“What are you doing Carleen?” forty-seven years later, I still remember that question. When was that question asked? Days following my sisters sixth birthday.
Carleen (my mom) was Duke’s (my dad) wife.
Mom had had enough of dad’s abuse. We never saw him hit mom. But, my goodness… that countless times dad would be verbally aggressive. To the point, where we (my twin sisters & me) would be placed in a bedroom to hear dad and mom scream at each other. HAUNTS ME FORTY-SEVEN YEARS LATER!
So, mom wakes me up with my sisters and gets us dressed. My sisters just had their sixth birthday party. I remember this because we had their new birthday presents in our hands.
“Mom. Where is dad?”
Mom fearfully answers, “Paul, shhhh… let’s go!”
“Mom. Where is day?!” As my voice is getting louder.
“Paul! Come on let’s go!”
“I want dad.”
Dad comes out of the bedroom in his t-shirt and boxer shorts with the question, “Carleen, what are you doing?”
“Duke. I am leaving and taking the kids with me.”
I will save you the grief of the rest of that morning. But, the Oregon Sheriff brokered a deal: The girls go with the mother and the boy stays with the dad.
Again, saving details because this is not the focus of my HOMAGE TO GREG.
Early January 1973, my dad drives me and him in our Volkswagen camper to my aunt’s home. Dropped me off to live with my mom, twin sisters, and my aunt. I would never see my dad again.
As with MOST boys, I yearned for a father figure. Any man I would look to as my father.
Well, the one who would fulfill that the most was Greg S. Benedict.
Greg never married. Never had children. But, he had one of the most successful businesses in Carmel, California: CARMEL DRUG STORE. It is still on Ocean Avenue and I cannot give it a strong enough recommendation. When you are in Carmel, California (beautiful coastal town), please visit Carmel Drug Store. The owner is wonderful and a very good friend of Greg’s; more than a friend.
Greg gave me my first “real” job. I had the typical job for the 70’s. I was a paperboy. Greg thought I would do a great job at his drug store.
At the age of fourteen, I started to work for Greg. I learned SO MUCH from Greg. Attention to detail. Damn. That store and the cleanest shelves.
Give the customer attention. When I started working there in 1980, there were no cell phones, but we did have telephones. Strict rules about NO TALKING ON THE PHONE during work. Our job was TO SERVE the customer. No doing homework. No reading. Our job was TO SERVE the customer. We would even be admonished if were chatting with another employee! Our job was TO SERVE the customer.
Greg had a temper! He did use a hammer to swat a fly off the forehead of his employees. I had “felt” that temper(ature) several times. Of course, 39 years later, I do believe that most of the time I understand that I was not doing the job at his level.
Greg was very generous to those who worked their ass off for him. Very loyal to those who were hard workers. He gave me my first car: ORANGE PINTO; BLACK RACING STRIPES; WHITE INTERIOR. He gave Diana and me $20,000 for our Granite Bay home! Gave it to us! Not a loan. When we went out for a meal, he had to always pay the bill. When I would pay the bill, he would show that temper. He would get pissed-off!
Greg gave me responsibility that thousands / hundreds-of-thousands of sixteen-year-olds could not do today. He gave me the role of “night manager.” At sixteen years old, I was closing the drug store. By the time I was a senior in high school, Greg gave me the responsibility to open the drug store. The amount of trust he gave me as a teenager. INCREDIBLE.
And that sense of trust / level of responsibility prepared me for 8:35pm, August 9, 2019.
On Wednesday, May 15, 2019, I had a phone conversation with Greg. Greg and I would call one another almost every week. No joke. We made intentional time for one another. Of course, this was a different phone call.
“Haven’t talked to you for a while Greg.”
“Well, I wanted to wait until Katy’s graduation was done to talk to you. I have something to share with you.”
I knew it was bad.
“I was diagnosed with the same cancer as Anne (my aunt).”
I started to cry. Instantly. As a little boy, my dad just told me he is going to die.
“I have decided not to have chemotherapy. At my age, I don’t want to go through it.”
“Greg… I am a wreck and I have a concert to conduct in a couple of hours. Damn it.”
And I loved his response, “Then, you should have phoned me yesterday.”
Typical question, “How much time?”
And the standard answer, “six to twelve months.”
“Well, we better make the best of it.”
I told Diana and she was shaken as well. From 1994-97, Greg gave Diana a job at the drug store. She knows firsthand how important Greg is to me and our family. Greg was a grandfather to our son and daughter.
Following the news Greg shared with me on May 15th, the first trip we made was to the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Pebble Beach. As it always is, it was on Father’s Day weekend. Greg hosted us. We stayed at his home in Carmel. He took us to the Sardine Factory restaurant on Cannery Row. On Father’s Day, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at Katy’s Cottage in Carmel. The weekend was super.
The next time I would see Greg would be near the end of June with our daughter, Katy. Katy wanted to get one more opportunity to be with Greg. Had a very nice lunch in Carmel Valley. Very nice time. Of course … Greg’s treat.
During the Oakmont Band Camp (where I am the director) July 24th, I told Diana, “I think we need to get there (Carmel) one more time before marching band season ramps up.”
I phone Greg and tell him, “Hey, we have one free weekend in August. Diana and I want to come and visit because we don’t know about our availability following that weekend.”
He, of course, loved the idea.
After school on Friday, August 9, 2019, we left our home in Roseville, California. It is a three-and-a-half hour drive to Carmel. We get there around 5:15pm.
We arrive at our hotel, the Briarwood Inn. Very nice place. Highly recommend it.
We phone Greg. No answer. GULP.
We phone him again around 5:45. He answers. “Of course, we are still going out to dinner. Come get me.” WHEW!
We get to his house. His driveway is obnoxiously steep. He gingerly walks down this steep driveway.
Greg gets in the car.
I ask, “How are you, Greg?”
With a very soft / hoarse / week voice, “Fine.” Hadn’t heard that voice for a long time.
“You want to go to Mulligan’s?”
He says with that “different” voice, “Yes.”
We get to Mulligan’s in Carmel. Cool little Irish pub. Greg’s new favorite place.
He orders his fish and chips and a vodka martini over.
I had fish and chips. And a beer or…… two.
Diana soup and salad.
We are done eating. Greg doesn’t finish his vodka martini. That was a clue he wasn’t feeling well.
“Greg. You ready to go?”
“Why are you rushing me?!” Voice got a little stronger.
“Not rushing. We can sit here as long as you want.”
We sit for another fifteen minutes. He wasn’t drinking.
I ask the question again.
Greg nods his head and asked, “You wanna watch the baseball game with me?” We enjoy the San Francisco Giants.
“Of course. My curfew is 9:30pm.”
Drive up to his house.
Now, Greg is walking a little slower. We get to the top of his steep driveway, “I think I need my oxygen.”
We get into his house which is flippin’ at least 100 degrees.
Greg sits down in his easy chair and starts to get the oxygen going.
Diana asks, “Do you need help?” He shakes his head no.
Then, he begins to take off his jacket and I ask, “Do you need help taking off your jacket?” He shakes his head yes.
As I start to help him get the jacket off, he is having a hard time breathing.
“Greg! Are you okay?!”
NO ANSWER. “Greg!” NO ANSWER. Breathing gets harder.
“Diana. Phone 911!” She does. She then starts to answer all these questions.
“Damn it, Diana! Fuck! I need your help!” She is still answering questions.
“The operator says you need to get him on the floor!”
I try to pick him up.
“I can’t pick him up! Is an ambulance coming? Get off the fucking phone and help me!”
“She (911 operator) says, ‘Grab his ankles and pull him off the chair!”
I say loudly to Diana, “You gotta watch his head!” Diana, again on the phone, holds Greg’s top half
I hear the sirens in the background. Using Greg’s ankles, I pull him off the chair and he hits the floor.
The paramedics are coming up the stairs. I am attempting to call Greg’s long-time friend to get him to the house! Can’t get a hold of him. Paramedics are kicking ass working on Greg. They had to “paddle” him twice. They have a pulse. He is alive.
The ambulance driver was teary-eyed. “You never think you are going to work on someone who is a friend. I have known Greg for a long time. I was a waiter at Mont Trios and Greg would come in from time to time.”
We arrive at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). One of the best hospitals in California. When we get there, there was a black limousine parked where the ambulance was supposed to park. People standing there not moving. Ambulance’s light’s flashing. Siren goes. Oh, I guess we need to move. I could say more about the frustration of their stupidity.
They wheel Greg into the E.R. Doctor comes out, “Are you family?”
“No. I am very good friend who was there.”
“Okay. So, your friend has a pulse. After a bit of a challenge, we have the breathing tube in him. These next 24 hours are going to be rough. We are going to have to cool and heat his body through the evening.”
“Before, we all go through this… I believe Greg is DNR (Do Not Resuscitate).”
The E.R. doctor looks at me. “We need to know that. That could change things.”
He gets on a little phone / walkie-talkie device, “We need to check to see if Greg Benedict is DNR.”
Then, the doctor leaves me. Diana is phoning Greg’s Godson.
Minutes later the E.R. doctor comes out and informs me, “Yes, your friend is DNR and therefore, we need to take the breathing tube out…”
I finish his sentence, “…and let nature take its course.”
The doctor, “Yes…and let nature take its course.”
At 8:35pm, August 9, 2019 the doctor told me, “Your friend passed away. I am sorry.”
I WAS DEVISTATED! Diana was with me. I started to cry. I wanted to get the hell out of there, but we waited until almost 9:00pm for Greg’s Godson to arrive.
I have never been a part of something like this. NEVER.
We leave CHOMP and go back to Mulligan’s. What a strange feeling to think that two hours earlier we were sitting with Greg enjoying a meal and now, he is dead? I received a phone call from one of Greg’s closest friends, “What’s up, Paul?”
“You didn’t listen to my message?”
“It’s hard to say this. At 8:35, Greg passed away.”
His response to the news ripped my heart! The crying. His voice. Oh, my goodness.
“What happened?” I share the story with him.
The first full week of school started on August 12, 2019 … I really struggled that entire week. On August 10th, day after Greg passed, I did phone my principal and he did give me permission to miss work. I couldn’t. IT WAS THE FIRST WEEK. If it wasn’t the first week of school, YES… I would have taken off DAYS from school.
But what got me to get on my “knees” was Monday night August 19.
I had one of the worse parent conferences in my thirty-year career. It was one of the worse because of the parents and frankly, my mental / spiritual well-being. I did a crappy job! I have had DOZENS of parent conferences. I know how they work. This one didn’t work because as I said, they were already convinced I was the DEVIL incarnate and frankly, what they were upset with didn’t match the level of depression I was feeling. Again, I did a bad job.
Prior to that meeting, I drove passed two rest homes. In front of both rest homes, police cars / fire trucks / ambulances with their lights flashing. THAT HURT! Reminded me of my mom passing away at a “rest home” on January 31, 2019 and, seven months later, Greg passing! I wasn’t in the mood to receive the criticism that was given to me. Pretty damn harsh criticism. I could have done better, but I fell short.
Prior to that thirty-minute meeting that started at 5:00pm, 4:50pm – a phone call from a “panicked” father about dropping his son from band because it was too much for the family.
AND THEN … the lovely weekly three-hour rehearsal with 70 teenagers!
That Monday, August 19, 2019, afternoon kicked me in the balls! It’s time to take a break. I need to breathe. I hurt like a MOTHER F*CKER! I do. I give-in LORD, JESUS CHRIST! You win (again)! I am “broken.”
I want to leave the story with this.
Thank you very much Greg for all you did for me. The job at the drug store. The orange Pinto. The life lessons. The phone calls about politics. The countless numbers of meals you treated us. The financial support you gave me and the rest our family. But, the one thing I need to STRONGLY thank you the most for (and I need to give a pat on the back to my family & friends who remind me) is allowing us to have one more meal and drink together and giving me the trust and responsibility to be with you those final hours! Little did I know, that closing the cash registers at night; counting all the money in the cash registers; and return the next day to put the money in the registers and make sure all the newspapers were properly displayed in the newsstand was to prepare me for our final time to close together. I LOVE YOU.