Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Orleans On The Mind

My dad loved New Orleans.  He thoroughly enjoyed the food, appreciated the people, delighted in the music, and, of course, he LOVED the Street Beer!

Dad, making a presentation to some of his clients at a meeting

When people asked Dad what he did for a living, he said that he was “in the grain business."  During his career, he managed several grain elevators, supervised the opening of a rice processing plant, and, in 1993, joined an agricultural marketing consulting firm as a principal commodities broker.

Not long after he graduated from college and got his first job in the field, he joined the Mid-South Grain Association, a trade organization for people in the ag-marketing business.

During the course of his career in the grain business, the Mid-South Grain Association was a constant for Dad.  He served as president of the organization for several years and was secretary-treasurer for the past 18 years. He was always so appreciative of the numerous friendships he developed through the group and enjoyed organizing their semi-annual conventions, one of which was always held in February in New Orleans.

My sisters and I and our spouses tagged along several times when my parents went to the convention in New Orleans, always a fun time for all of us and a good opportunity for us to see Dad “in action” with so many people he had known professionally and personally for years and in some cases for decades.

When Dad got sick in late October, he had just begun planning for the convention the following February.  He still had to line up guest speakers, get people registered, and coordinate with the hotel where the meetings were always held, the Royal Sonesta.  He had quite a long To-do list going, and this became one of the things about which he worried while he was sick.

After Dad was admitted to the hospital, while he was in the Neuro-ICU for several days awaiting surgery, he was on several different medicines, including a massive amount of steroids to address the swelling around the tumor in his brain and a type of pain medication that we later learned resulted more in increased anxiety and talkativeness than it did in pain relief for Dad.

My mom, my sisters, and I took shifts, often in pairs, to be with him 24 hours a day, and, as I’ve mentioned, we took careful notes about everything that went on.  One of the things we wrote down was what he said, especially when it related to things about which he was concerned. 

During those long, scary nights in the ICU, he talked endlessly, often about not feeling well, having a bad headache, and being very tired, all of which made sense given what we knew about what was going on with him medically.

Just a few hours before his surgery, he seemed to finally be getting some rest, but he kept talking in his sleep, saying things like “I’m bored,” “I’ve got to know when I can run again,” and “I don’t know why I have to be here.”  He also said some things that weren’t in context, like “I’m going to the oyster bar,” and “I’m going to eat a dozen.”  In between comments, he kept repeating a number that didn’t make sense to us, and, after hearing him say that same number over and over, I decided to use my cell phone to Google it.  It turned out that the number was the telephone number to the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans.  Apparently, he had New Orleans on The Mind.

Over the course of the next several weeks, we made lots of notes of things that Dad told us to write to complete the Convention-Planning To-Do List, and then we passed it on to someone else in a leadership position with the organization.  Dad still worried about it frequently, but we tried to reassure him each time he brought it up that it was being taken care of. 

After Dad went on ahead on January 5, Mom was asked to continue taking part in the convention and with the organization, if she felt up to it.  She had worked side-by-side with Dad for all those years in planning for and putting on the convention, and she definitely knew the ropes.  Because Dad was so concerned that the convention go smoothly, Mom felt that carrying on with that task was a good way to honor his wishes and to uphold his legacy in the professional realm.  She did get the job done, coordinating the planning for the event, and, with my husband and me, attending the convention to represent Dad as he would have expected us to do. 

I’m sure that Dad was watching over us during our time in New Orleans and that, although he might have missed being there, he was proud that we honored his commitment and that the show went on.

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