Hanging Out in Rockford: The death of a friend—part four

The next day, accompanied by our interpreter, we found some bolts out of a Volkswagen and made some parts. We fashioned a clutch handle out of some vise grips. We decided to spend a few days in Victoria and go no farther. Brad had been pretty upset. He said he didn’t like Mexico, and he didn’t want to continue on. That night, we sat in the bar of the Hotel Sierra Gorda, drinking Modello Especial and smoking Delicato Ovalatos. After a few Modellos, after a few Presidential brandies, a Delicato Ovalato dangling from his lips, he finally announced he was starting to like Mexico. We all were.

After a couple of days, we decided it was time to go home. We drove from Victoria, Mexico, straight through to Omaha, Neb. The next morning, we got up at 7 a.m., and by midnight we were back in Rockford. No time for Omaha Beef—we were in a hurry.

Now it is today, and now I hear my friend Brad is sick. He has cancer. It has invaded his entire body. I call him at the hospital. He sounds like my friend Brad. I drive over to Rockford Memorial to see him. He is very thin. I ask what the last day he worked was and he thinks for a moment. Dec. 15, he answers. We talk about the turkey gobble in his R90, and he reminds me I was the one who finally fixed it. I heard about it somewhere. I poked a pinhole through the main seal, just enough to allow a small amount of oil to penetrate to the shaft. I had forgotten. I don’t remember who told me how to do it, but I do remember doing it now that he tells me.

We talk about death, and I tell him that since my heart attack and almost dying twice, I am not afraid of it anymore. He says he isn’t afraid of it and that it doesn’t bother him, but it does bother him about how it affects those around him. He has changed his mind, however, and he wants to try chemo. He says there are too many people wanting him to stay alive to not try chemo.

I tell the story of Uncle Eddy when he was in the hospital in Washington State, and the doctors told him he only had two weeks to live. A pharmacist called about $25 he owed him. Eddy said it sounded like he was really worried about the money. He replied that he was. No reason we both should worry about it, Eddy said, and he hung up the phone. I say the day he told me the story, he borrowed my BMW for what I thought was going to be a ride around the block. He showed up a couple of hours later and pronounced it a really good handling motorbike. He fooled them for a while.

His son shows up and seems surprised his dad took his motorcycle all the way to Mexico. I tell most of the story about our Mexican trip. I leave when the rest of the family arrives. A couple of days later, I go back. He tells me they are going to shunt his kidneys and then take him to Madison for chemo. The next day, I call before going, and there is no answer on his cell phone. I call my ex-wife, and she tells me that he was just asleep. Later that night, she calls to say the operation didn’t work, and they are sending him home to die.

I don’t go to his house. I understand he isn’t cognizant, and I want to remember my friend Brad in a different way, I don’t want to remember him dying. It only takes a couple of days. Friday, we have a wake at the Rose. The entire family gets together for a last send-off. His son, Danny, comes over to me and says we should go for a motorbike ride in honor of his dad. I can’t wait. It would make his father very happy. It would make me pretty happy, too.

Mike Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Feb. 7-13, 2007, issue

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