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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Thanks, Dad



Today's blog post is of a personal nature.  I have spent the past week writing a life story of my dad, Claude Marceau.  If I had another week I would have continued writing.  Another month, another year, there is so much one could say about my dad.


Claude Marceau Obituary
Claude Marceau, 1984

For those who are reading this blog for the first time, the blog is often about me.  So there will be a lot here about the effects my dad had on my life.  But mostly, today's story is about my dad.  Stay with me on this.

For my longtime readers, it was an event which occurred while on duty in the Army Reserves in 1992 that inspired me to begin this blog in 2018.  It was my dad who inspired me to join the Army in 1990.

Claude Marceau in Uniform
Dad at Grandmom's, 1987

Some would say my dad talked me into it.  But inspired is a better term.  I was proud of my dad, in his uniform, doing his part for his country.  I thought, I would like to do something for my country too.


Dad (left) visits me at Basic Training, July 1990

Honestly, I was not keen on putting myself in a situation where I might get shot at.  I knew that that would always be a possibility, no matter what MOS or job you signed up for.  They say every soldier's primary MOS is 11 Bravo, Infantry, guy that gets shot at.  But there are certain jobs which have a lower likelihood of death than others.

The Life of Claude Marceau


At the time of my enlistment, my dad was also an auto mechanic.  This was just a small slice of his life, though.  My dad's first real job was as a soldier.  He was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  His role was Company Clerk, basically an Admin role.  That was where he met my mom, Cheryl.  She was a civilian, working in his office.  Their friends, "pushed them together," they always said.  He converted to Judaism and married her.  They remained together for over 30 years.

Young recruit, Claude Marceau, 1966

When I was little, we lived in NJ and my dad was a supervisor in a chemical plant.  Sometimes, he regretted leaving Jersey.  The job market was much better there, he said.  

David and Claude Marceau
David and Claude Marceau, August 1974

But our cute suburban neighborhood was changing.  Crime was increasing.  It was no longer the place where my parents wanted to raise their children.  My mom wanted to get away from the humid Jersey summers.  My dad wanted to be closer to his mom.  We moved to Northern New York State.  The Champlain Valley is anything but hot and humid.

My dad had difficulty finding a job in the Plattsburgh area.  Even with his supervisory experience, there were no chemical plants up there.  He would have to start over.  He tried selling Electrolux vacuums, door to door, for a while.  This was a high-end product which probably sold well in wealthier areas.  It was a tough gig in The North Country.  We did end up with our own Electrolux vacuum cleaner.  It was a good vacuum but we probably could not afford such a luxury.


Dad doing parlor tricks with his Electrolux, 1979

He did construction for a while.  I think he liked that, being outside, building something with your hands; but he was cut out for bigger things.  He had to find something more suited to his talents.

When we first moved up there we stayed with my grandmother for a month, or so, before moving to Rouses Point.  I do not know why my parents chose that town.  Maybe because it was on Lake Champlain.  We lived a block from the water.  I shared a bedroom with my sister Jennifer, in a second floor walk-up.  We were only there for a few months before moving to Chazy.  My mom called Rouses Point, "a rough town."  That was what we had moved up there to avoid.  

Our first house in Chazy, across from the school, 1978

Chazy had the best schools in the area.  They still do.  We found a little house right across from the school, with two bedrooms and a finished basement.  My sister got to choose, the bedroom or the basement.  She chose the basement.

9847 Rt 9, Chazy
My Childhood Home, Chazy, NY, mid-1980s

Not long after moving to Chazy, my dad got a job as a machinist.  This was a skilled labor role, pretty decent for the North Country.  It afforded us the opportunity to buy a new house on three acres of land, on the north end of town.  My mom was able to work part-time and be around to put me and my sister on the bus and receive us when we got home.  More importantly for my dad, this was an opportunity to use his hands and his mind.

Claude Marceau 1985
Dad working at Harris, 1985

You would never know it, in casual conversation, but my dad was brilliant.  He was a blue collar guy so he was into things like NASCAR, tractor pulls, and playing horseshoes with a beer in his hand.  But he also could do trigonometry in his head.  My dad never took an advanced math class.  He never even graduated high school - he got his GED in The Army.  But he figured out math.  He was like Will Hunting.  It just made sense to him.  

One night, when I was in high school, I was struggling to do my trig homework.  I was supposed to memorize some formulas and apply them.  This did not work for me.  I needed to understand why the formulas worked.  My math teacher, Diane Coupal, could not explain why the formulas worked.  Just memorize them like she had, she advised.  

My dad walked up to me that night and asked what I was working on.  I told him he would not understand.  I had breezed through Algebra and Geometry and I did not understand.  My dad turned the paper his direction and in a second he said something like, "It's seven," or whatever the answer was.  I thought he was joking.  I looked at the answer key.  Sure enough, he was right.  I was astonished.  I asked him how he did that.  He just turned up his palm and gestured towards the paper with his hand.  "Look at it," he said.  He could not explain it either, but he did not have to use a formula.

This was a skill my dad used every day, as a machinist.  He worked with micrometers to build precision parts for bindery machines.  He was good at what he did and he seemed to enjoy it.  He did this for eight years.  Then, one day, he got notice that his company was moving to Dayton, Ohio.  He was asked to relocate.  My parents traveled out there to check it out.  They did not like it.  They loved The North Country.  They decided to stay.

CherylAndClaudeMarceau1984
Mom's Graduation 1984

By this point, my mom had completed her dream of earning a college degree, at age 36.  She had a secure job and could provide us some sustenance while my dad searched for a new job.  Still, money was tight.  My sister and I qualified for free lunch at school.  This went on for a year.  Finally, in desperation, my dad took a job as an auto mechanic.  It paid less than half of what he had earned as a machinist.  But his unemployment had run out and we needed something.  My dad was the kind of guy who would rather work for peanuts than to let his family suffer.  He did what he had to do.

Like with my dad's other jobs, he had never taken a course on mechanics.  He just knew how to do it.  Whenever something went wrong with my parents' cars we never took them to a repair shop.  My dad just took care of it.  He did not do body work but he could do just about everything else.  This is what inspired me to choose the MOS I selected when I joined The Army.  I chose to be a mechanic, like my dad.

Claude Marceau at Velan Valves
Dad working at Velan Valves, early 1990s

My dad seemed content as a mechanic, despite the low pay.  Then, a shift opened up in the parts department.  It would be higher pay and greater responsibility.  It would be customer-facing - my dad was a very social guy.  The job went to someone less qualified.  It was political.  My dad was disgruntled.

He heard about a start-up company that was looking for machinists to build machines that made board games.  It was closer to home and paid better.  He jumped on it.  Not long after that, a former co-worker, Joe, called him up and told him he was now a supervisor at a valve manufacturer in Williston, Vermont.  It was a one hour commute but he would be back, doing something which used both his hands and his mind, building high-precision parts to be used in nuclear subs and oil pipelines.  He worked there until retirement.

Just Me and My Dad


Like most men, I have become the best and the worst of my dad.  I am OK with that; overall, he was a good guy with a big heart.  We all have our faults and that is what makes us human.  Despite that, and the many ups and downs we had over the years, I loved my dad.


Dad and me in his recliner, 1981

When I was little, my dad would let me sit in his recliner with him while we watched TV.  I do the same with my boys, today.  I cherish these moments, knowing that some day they will be too big to fit in the chair with me, just as I was eventually, with my dad.

Claude Marceau at The Weathercock
Norm!

Through the years, my dad has always taken care of his family, the best way he knew how, given the opportunities he was presented with.  In his free time, he would often meet up with friends at The Weathercock.  After the owners of "The Bird" replaced the old knotty floor with a shiny new smooth one I would tell my friends, "See that floor?  My dad bought that floor.  See him on the stool, over there?  He's working on the ceiling."  

David Marceau Pinewood Derby Cars
My dad's, er, my Pinewood Derby cars, early 1980s

My dad was my Cub Scout leader - he built my Pinewood Derby cars for me.  He built me a tree fort with a balcony, full-sized door and windows, tall enough for an adult to stand in, large enough for two cots.  He taught me and my friends to play blackjack and poker (we played for pennies until we got older).  He took me places I needed to go.

Dad (top) and me on duty in Miesau, Germany, June 1993

After I joined the Army, my dad and I often met up for breakfast at the Campus Corner Restaurant, before drills.  We had a few beers together at the VFW, after drills.  Sometimes we had lunch together in the drill hall, although usually I was with my platoon and he was with his.

We attended all our annual summer trainings ("AT") together.  He was there, in Gagetown, Canada in 1992, and Kaiserslautern, Germany the year after.  While staying in "K-town" and working at Miesau we rented a car and drove all over Bavaria, Luxembourg, and eastern France.

Me and Dad on the Rhine, Bacharach, Germany, 1993

Our relationship got strained when I was in college.  I stopped talking to my dad for a couple months, at one point, after things got heated during the construction of our garage.  I got on my motorcycle and went home to Plattsburgh, avowed that I would never speak with him again.  Eventually, I got a letter in the mail.  It was from my dad.


Building the garage, with Dad (top) and neighbor Max (middle).
Me on right. Summer 1994.

English was my dad's second language.  He moved to the US from Canada when he was twelve.  He never took to writing in English well.  Math?  No problem.  Numbers are universal.  Writing was tough.  It meant a lot to me that he took the time to put pen to paper and write a full page letter.  It was not the perfect apology - rarely does anyone take full blame for their mistakes.  But the sentiment was understood and appreciated.  There would always be a scar but the wound was healed.

After college, my dad wanted me to go to work at his company, in the machine shop.  We could commute together!  I could start out in an entry-level job and work my way up to something like what he was doing.  I smiled, kindly, and said, "Dad, I have a college degree now.  I'm not going to do that kind of work."  He seemed disappointed at first but he soon understood.  I got a job with Microsoft.

My dad was so proud of me.  He told everyone in Chazy the story of how I was offered the temp position with the world's largest software company and I had the nerve to ask for a higher pay rate and then actually got it.  I wished that he had not told everyone how much that rate was, but what are you going to do.  He was a proud papa.  To him, it was like he had succeeded, for his son to be doing well.  In a way, he had.


My dad and his mom on top of the World Trade Center
during a visit to me in Brooklyn, 1996

I received frequent visits from my dad after I moved to Brooklyn, especially after he and my mom split up.  I have one special memory of a night I bought my dad a bottle of bourbon and myself a bottle of tequila and we sat on my couch, listening to music.  We put some pretty good dents in those bottles and reconciled our past differences.  We would still argue after that - my dad could argue with a sign-post.  But it would be as two adults, more than father to son.  

It would be nice to argue with him right now.  I would tell him he cannot leave home without a mask on.  He would have told me all the reasons why that did not apply to him.  Then, after one of his friends told him to stay home or use a mask, he would tell me he was doing it now and it was his idea all along.  That was just the way he was, at least with me.  I would have laughed it off, happy that at least he was taking precautions now.


Dad supervising my construction project, July 2008

When I built my house twelve years ago, my dad was my foreman.  He would travel down to Connecticut, from Chazy, every Monday morning and go home every Friday afternoon.  He brought on a crew of friends and they stayed here in the house, without heat, electric, or running water.  He was retired from work and was now working his butt off, for me.  

One weekend, he was home, mowing his lawn.  His new wife, Mary, realized she had not heard any noise outside for a while.  She went out to check on him.  She found him sitting on the pavement, leaning up against his car, catatonic.  He had had a stroke.  A lifetime of smoking, drinking, and poor nutrition was catching up with him.

I would not allow my dad to continue working on the house, after that.  He tried to insist that I keep him on but I refused.  He needed rest.  Eventually, he fully recovered from the stroke.  He had a couple mini-strokes after that, but none as bad as that first one.  He also survived colon cancer, prostate cancer, and throat cancer.  He was a tough old man.

You cannot outrun time.  Eventually it catches up with all of us.  My dad told me a few months ago that he was going to have a stent put into an artery by his heart and another one put into his leg.  It had been over a year since I had seen him.  He had been in South Carolina for many years.  I knew I needed to spend some time with him before this surgery.  There was no indication that there would be any complications.  But he was 75.  You never know if someone that age will wake up, after the surgery.

I pulled my youngest son out of school, to be my driving companion.  I wanted to take all three kids but it gets a little crazy with the three of them together and it seemed like it would be a nicer trip with just one of them.  The older two had already had too many sick days (sometimes known as * ahem * "ski days") and a four day trip would put them over the limit.  Had I known that their schools would be closed a week or so later, I may have made different choices.  But who knew.

There was no quarantine at the time but I was still cautious.  I made sure my son did not touch too many things and we washed our hands a lot.  We had some nice father-and-son time in the car, which was in the spirit of the trip.  I went out of my way to find a doughnut shop to buy him a Boston Creme (and myself a coffee).  We left early in the morning and made it to Florence in time for dinner.  

My dad made one of his famous "boiled dinners" also known as a pot roast.  He was not the best cook.  The food was a little bland, for my taste.  But this was the food I had grown up with and it made me feel good to taste Dad's cooking, one last time.  I joked with his wife about how my dad was going to mash up all his food, douse it with vinegar, and then not eat most of it.  He did that.

The next day we spent most of the day sitting on the couch, watching TV.  It did not matter to me, what we did.  I just wanted to spend the day by my dad's side.  We went to Walmart to pick up some things to eat the next day and for the ride home.  I was a bit leery about getting too close to other people but it was not like it is now, with social distancing.  We even went out for dinner that night, at a Chinese buffet!  I kept thinking, "This is it.  I am a deadman."  But we were OK - no Coronavirus that day.

The surgery went well.  The objectives were achieved.  I gave my dad a hug and my son and I came home.  It would be another two weeks before my dad went home from the hospital.  His recovery was slow.

He was only home for a few days before he was back in the hospital.  He had pneumonia.  No matter what was done, my dad could not get enough oxygen.  His wife and I wondered if it might be COVID-19.  By this point, the entire country was in its grips.  It did not make sense that he would have it because she was still healthy.  But you never know.  She and I agreed to ask the doctor if he had been tested for it.

The next day, I received a text from my dad's wife saying my dad was on life support.  He had been transferred to a ward in the hospital that was set up for patients who are awaiting their COVID-19 test results.  He was on a ventilator and heavily sedated.  The nurse we were in contact with told us the ventilator had nothing to do with his status as a possible Viral, that he would have needed it either way.  I am not one hundred percent sure of that.  But I can only take her word for it.

That was two weeks ago, as of this writing.  The results showed my dad did not have COVID-19.  He was moved back to the regular ICU.  But he was still heavily sedated.  There was some progress, with his breathing, but then he began having kidney failure.  Every day was a ride on a roller coaster.

Memories of Claude Marceau


In preparing this requiem I went through old photo albums, boxes and envelopes full of pictures, computer files from years past.  Seeing scattered pictures lying across my desk, the song The Way We Were got stuck in my head.  "Misty water-colored memories of the way we were."

Claude Marceau feeding a crow
Dad feeds a crow he befriended, July 1987

I found a photo of my dad with a crow he had befriended.  The crow had injured a wing.  It let my dad take care of it for a couple weeks until it was well enough to fly again.  He was good with animals.  I remember when we had chickens he had a trick where he could put a hen to sleep.  Then he would nudge the hen and it would wake up and walk off.  It did no harm to the bird.

My dad did not have expensive tastes, for the most part.  He was content with a bag of chips with onion dip and a cold soda.  He would take a slice of pizza over caviar, any day.


Dad loving on some shcrimps

He did enjoy a Surf & Turf, from time to time, lobster tail and filet mignon.  He liked a New York style cherry cheese cake - me too.  But his absolute favorite was a nice shrimp cocktail.  For a little guy who barely ate, he could put away his body weight in shrimp.

Young Claude and Gilles Marceau
Dad around 20 months with older brother Gilles,
Chicoutimi, Quebec, 1946

There were only a couple photos of my dad's childhood - black and white pictures of life in small town, northern Quebec.  It is strange, sometimes, for me to think of him growing up in a time and place where few people had electricity, roads were not paved, and milk was delivered by a horse-drawn carriage.

Claude Marceau and siblings
Carole, Gilles, a cousin, Gizzy, Claude
Unknown date and location

My dad used to talk about a dog he had, that used to pull all the kids in a cart, wearing a harness.  He said the dog was about four feet tall.  I did not fully believe him.  I assumed that he was little, at the time, so proportionally, the dog seemed bigger than he remembered.  I am not sure if the dog in the picture above is the one he was talking about.  But that is one huge dog.

Young Claude Marceau on Skis
Dad on skis, Chicoutimi, Quebec

Like many Canadians, my dad could skate from about the time he could walk.  Apparently, from the photo above, skiing was also a big part of his childhood.  I took my dad skiing a few times and he was not able to keep up with me.  I did not believe his stories about skiing from a young age until seeing the photographic evidence.

When he was five, my dad and his siblings were riding down a dirt road in the back of a pickup truck.  My dad was standing on the spare tire, looking ahead, over the cab of the truck.  They hit a big pot hole, or maybe a rock, and my dad flew up into the air and landed on his head, bashing his brains in.  He stood up, turned around, and fell down again.  His dad, Benoît, did not immediately notice.  It just happened that an uncle drove by, seconds later, and said to his wife, "Hey, isn't that Benny's kid, lying in the road?"  They stopped and put him in the back seat.

Today, Chicoutimi has a population of about 70,000 and has merged with the city of Saguenay to form a regional urban area of over a quarter million people.  There are mid-rise office buildings, hotels, and a world-class medical center there.  In the late 1940s, there were fewer than 20,000 residents.  Doctors still made house-calls.  My grandfather took my dad to the country doctor and was told nothing could be done - call a priest, for last rights.  My grandfather told the doctor to go F himself and he drove my dad 120 miles, on dirt roads, to the hospital in Quebec City.  (I think I would have liked my grandfather.)

My dad was in a coma for three months.  When he finally came to, he became aware of the tinny sound of Pop Goes the Weasel, playing over and over.  His brother Gilles was sitting there, by his side, playing with a Jack-in-the-box.  My dad did not recognize this boy in the chair.  He did not know who he was or who anyone in his family was.  In the years that followed, bits and pieces of memory would come back.  But there would always be about a five year period that was lost forever.

During these subsequent years, my grandfather was sick a lot.  My grandmother was forced to get jobs as a school teacher and a seamstress, in order to make ends meet.  Since she was not available to take care of the kids and my grandfather was sick, the kids were put in an orphanage.  Gilles rebelled and ran away so many times, he was sent to live with his grandfather.  But my dad and his younger brother Gizzy and sister Carole stayed in the orphanage for a long time.

These days, Canadians enjoy a higher standard of living than Americans.  But it was not so in the 1950s.  My grandparents moved the family to Champlain, New York in search of a better life.  (People from The North Country may find the previous sentence ironic.)  They rented a farm, for a while.  

The kids attended St. Mary's Academy.   The nuns were cruel to the students, in those days.  I never understood why people who hate children would be put in charge of them.  But that is another story.  The nuns would routinely beat the children with yardsticks.  Young Claude was a rambunctious kid, as anyone who knew him as an adult could imagine.  The nuns did not take kindly to my dad's clowning around.  One day, a nun assaulted my dad with a steel-edged ruler so badly that his knuckles still had open gashes all across them when he got home.

That night, at dinner, my dad sat with his hands under the table.  He was afraid that if his dad found out what had happened at school, he would be beaten again, for causing trouble.  Gizzy, like a lot of mischievous siblings, seemed to take some joy in the thought of this.  He said, "Hey Claude, why don't you show Dad your hands?"  Benoîdemanded to see my dad's hands.  With tears in his eyes, my dad put his hands on top of the table, ready for the beating that would follow.  But that is not what happened.  Instead, my grandfather went down to St. Mary's, first thing in the morning, got up in the nun's grill, and declared in expletive-filled broken English that if she ever laid a hand on his son, or any of his children, again, he would kill her.  I believe he meant it.  It was not long after that, that the kids transferred to public school.

It is somewhat odd that many of my dad's memories were of tragedies.  Maybe those are the most unusual so they stand out the most.  The every day, mundane events are all a blur because they are the norm.  A lot of these ordinary days were filled with danger, riding a hay conveyor and jumping off at the right spot to avoid being mangled, playing with fireworks, skitching behind random, moving cars or jumping onto their running boards and then jumping off to slide across the snowy pavement in their leather-soled shoes.

When construction on the locks of the Saint Lawrence Seaway began, my grandfather moved the family to Massena, New York.  He worked there until his death from colon cancer in 1967.  (He was dead at the same age that I was when I had the same cancer removed.)  My dad attended Massena High School, where he caused more trouble - most if it, harmless.  Most of it.

Grasse River Train Bridge
Grasse River Bridge, Massena, NY

My dad told many stories of jumping off a bridge, in town.  He said it was about 90 feet over the water.  This is another tall tale that was hard to believe until he brought me there and showed me.  We walked out on the bridge and looked down at the water.  I think it is the one pictured, above, although I do not remember for sure.  It was too high for my dad and his friends to dive so they would jump feet first.  Even then, the impact of the water was slightly painful and could have been fatal.

He said there was a metal cofferdam that had been left in place after pouring the concrete footing.  He and his friends would bet each other a sixteen-ounce RC Cola, that they could not jump between the cofferdam and the footing.  They could have been split in half the long way, if they hit the wrong way.  But they would do it.

One day, my dad got a hair-brained idea from his hero, Wile E. Coyote.  He loved those Road Runner cartoons still when I was a kid.  He decided to sew four bed sheets together and make a parachute.  He attached himself to the parachute with ropes and jumped off the bridge.  The chute opened.  It worked and he enjoyed a fun ride down, for about ten feet.

The likely model for my dad's parachute

The parachute then flipped upside-down and he plunged head-first into the chute.  Wile E. Coyote's model did not include an important feature, a hole at the top of the chute to let the air out.  Once my dad's chute filled with air it became unbalanced.  He hit the water head-first.  He was lucky he did not break his neck.  This was not the worst part.  He has described the sheet as acting like a washcloth when you get it wet in the tub and place it on your chest.  The sheet stuck to him.  His arms and legs got tangled in the ropes.  He came close to drowning.  Somehow, he managed to free himself and get his head above water.  His mom could have cared less, that he survived.  She was livid that he had ruined four of her good sheets.  He got it good for that one.

My mom always said my dad had nine lives, like a cat.  She may be right.

Get a few drinks in him, and my dad would tell the most uproarious stories, most of them about cheating death.  I wish I could do them justice.  He once put a bike wheel in a vice and tied a bottle rocket to it.  It made the wheel spin around at incredible speeds just before it blew up the garage.  It had ignited all the paint, gasoline, and turpentine in the garage.  He barely escaped with his life.  When he told the story, it was roll-on-the-floor funny.

He used to do a trick where he would flip his false teeth upside down and mess up his hair which made him look like a monster.  He had false teeth since he was a teenager.  Back then, he would put mud on his face and hide in a cemetery and come out and scare people.  It was funny at the time.  Then he did it to an unsuspecting Army buddy who carried a pistol.   His friend almost shot him.

Claude Marceau is a real swell guy
Swell!

My dad was treated differently in high school because, among other reasons, he still had a French accent (they called him "Frenchie" in the Army).  But he seems to have had a good bunch of friends in school.  I found a few class photos his friends signed.  They all thought he was "a real swell guy" and "a happy go lucky fellow."  Strange, though, that the four photos I found were all of different people but they only had two names, either Bob or Pat.  Weird.

We were not a traditional sports family, growing up.  Since my dad was Canadian, he grew up with different sports than most American kids did.  This is what he passed on to me.  We never watched football or basketball, on TV.  From time to time we would watch an Expos game and a few times my dad took me to Olympic Stadium to watch them play.  For years, the stadium was partially completed, with steel reinforcements protruding from the tower, like the unfinished Death Star.

Olympic Stadium, Montreal, 1977
Jennifer, me, Dad, Grandma Elsie, Grandmom Juliette, Mom

More often, the sports we saw on TV were hockey, boxing, and racing.  Sometimes we watched these in French since we received more Canadian stations than American.  I cherish a memory of going with my dad to watch the Habs play in the Montreal Forum, when I was in my early teens.  When Mike Tyson was the world champ, we watched every match on HBO.  I do not remember exactly when my dad got into racing.  It was something which grew over time.  Initially, it was drag racing and eventually it turned to NASCAR.  I never shared this passion with him.  Maybe he started too late, with me.

When our local racetrack, The Airborne Speedway, converted to a dirt track, my dad got directly involved.  His friend Leon needed someone with my dad's mechanical and machining skills.  I do not think it was a paying gig - maybe he got paid in beer, I do not know.  But it was a fun hobby and it made my dad feel important to be part of something, supporting a minor local celebrity who happened to be his friend, and participating in auto racing.

Leon Gonyo's race crew, Dad on far right
Autodrome Drummondville, Quebec, Summer 1993

My dad did a little racing, himself.  I could not have been even ten years old at the time.  We went to a drag race on the ice on Lake Champlain.  This must have been around February 1982.  My dad had an old Ford Torino.  It was a rusty piece of crap and probably got about five miles per gallon (gas was cheap, back then) but the thing hauled ass.  He had already put studs on his snow tires so he figured he would do well on the ice.  Little did he know, studded tires were not permitted.  The race officials waited to tell him this rule until after they had collected their non-refundable entry fee, of course.

What to do!  We had no tools with us.  As I sipped a hot chocolate (it was bitter cold out) I told my dad I had my pocket knife.  This had been a gift from him.  It was his dad's before him.  It was small.  It used to have two blades but by the time it was given to me the large blade had broken.  This is one of those random objects that should have been thrown away and replaced with a new one.  But it meant a lot for me, as a kid, to have an heirloom passed down, from the grandfather who had died years before I was born.

Claude Marceau's Ford Torino
Dad's Torino

It probably seems strange in the year 2020 for a nine year old to be carrying around a knife.  But we lived in the country and this was not uncommon.  Plus, things were different, forty years ago.  It was perfectly normal for me to have a knife in my pocket.  And lucky I did.  It was not the best tool and my dad cut his fingers a few times because the little blade kept folding up on him but it did the job.  He got enough of the studs out to qualify for the race.  He did not do well but it was a fun experience for him.  We went back again the following year - this time without studded tires.

Other "sports" of sorts that my dad passed on to me are hunting and fishing.  We have fished all over Northern New York and parts of Quebec.  We once took a week-long hunting trip to the Southern Tier of New York.  Mostly, though, we just went out back, behind our house.


Me and Dad, out cold, after an early morning hunt, November 1993

Often the goofball, my dad reveled in getting a laugh out of people.  I credit him with inventing the Selfie, decades before it had a name.  He did not do this because he liked looking at himself, although whenever he saw himself in a picture he would remark, "Now there's a good looking guy," word.  He just took selfies because it would make people laugh, to see him turn the camera around and take a picture of himself.  No one was doing that, 40 years ago.

World's first selfie?  Dad taking his own picture, July 1984

While this is my own personal account of my dad's life I want to make sure not to leave out a few people.  My sister Jennifer (the artist formerly known as Lynn) has her own story to tell.  Here is a picture of her and my dad on one of the trips we took to Florida as adults, to visit my mom's mom.


Dad and Jennifer in Florida, December 2001

My dad was married to my mom for over thirty years.  A few years after the divorce he married his second wife Mary.   They were together for only a couple years before Mary passed away.


Dad with Mary and her son at my house on Peach Lake, October 2007

After Mary passed, my dad got married again to her friend Patsy Cook.  They remained together until the end.  I have been in close contact with her over the past few weeks.  


Dad with Patsy at Myrtle Beach, April 2017

There are more stories involving more people I would love to write about.  Dad's brothers Giz and Gilles, old friends Damon and Joe, neighbors Max and Jack, extended family, and many more people than I can list here.  I have simply run out of time.

Claude Marceau Obituary


Claude R. Marceau of Florence, South Carolina, passed away on Thursday, April 9, 2020 at McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence.  He was born in Chicoutimi, Quebec on September 23, 1944 the son of Benoît and Juliette (Roy) Marceau.

Claude emigrated to Champlain, New York in 1956 and spent most of his teen years in Massena, NY before enlisting in the US Army where he was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  He then started his family in the Trenton, NJ area before settling in his true home of nearly four decades, Chazy, NY, where he worked as a skilled machinist.  Claude retired in Florence, SC where he lived in a home he purchased.

An active member of his community, Claude was involved with the Lion's Club, the VFW, and was a Commander of the American Legion.  His most noted civic accomplishment was the establishment of Teen Dances at the Legion hall in Champlain, providing drug and alcohol-free entertainment for area teenagers, throughout the mid-1980s.  He enjoyed traveling, hunting, fishing, and watching NASCAR.

Claude is survived by his wife Patsy, children Jennifer Lynn Slover of Connecticut, and David Marceau and his wife Dara of CT, their mother Cheryl, five grandchildren, and brother Gilles Marceau of Florida.

Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, there will be no immediate public service for Claude.  A full service with military honors will be held at the National Cemetery in Florence at an undetermined point in the future.  In addition, a Celebration of Life memorial will be held for Claude in Chazy, around that same undetermined time.

In lieu of flowers, candles, or gifts, Claude's family asks for donations to be sent to Claude Marceau's GoFundMe www.gofundme.com/f/celebrating-claude-marceau.  These funds will then be used for flowers and other preparations for Claude's future memorial celebration with remaining proceeds donated to the Chazy Lion's Club.  Online condolences may be left on this page, below, in the comments section.


Dad's Final Days



Spoiler alert, like the intro, this next section is mostly about me.  This is my blog, so it is what it is.  Clearly, I have put some work into this blog post, over some time.  By the time this is published it will have been two weeks since my dad first went on life support.  It has been an agonizing period.  I have dealt with the pain by crying, a lot of yard work and home repairs, and by writing.  Preparing this blog post has been an exercise in both joy and pain.  Sometimes it is too painful to continue and I have to take a deep breath or stop for a few minutes or take a break and do something with my kids, for a while.

For months, my dad has been talking about a surgery he was planning.  He needed a stent put into an artery exiting his heart, in response to an aneurysm.  The surgeon suggested that while he was at it, he should also put stents in Dad's legs.  He was having difficulty walking and the stents would improve circulation and the ability to move around.

He was a little nervous about the operation.  His heart would need to be stopped and then restarted.  I was concerned too.  I did not know things would end up the way they did.  But with the realization of this surgery's risks I decided I should travel Down South to see my dad, possibly one last time.  I am glad I did.

February 26th, my youngest son, my dad, and I spent most of a day sitting on the couch, father, son, and grandson.  We did not talk a lot.  We mostly watched TV.  But that was pretty typical.  I have spent up to ten hours in a car with my dad on several occasions, driving to fishing trips or family events in Canada, where we hardly uttered a word the entire time.  It was just nice to be in each other's company.


Me and Dad on the Tadoussac–Baie-Sainte-Catherine Ferry,
On the way to go fishing in Sept-Îles, June 2010

We got up early the next day and drove to the hospital.  It was a long surgery and a longer recovery.  My little guy and I had time to walk around the neighborhood, have a sit-down lunch, explore some buildings, and have a race.  For the record, I won.  But I think I pulled something.  That will be my last race against any of my kids.

It was nighttime by the time my dad was settled into a bed and we were able to sit with him.  I was not supposed to bring a little kid into the Intensive Care Unit with me.  I explained to the head nurse that we had traveled from Connecticut.  She relented, but reminded me several times over the course of the following 30-60 minutes we were there, that she was not supposed to do that.

The next couple weeks were not fun for my dad.  He spent a long time in the ICU, where he complained about the light and the noise, both of which made it difficult to sleep.  He had the only room with a window -  I pointed that out a few times, but it was of little solace.  After he was finally moved to a regular room, where he was happy to get more sleep, he was not there for long before he was transferred to a "rehab facility" pronounced /ˈnərsiNG/ /hōm/.  In total, it was nearly three weeks before my dad made it home.  

He was only home for a few days before an ambulance took him back to the hospital.  He was having trouble breathing.  At some point, in the hospital or the rehab, my dad had contracted pneumonia.  His lungs filled with fluid.  He went from a nasal cannula to a face mask and still was not getting enough oxygen.

During this time period, he and I had the, "It's been a good run," talk.  He was ready.  I was too.  I told him he had been a good dad and I loved him.

Despite this, Friday night, according to his doctor, he asked to be intubated.  I got a text from his wife, Saturday morning, that my dad was on life support.

The next two days were the hardest.  I wrote a story about it and entered it into a writing contest.  I cannot publish it here until after the results are announced.  The following two weeks were not as bad; the initial shock had worn off.  It was the limbo that was so difficult to deal with.  Will he recover, or not?  One day, there is progress.  He is breathing 50% on his own.  The next day, the ventilator is doing 80% of the work.  Then his kidneys failed.  He needed dialysis.  What is next?

After about ten days I addressed the elephant in the room.  We had some tough decisions to make.  The doctor told us most people do not stay on a ventilator for more than a couple weeks.  He described my dad's condition as, "not doing too great."  He suggested we decide if we want a "Do Not Resuscitate" or "DNR" order in place and that we might want to visit.

I was surprised the doctor told us to visit.  It had been my understanding that the hospital was on lock-down, meaning no visitors were allowed, due to the Coronavirus.  This was true, but apparently, for end of life situations, family is allowed to visit.  His wife started to tell the doctor that Jennifer and I would be traveling down from Connecticut and I whispered "ixnay" and quickly changed the subject.  I did not want the doctor to freak out that we were traveling from a virus hot-spot and then tell us to stay home.  There was little danger that we were infected because we have been self-quarantining, but nobody thinks they are a threat until they are diagnosed with the virus.

The three of us took a day to think about it and then agreed we would give my dad the rest of the week to recover.  The reality was, he was already too far-gone at that point to ever recover and if by some slim chance, he did, he would never have any quality of life, living with oxygen and dialysis for however little amount of time he had left.  But to be sure, to give him a little more time, to allow us all to live without regret that we did not wait long enough, and to get through the Easter Weekend, we decided to wait and take my dad off life support the day after Easter, sixteen days after going on the ventilator.  We would visit him and say good-bye.

That plan was thwarted by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster's decree that anyone from out of state would need to quarantined for fourteen days.  You could be local to Florence, running around the Walmart without a mask, and no problem, you are welcome at the hospital.  But someone who has been self-quarantined at home in Connecticut, well, your kind ain't welcome in the state of South Carolina.  Yah, makes sense.

This was especially hard on my dad's remaining brother, Gilles.  He had been by my dad's side 70 years earlier while my dad was in the three month coma.  He had been by their brother Gizzy's side when he laid in bed, zooted on morphine, in his final days.  He would surely have been there with my dad in his final week, if he had been permitted to travel.

Then, of course, the other development was that Dad did not make it through the weekend.  He died Thursday morning, four days before we would have seen him for the last time.

About an hour before he was pronounced dead, my dad's wife and I were talking about the toll this was taking on us.  It was exhausting, watching my dad go through this.  This was when I explained to her that I had figured out, my dad had not been progressing at all, all along.  It seemed like that, because one day his ventilator would be doing 80% of the work and then next day it would be at 50%.  But then they would turn it back up to 80% and we would be confused.  This was because the doctor was fiddling around with the dials, adjusting the settings to see what would work.  He had no idea what would work.  He just adjusted the dials and then waited to see if my dad could handle it.  The nurses then saw the settings were lower and reported that back to us as improvement.  It was a cruel, false sense of hope.  What are you going to do.  We must move on.

It would have been nice to at least have had a video conference with my dad, once he came off sedation.  But it is what it is.  These are the days we are living in.  Our family is relieved, somewhat, that we did not have to make that tough decision.  You never want to think, what if we had just given him one more day?  Dad took care of that for us.

Thanks, Dad.



Dad walking his grandson, May 2011



Prepared by David Marceau