The Last Joke

Casper called out our brother’s name, “Billy!” I turned to look at him. He’d been drifting between reality and hallucinations since I sat down at his bedside half an hour earlier. His eyes looked dreamy, but his raised hands showed intent and concern.

I asked, “Casper, why do you need Billy?”

“The cows are out!” my brother responded. His dream shifted then, to field-dressing a deer. He asked for help lifting it and marveled, “This is a big animal”.

After quietly sleeping for several minutes Casper woke and once again called, “Billy!”

I leaned towards him and asked, “Are the cows out again?”

Casper shook his head and waved a hand, saying, “They’re in pieces.”

I flippantly teased, “Casper, when cows are in pieces, that’s called hamburger.” To my surprise, despite his mind being clouded by illness, my brother laughed! Remembering the great stories he liked to tell through the years showing the funny side of his life, I joined him in laughter. Casper had a funny, sweet sense of humor. He especially loved original one-liners, his own and others.

Mom once told me that Casper was very young when he caught his first fish. It was a minnow from the pond. He proudly brought it home. Using a generous amount of butter, Mom fried it on their wood stove using a syrup pail lid for a pan. After that, Casper fished every type of fish available in Wisconsin waters. He hunted every legal type of animal in our state.

I remember as a child running to Casper’s car when he pulled into our farmyard. Getting out, he’d open his wicker creel and allow me to peer in. Casper had the bottom of the creel lined with green ferns. Nestled on the ferns were two trout. One rainbow and one German brown trout. I exclaimed, “They’re beautiful!”

Casper proudly stated, “They were even more beautiful when I first pulled them out of the water! They’ve faded a little.”

Wanting a hunting dog, Casper brought home a beagle puppy to train. Not only was the animal not very smart, but it also threw-up in Casper’s car each and every time he took it hunting. The poor dog earned its name, “Dopey.” Despite the lack of a good hunting dog, my brother still managed to bring home a continuous supply of squirrels, rabbits and racoons for Mom to cook.

Tree grafting was one of Casper’s interests for a few years. To my delight and amazement, he successfully grafted a pear branch onto an apple tree in the orchard. After that, many of our fruit trees sported at least one or two Frankenstein branches.

Casper decided to build a boat to use on the Eau Plaine flowage the year I was ten. He started the project in the living room of the old farmhouse, used as a granary after the new house was built nearby. The boat turned out very well. Casper and his friends used it for water skiing parties at the park many times.

Enjoying clubs and teams, Casper played soft ball, threw darts, sang in the choir and bowled. When he wasn’t working at his job at the mobile home plant, he worked his side-line business; laying carpets.

In the early 1970’s Casper took up the hobby of making wine and became an excellent vintner! Through the years he used every berry, blossom and root he could lay his hands on. His carrot wine was good, but his caraway was even better.

One day while carrying a heaping pail of blueberries back to his truck, Casper met a bear on the trail. He loved to explain and demonstrate with a happy chuckle, “I barked at it like a dog. The bear didn’t seem to know what to make of me. He just turned and went down a different trail.”

Both of my brothers had Parkinson’s Disease. Billy showed symptoms of it ten years before Casper came to realize that he also had it. The thing that made Casper go see a doctor was unusual. He was a crack shot with a pistol and took part in the sport of completive shooting. I knew that Casper was able to pick off squirrels sitting on tree-top branches. He explained, “I knew something was wrong because my shooting score dropped one hundred points.”

Our brother Billy died from complications of Parkinson’s only a month earlier. Since Casper had always been a sturdy, healthy outdoors man, I thought he would not succumb to this illness so quickly. But two weeks after Billy’s funeral it became clear that Casper’s deterioration had quickened.

Remembering that Casper could laugh at my spur-of-the-moment joke makes me happy. It was the last day he was able to speak. For a moment as he laughed, I saw the familiar twinkle in his gray-blue eyes as a full-throated chuckle escaped his smiling lips.

My brother passed away on the morning of February 5, 2018.






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