Chapter Three – How a Flounder Saved the Hopeless

In the 1970’s and early 80’s my father and mother operated a produce farm in Saybrook, Ohio called Old Orchards Farm Market.  My dad loved farming because while his parents were off gallivanting about New York City producing and acting in radio shows of the 1940’s and 50’s (at one point my grandfather helped produce the Kate Smith Show, a wildly successful program from my understanding) they would drop him off with his Grandfather, Roger Wolcott Griswold, who had made his fortune selling Griswold Mushrooms from Ashtabula, Ohio.  He would take my dad, as a boy, out on our family farm and teach him how to plant crops and in the winter they would escape to Florida and fish throughout the day together.

My father loved Roger dearly and often would tear up when he would talk about him. He loved him so much that he even named his first born son after him, me.  So it was no surprise that dad emulated my Great Grandfather’s course and would farm during the summer in Ohio and then retreat with his family to Englewood, Florida in the winters, where he bought a ranch home on the coast so he could keep a small boat in a slip in our backyard to go fishing in the Gulf as he once did with his Grand Father.

I was maybe four or five when I saw my dad loading up his boat to sneak off to cast a line to escape the racket made by my mom’s English Pointers, Mannie and Cupcake.  But more than likely he just had enough of our loud childhood imaginations as Brian and I would battle it out to the death with our new X-wing and Tie Fighter toys from Star Wars.  But no matter what epic space battle Brian and I could dream up in Star Wars it didn’t beat fishing with my dad.  So when I saw him preparing to go out I yelled, “Daddy! Can I go fishing with you…PLEASE?”

Dad’s shoulders sunk as he probably thought, “Great, this will be a quick trip. I’ll be out there five minutes and he’ll want to come back in,” but instead he turned around with a smile on his face and said, “Ok Rog, tell your mom you’re going with me.”

I loved it, just my dad and I.  I felt like I could conquer the world because my daddy was with me and together we could do anything.  We pushed on into my dad’s favorite fishing inlet just south of Sarasota.  He threw the anchor and pulled out the rods.

First he cast out my line and said, “Here is your rod Rog, now remember when you see that bobber go under pull hard and you’ll have a fish on.”  I took the rod and reel in my hands and waited with anticipation for the first bite, which didn’t take long as my pole suddenly bent with the weight of a large fish almost yanking it out of my hands and into the water.

“Ah crap, you’ve snagged bottom!” dad blurted out.

But then the reel whistled loudly as the line zinged ahead, left, right, then under the boat while I squealed, “Daddy, Daddy….I think…I think it’s a fish.”

My dad helped me steady the pole and together we reeled in one of the biggest flounders on Florida State record at that point.  Dad and I crowed together as we sailed to Red Fish Lodge to have them verify the size.  The entire time at the docks my dad bragged to all the other fisherman, “My son Roger caught this, yes, Roger caught it! Damndest thing too, I thought he had bottom for sure.” He was so proud of me, it was the best day.

That memory continued to replay my mind like a movie on a loop as I waited with my mom, brother and sister for Dad to come out of heart surgery.  After what seemed forever a nurse came into the small waiting room we were all huddled in and said, “I have some bad news,” my heart broke, “your father died on the operating table…but only for ten minutes.  The doctors were able to revive him.”

“What? Didn’t Brian and I just sign and agree to our father’s do not resuscitate order?” I asked.

“Yes…but…” the nurse tried to explain

“But nothing! He didn’t want to be resuscitated only to have you damn doctors suck him dry of his money by sticking him on a machine until he died,” my sister yelled, “Why in the Hell did Roger and Brian sign that if you weren’t going to respect it?”

 “I understand your grief, but I wasn’t the doctor who made that call,” the nurse explained, “Now Roger, you’re going to have to make a decision.  Your dad did not wake up after surgery and he’s in a coma.  We have put him on life support and he will need to remain on it to survive. You can follow his wishes and execute the order to stop the life support or you can leave him on it and see if he wakes up.”

“What are his chances of waking up at all?” My brother calmly asked.

“No one knows.  He did lose oxygen to his brain for at least ten minutes so we believe he will have some type of brain damage if and when he wakes up,” the nurse paused, “I am truly sorry.  I’ll let you all decide on what you want to do. When you decide I’ll be at the nurses station.  Please take your time.”

I couldn’t believe it. That son of a…. he had drunk himself silly for years and then left me to make the decision to either pull the plug and kill him or keep him alive so he may wake up one day to only drool down his face?  I was reeling, what should I do? 

“Rog, I hate to say it but the outcome for dad looks very bleak.  We should probably just execute the order to stop life support,” Brian quietly suggested, “Dad had a do not resuscitate order for a reason. This is what he wanted.”

I couldn’t argue with my brother.  Dad had been very firm and told all of us before he did not want to waste away on a machine in a hospital bed in hopes that one day he may wake up. He said, “Please, don’t try any heroics to save me that will only trap you into caring for me or worrying if some gorilla of a nurse with an overly tight bun on her head is working out her aggressions of never being asked out to prom by force feeding me banana pudding at a nursing home.”

Brian and I turned toward our sister, Charlotte, who was sitting in shock, “What do you think Gert?” we asked.

“First, stop calling me that damn nickname…but whatever you guys want to do…I’m good with.” She replied.

I was about to get up to tell the nurse our decision when our mother pleaded, “Listen, this is your decision to make. But please just give him 24 more hours.  What will one more day hurt? Just one more day.”

I looked at Brian, he shrugged. 

It was my decision to make. Kill my father or let him live in hopes that he would rise above just drooling down his face for years to come. My shoulders sunk, and suddenly I remembered my dad’s smiling face from my childhood when he said I could go fishing with him that day we caught the flounder off of Sarasota. Back then I was surely going to be an inconvenience to him but he took me anyway. He took care of me. I knew then it was my turn to wait on my dad and take care of him. I turned to my mom and said, “Ok mom…24 hours. But even if he does come out of this who knows what type of brain damage he’ll have.”

“Thank you Roger, just 24 hours, that’s it. I still love that old curmudgeon, he’ll wake up he’s too stubborn to die here today. And if he doesn’t wake up tomorrow then I’ll stand by your side while you sign the order to cut his life support.” she cried.

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