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Thread: Eulogy to Del

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    keith720's Avatar
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    Eulogy to Del



    The Porch Light
    The porch light is off. Fond du Lac lost a part of it’s history. My neighbor and friend, Del Shea passed away, leaving a hole not only in my heart but also in the heart of Fond du Lac. .Del lived in Fond du Lac his entire life, minus the time he spent overseas in WWII fighting the Japanese in the Philippines. He lived in the house his Grandfather built and where he raised his family.

    I met Del when I moved across the street from him in 1983. My first recollection is of a little old man that was wearing a red-checkered round brimmed hat as he puttered around in his garage. I went over to meet him, and was greeted with a smile that I just knew was genuine. Over the years, that smile never faded. He held out a weather handed, and said, “Son, it’s good to meet you. ” That started a friendship that lasted almost thirty years.

    Del was still working as a sausage maker in Kewaskum while his wife was the local Avon representative. His two sons, John and Gary had moved on to lives of their own, while my wife and I were busy raising our family across the street. As a young, new father, I seldom had, or took the time to get to know Del. It was only later, after the passing of his wife, Marion, that I came to know him not only as a neighbor and friend, but also as an extended part of each of our families. Over the years I knew him, he shared stories with me about Fond du Lac, the war, his family, and gave me insight into the wisdom of a kind, gentle man.

    Many afternoons were spent sitting in lawn chairs in Del’s garage surveying the neighborhood.. With a radio playing “Oldies” in the background, Del and I talked. Del knew the history of each house on the block. He recalled looking west, and seeing nothing but spacious farm fields, long before High Way 41 existed. He recalled cows grazing down by the river behind his house, when the neighbors backyard was a pasture. He could name each of the five daughters that lived in the house next to mine while he was growing-up, and would smile shyly as he talked about which one was the cutest. He told of the time that one of the owners of my house got caught “stepping-out” on his wife, and tried to hang himself in my garage. He told me of his next door neighbor that kept goats in his basement during prohibition, because it covered the smell of the hooch he was brewing! The train tracks by the river were a source of coal during the cold winters of the depression. After the train passed, Del and his brother walked the tracks, picking up dropped bits from the passing locomotives and took it home to heat their house. His oldest brother-in-law was a driver for a moonshiner, and he showed Del the bullet holes in his car. Del didn’t know if they were from the police, or the competition, but he said as a young boy, it was exciting either way.

    As I listened, I was able to glimpse into the past, a past that few today know of, let alone lived through. He had seen the depth of the depression, the horrors of war, and the work of raising a family. He suffered the sorrow of losing his wife and living alone. He saw his Mother, and all of his brothers, as well as aunts and uncles die. He knew the love of his sons, and the pride of being a Grandpa. He talked with one of his sons everyday, and he ended each conversation with, “I love you son.” He lived a full life.

    Del was a humble man. When asked about the war, he’d reply, “I was in a couple of gunfights,” and that’s about all he’d say. He claimed he was simply a rear echelon guy in the 6th Army, yet he told of being part of a mission sent out to capture a Japanese General. (In history books, the 6th was in the midst of the heaviest fighting, not only in the Philippines but also New Guinea. Del served in both places.) Del was proud that he’d left the service as a Sgt., and talked of the men he served with. They were all from New York and most had Italian names, so they dubbed him “Delberto.” They were a rowdy bunch, and I had a hard time envisioning the gentle man that I knew fitting in with them. Yet, he did. Though they were a tough bunch, Del would lead them on excursions to steal food crates from the docks to give to a local orphanage in the Philippines. For years after the war, Del received Christmas Cards from the nuns that ran the orphanage, never forgetting his kindness.

    Yet, a couple of times, other parts of his service would come out. Del was one of the few men that captured a Japanese Officer alive. He had the pistol from the officer and a letter from his Captain to prove it. He told a couple of different versions of the capture, starting with the version that had the Japanese Officer coming out of the jungle half-starved and simply surrendering. The story evolved from that to “I had my carbine shoved half-way down his throat, and he decided to give up.” Another time I was over at his house, and there was a TV show about the Philippines. He’d taken to calling me “Keesto,” and after the show, he looked at me and said, “Keesto, after the Japs surrendered there, we had to go into the mountains with flame throwers to get them out of the caves.” Then as an afterthought, he said rather sadly, “I was a pretty good shot with that M1 Garand when they came out.” I didn’t ask him more about it, as I felt he had told me all I needed to know, and maybe a little more than he wanted me to know. Sitting across the table from him, or sitting on the picnic table under the huge Maple tree in his yard, it was hard to imagine Del as he’d been during that time in his life. He’d been a warrior.

    He’d returned home in 1945, after his final service in occupied Japan. He was a sausage maker, an occupation that he learned as a child working with his uncles. He went to work at Krogers and developed his own recipes. If you’ve ever eaten a Gilles hot dog, they were originally made from Del’s recipe. He knew everything there was to know about sausage linker machines, and up until a month or two before he died, small companies would ask for Del to fix their machines. In the trunk of his vintage Oldsmobile were enough spare parts to fix, if not rebuild a sausage linker, and there was no one who could do it with the precision that Del could.

    About ten years ago, I decided to make it a point to check on Del every day. He lived alone and he welcomed the company. It became a ritual to watch the “The Wheel of Fortune” and when I’d miss an evening, he’d point it out to me! He always asked how my daughters were doing, and he would make it a point to tell me what nice young ladies they were. He especially liked the nights when Debie, my wife, would come over with me. Then, we’d often go into the living room, and Del would place a Sinatra album on his record player, and we’d all sit back, talk and reminisce.

    Later, I changed jobs, and I went to see Del everyday before I went to work. On my way out of the door, he’d always tell me to “grab a bar.” That meant to get a candy bar out of the refrigerator to take to work. He kept a supply of Butterfingers on hand, as he knew those were my favorites. We had a signal worked out so I’d know everything was OK when I came home late at night after my shift: Del would leave his porch light on. It was comforting to come home on a dark night and see that the porch light glowing in my rear view mirror as I pulled into my driveway.

    On Sundays, Del would meet with “The McDonald’s Gang. “ There was his nephew Dean and his wife Pat. Scot and Sue and Joanie and Keith, and oftentimes their children and Grandchildren joined in the crowd. (They all called him “Uncle Del’ even though only Dean and Pat were actually related to him.) Later, I was welcomed as a part of the gang, and would meet them for an hour or so of news, gossip, and jokes. As Del went home with either Dean and Pat, or with me, we’d drive through a local car dealership, what Del called the “Car show.” He’d marvel at the price of the trucks, and proclaim that “anyone who spent $60,000 on a pick-up truck was either crazy or just had too much money.”

    Del was a gentleman. He NEVER swore in front of a lady, though I do have a video of him soundly cursing out the Packers during a game last year! In all the years I knew him, I never heard him utter even the simplest of profanities in front of a lady. He would flirt terribly with the ladies, whether it was a waitress at Schriener’s or Boda’s, or a nurse at the hospital! Of course, they flirted with him, too, so it was all in good fun. My favorite “Del line” was when he ordered green tea and the waitress asked him if he’d like some sugar or honey for his tea? He looked at her, and with a smile, told her, “If you just dip the tip of your finger in that cup, I’m sure some of your sweetness will come right off, and I won’t need anything else!” Del was rewarded with a smile bigger than his!

    Whenever I took him anywhere, whether out to eat, or to a medical appointment, the sight of the little stoop shouldered old man in the red checkered brimmed hat or blaze orange stocking cap and black thick rimmed glasses brought a smile to others. His zest for life and his positive attitude influenced everyone he talked to. Del was 92-years-old when he died. Fond du Lac was his home, and for 92 years, he witnessed its changes. I was fortunate that for the almost three decades, I was his friend. He shared his life, his kindness, his wisdom and his smile with me. His boys were at his side as he slipped into the great beyond, less than 2 miles from where he was born. My wife and I were out of the country and found out the day we returned that he had died.

    On that day, we took what seemed like a long walk across the street to talk with his boys. While we were talking in the kitchen, I mentioned the light fixture above the dinner table. Some months before, Del had asked me to change the bulb, no small affair , given that the four piece light fixture had to be disassembled. I took it apart and changed the bulb, but wasn’t able to get the brass reflector, glass cover, and brass plate on by myself. Del was OK with that, and said he’d have someone help me with it later. About 2 weeks before he passed, I went over to watch an episode of “The Wheel,” and noticed that the fixture was back in place. Del’s nephew and niece had used a step ladder to work together to get it back in one piece. I told Del, “You better hope that bulb never blows, because I’m sure not going to change it !” With a grin, Del told me, “Keesto, that bulb will out live me.” I had just finished telling the story, when Gary, Del’s youngest, reached over to flip the light on. For a brief second, the bulb lit, then with a “pop” it went out. It was as though Del was saying Goodbye.

    Now, my friend and a part of Fond du Lac’s history is gone .I’ll miss him in the winter when I get done blowing snow and won’t be able to sit in his kitchen warming up. I’ll miss him in the summer when I’m done mowing the lawn and he won’t be sitting at the picnic table with a cold can of root beer waiting to talk. I’ll miss him every night at 6:30 when “The Wheel of Fortune” is on. I miss my daily “bar.” Now, when I get home at night, I don’t see the light in my mirror. Del is gone. The porch light is off.

    (if you click on the picture, it's a video I took while were watching the Packers.)
    For the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and true, kindly upon all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn.

    Winston Churchill

  2. #2
    pgg's Avatar
    pgg
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    That was good. You were lucky to have a friend like that.
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    Jenna's Avatar
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    Thanks for sharing this beautiful eulogy for a remarkable man. May he rest in peace.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pgg View Post
    That was good. You were lucky to have a friend like that.
    Yes, and I'd add that Del was lucky, too.

    I'm sorry about the loss of your friend, Keith. May he rest in peace.




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    Cidp24's Avatar
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    Good words for what sounds like a great man, Keith. I'm sorry for your loss.
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    RIP, Mr Shea. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
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    I'm glad this humble man from Wisconsin , who served his country in the greatest conflict the world has ever known, made it back home to have a family and lived to the ripe old age of 92. I'm glad that he was able to live at his home more or less unassisted to that advance age. And I'm glad that you moved into his neighborhood when you did. He deserved nothing less. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, Keith. May Del rest in honored peace.
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    Keith, I'm sure Mr. Shea intended to pass on his torch. Its my hope that some young family just starting out moves into, and cares for, his house, and you can be "Del" to the young family.

    While I don't have a "Del", I know my dad greatly benefitted from his friendship with our next door neighbor when I was growing up.
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