When my dad was young he told his classmates that his father ended the Korean war. “They saw old AW coming and they feared what lie ahead” my dad would say. While it’s true that the armistice was signed the week that my grandpa landed in Korea, my dad’s claim wasn’t based on carefully analyzed cause & effect, rather it came from grandpa’s story to his children. Papa Arlen had a sense of humor about almost everything and we loved it growing up.
My earliest memories of grandpa were from our old Duesenberg family annual July 4th tradition. Papa Arlen’s parents owned prime real estate in Clear Lake, Iowa: a spacious single level house right on the lake and located next to the city park. Every 4th of July the carnival was in town and you can imagine how much us grandchildren enjoyed the rides and games at the fair and running off the dock and swimming in the lake.
(Recent view of the Clear Lake home my great grandparents used to own)
When we were really young, we loved going up to grandpa, sitting on his lap and punching him in the gut. He was a strong, big-framed man who could withstand our “severe” blows to the midsection. We’d really lay into those punches, but he would just sit there, smile and laugh at our attempts to rattle him. We thought Papa Arlen was one tough man!
My grandparents retired at 60 and were able to live comfortably in their retirement. They enjoyed traveling and purchased vehicles to compliment that lifestyle. I remember back in the late 80s when they owned a van that had a small box TV and VCR. We thought that was the coolest thing ever! To my grandpa, the van was a practical vehicle. To us, it was a playground on wheels. We especially enjoyed climbing up the ladder on the back to watch fireworks on the rooftop.
They eventually joined the RV community, starting with a large Fifth Wheel and gravitating to a fully loaded Motorhome. Grandpa was no stranger to driving large pieces of equipment. He worked his whole career in the family road construction business. My grandpa and grandma took that enormous piece of metal all around the U.S. and I believe even into Canada on a RV group trip. Although none of those trips compares to the one Papa Arlen took one summer in his college days.
Back in January when I was visiting my grandparents, grandpa recalled his trip to Alaska along the ALCAN highway. It was an important trip to him because my great grandfather’s company was one of hundreds of contractors that help build a portion of the road a decade before. Today the ALCAN is mostly paved and our vehicles are dependable machines. But when Papa Arlen traveled the highway, it was gravel and cars were far less dependable. I guess that added to the adventure.
My dad and I talked a lot in recent years about taking a trip up to Alaska with grandpa. It became evident early this year that this trip wasn’t likely to happen as Papa Arlen’s health started to become a grave concern. In April, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and his prospects didn’t look so good. The whole family was slowly coming to the realization that we were going to lose our patriarch.
On Monday morning we got the news that he passed on. It was a sad day in the Duesenberg family.
My grandpa was a great man. He came from a generation of hard working Americans. He showed that hard work does pay off in the business world and I admire his success. But even more admirable was his daily conduct. My grandpa was a man of honor and ethics. Although his witty sense of humor came out 90% of the time, Papa Arlen was serious about doing the right thing. In a world addicted to the filth of reality TV, it’s refreshing to have men in our culture that exude good virtues.
Despite a distance of 800 miles and several states separating me from my grandparents, I was able to see Papa Arlen three times this year. I visited him in January and he got to meet my little boy for the first time. After his diagnosis, I joined my dad and his brothers on a trip in April to enjoy his company before things got worse. And last week, when his life seemed numbered by days, I was able to be with him and grandma and say my final goodbye.
(Picture of Papa Arlen, my dad, my son and me with a shotgun that’s been in the family for many generations)
I’ll always treasure those visits and would have been full of regret if I didn’t do them. We are all busy with work and other things, but we can’t let that get in the way of spending time with family. If you still have living grandparents, make the trip to see them. Don’t miss the opportunity before it’s gone.
I miss you Papa Arlen, but I’m glad you were a part of my life.