressed about the project in Ohio. I had failed! I was fully aware that "I had done it my way" and had no one to turn to. On several occasions, on solo trips to Franklin, I considered driving into a bridge abutment. But, what if I survived to be a cripple? I also thought of just continuing South to Florida and disappearing, but how could I do that? I loved my family. I had made promises. Anne and I both struggled with the situation and hung on. I told no one of my morbid feelings. Who could I talk to? 

There were bright spots. On October 21st of 1977 Anne Marie and Dominick were engaged. Anne Marie was happy and so were we. It also gave Anne the opportunity to put her problems aside and start to help plan the wedding. A daughter's wedding is a momentous event for a mother and it takes precedence over everything else.

It was also about this time that one of the unexpected things happened to Dan, or should I say for Dan. He had played baseball with the Buchler boys. Rich was a few years older. Dan played with Gary as team mates on "all star" teams in a couple tournaments.  We new their dad, Ted, who was very active in the baseball organization and their mother Marylyn who attended many games. However, it was when Dan went to visit friends at Western Illinois University that he met Karen Buchler who also happened to be there visiting some of her friends. Our families lived in the same neighborhood and the boys knew each other but Dan and Karen had to travel down state to meet. (Was there divine intervention?). We began to see a lot of Karen after that fortunate happenstance.        

This has been a difficult chapter to write in spite of the many bright spots. These years included much darkness and without a relationship with God, it was a very difficult time for me. I did not understand that the good and the bad are inseparable.  I was starting to grasp at a faith in God but had no idea of how to start. I saw no solace in church or religion although we continued to attend Mass every Sunday. Religion had done nothing for me, or so I thought. 

But Anne and I knew that we could not give up in spite of anything. We had promised ... "For better, ... or for worse." 

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For more of this period see the
Time Line of the Twentieth Century