Getting to tell your story



It came as a troika dragging bad news into an otherwise fine Sunday spring evening. A group of friends sat around the table at Byron’s in Pomeroy waiting for Jason Elmore to take the stage. The first topic was a recurrence of cancer in our friend, former State Sen. Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge, who is a graduate of Buena Vista and always has been a great friend of Storm Lake. The second was Leonard Olson, the foreman, staff visionary and owner of the Kaleidoscope Factory in Pocahontas, who suffers from a strange respiratory illness that I do not understand. He says it will kill him soon if something else doesn’t first.

Then Byron Stuart took the microphone to let everyone know that Kim Kelleher of Manson was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident near Sioux City. Part of her leg was amputated, he said, and she was in an induced coma. She rode a Harley-Davidson and danced a lot. She lost a husband years ago. She planted and harvested. She persevered.

I spent most of the night trying to make some sense of it. All you can come up with is that life is a crap-shoot. One day you are a state senator sincere and honest and much beloved, and the next day the voters throw you out. One moment your hair is in the breeze doing the thing you love best and the next you are comatose in a hospital.

“That was her joy. She was always smiling,” Olson said Monday.

He had been having a great day. He just had finished breakfast with a ladies’ group. He was filling orders for hand-carved kaleidoscopes from all over Creation.

“Some of us get to see it coming,” Olson said. “I’ve been given a gift. I can tell my story.”

He is 65. His grandpa sat on the couch and died at 65. His uncle had a belly ache and died at 65. Some other relative keeled over at 65.

“They didn’t get to tell their stories,” he said.

Beall was involuntarily retired from the Iowa Senate in 2014 and made up for it by traveling the world (we went to Cuba together), taking classes at Drake University and politicking as much as he could. Cancer came back to him a few weeks ago and he went after it with gusto. He lost his hair but not his smile or cheerful demeanor. He buys pins for a dollar from the Iowa Capitol and puts them on foreign visitors, making them honorary Iowa senators. He has slowed down on that a bit as the reputation of the Iowa Senate is not what it used to be.

The recent news was that the chemo isn’t taking so well and they will have to try something new to contain, and not defeat, the disease. He is 71.

Beall gets to see it coming, too, I suppose.

So he is campaigning for House and Senate candidates in Fort Dodge, sending emails to editors and politicians advocating for veterans and autistic children, and making plans for a trip to the old sod of Ireland. Daryl and Leonard are working the same route.

That’s about all you can make of it.

John Menke of Fonda got a lung transplant to save him from the same disease as Olson’s. Leonard thinks he is too old for that. He has to run the gauntlet with doctors this week to learn more. Friends are helping. Leonard is creating sunshine and scheming about how to make Pocahontas better. You really should look up his daily online video weather reports when he pans Main Street Poky sometime. That wisdom can’t last forever.

We don’t know how Kim Kelleher will come out of this thing. Leonard went to school with her. He says she has overcome many difficult challenges.

“You just never know,” Leonard said.

Yes. That’s right.

My sister was cured of cancer miraculously. The doctors can’t explain it.

It makes you wonder, that’s all.

I am well enough today but getting older along with my friends. My world gets rocked more frequently now. Sixty-one arrives Thursday. The phone just rang. It is the doctor’s office. Time for that certain exam that Daryl would want me to have every year at my age. I was very busy and could I call her back in just a few minutes? I kept on writing this column and with the best of intentions forgot. She called again. The appointment is made. “You know, I thought I had better call you back,” the receptionist said. She knows.