The Boss

Friday, May 25th 1:52 PM

It’s an odd thing to watch the obituary column in the newspaper waiting for a name to appear. But that’s what I’ve been doing for several years now.

I was a few days behind on my newspaper reading so this morning I took an hour out and read my back issues.

It was there.

The name I’ve been watching for, but didn’t want to see, was in the Wednesday edition of our local newspaper.

It wasn’t a surprise, of course. This man was 93 years old and had been in failing health for several years. I last saw him six years ago before he entered Assisted Living.

Dennis asked if I wanted to attend his funeral. It’s today. I thought about it briefly and decided I did not for many reasons. That does not mean I am not mourning his loss or remembering the impact he had on my life.

So who was this person; who was he to me? An interesting question that’s surprisingly hard to answer.

He was originally my mom’s boss back in the early sixties. He started a custom home building business and my mom was his secretary. When I was born in 1966, he let her bring me to the office until I was old enough to walk and start making trouble. Then his wife took care of me while my mom worked. I grew up with his children until I was five and they were the closest thing to siblings that I had.

Eventually, in the late sixties my father went to work for him as well. My parents went to Hawaii with him and his wife in the early seventies. We went to their house for dinners. I remember him making grasshopper drinks that I wanted to try but wasn’t allowed since I was only seven or eight at the time.

All through grade school, whenever I was sick my mom would bring me into the office. I’d lay on the couch in the back room and read.

I loved the office. Sometimes I got to go there in summers, too, when I wasn’t sick. I remember playing on the typewriter, the smell of the mimeograph machine and how the papers came out slightly damp. I played with the building contracts that crinkled with carbon paper and smelled inky. I sat at my mom’s desk pretending to answer the phones while his loud booming voice echoed out from his office.

At lunch time, my mom would set out sandwich makings on the table in the back room. The three of us would sit down together and eat. Sometimes the three of us went out to McDonalds. That was a treat.

I worked at the office on and off during high school and college. I suspect he wanted to give me a job and income more than he needed the office help.  I think I learned more about how to succeed in the work world there than I did in college.

My birthday is one day after his wife’s was. My parents were celebrating his wife’s birthday when my mom went into labor with me. I still have several birthday cards that he gave me in which he signed them simply, The Boss.

While he was, of course, the boss, he was so much more. I liked that he chose to sign my birthday cards that way, though. It signified that they were just from him, not from him and his family.

I have many fond memories of The Boss. He drove a big, black Cadillac and I loved riding in it. It was like floating on a cloud. It was the first car that I ever saw that had a climate control thermostat setting. He always wore a gold ring with a black onyx top that had a diamond chip set in it. It clanged the table sometimes when he moved his hand. He taught me how to play cribbage and the strategy of the game at his house one cold night in October of my freshman year of college.

Then something happened between the families – his and mine. To this day, I’m not sure what. I know what my mom told me happened. Maybe that’s all there is to it. Maybe not. In any case, the ties were severed between the Boss’ wife and my parents.

My mom and I still worked for The Boss and there was no animosity between him and my mom or me. My dad hadn’t worked at the office for several years already by then, but there was no animosity between him and The Boss either.

Around that time, one of The Bosses’ sons came to work at the office, too. He was always my favorite of The Bosses’ kids. I had a crush on him when I was little. Our lunches in the office expanded to four. The rift between The Bosses’ wife and my parents was never discussed.

When my son was born, my mom and I split the full-time job at the office. One of us would work at the office and the other would take care of my son. I have fond memories of those days at the office.

Prior to that time, my time with Boss was always shared with my mom. Splitting the shift meant more one on one time with him. It was a turbulent time in my first marriage fraught with a lot of problems with my in-laws. The Boss listened to me and helped me through it. I could talk more easily with him than with my own father.

The Boss was an excellent wood craftsman. He got a wood craft magazine delivered to the office and I would look through it and point out items I’d like. I still have an expertly crafted CD carousel, high chair and cradle that he made for me. In my back yard stands a bird house he made me for my new house in 2004. It’s not just a random bird house, he designed it to look like the one room school-house he attended as a child in northern Wisconsin.

Ray's Bird House

The one-room schoolhouse The Boss made for me.

The Boss came from very humble beginnings and that he came to own his own company is a testimony to his character. No matter how successful his company was, the worry that he would someday have to go without again never fully left him.

When he was 18, The Boss was badly injured in a work accident and was laid up for nine months. The injury was so severe that he was classified 4F during WWII, something he was very ashamed of at the time. I remember discussing how that injury could have saved his life during one of our lunches. Born in 1925, The Boss would have been one of the first round of Americans to enter the war.

Eventually, my mom retired and I took the job full-time while she took care of my son. The Boss didn’t do anything to acknowledge her 30+ years of working for him on her last day. I know she was very hurt by this. I think The Boss just didn’t know what to do and he was upset that she’d changed their plan of retiring at the same time some day.

I worked full-time for a while at the office, but it wasn’t the same place anymore. The Boss was stepping back, working less days and his son was taking over the business. One day, when The Boss was out of the office, I got into a fight with his son and I quit on the spot. It’s a decision I still regret to this day. Not because I left the job, it was time for me to do that. Because I added to the rift which was already there with The Bosses’ family.

I have never repaired my relationship with the The Bosses’ son. I saw him at the grocery store about ten years ago and I was going to apologize to him but he turned away and made believe he didn’t see me.

What I didn’t consider when I quit (actually, I didn’t consider a lot of things) but the main one was that I would no longer see The Boss. I found that I missed him and our talks. If he was angry about my leaving abruptly he never said so. I did see him occasionally at my parent’s house and he stopped by my house now and then. It was never the same, though.

And so today was the day I’ve been expecting. I learned of The Bosses’ death by reading his obituary in the paper. It was short and it gave some genealogical information on his children and his brothers and sisters. That was it.

I know it’s just an obituary, and that’s what obituaries say, but it struck me as so lacking in the depth and feeling of what this man accomplished and how many lives he touched through his business and his personal life.

So I come back to the question, who was he to me? He was someone very important in my life. He was someone who cared about me and who went out his way for me and took care of me, in his own way.

He was The Boss.

2:57 PM





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