Wednesday, March 6, 2013

We Needed Each Other - Part One of Grandpa George's Legacy

On February 17th, our family lost a hero.  My Grandpa George Klippenes left this earth and rejoined his parents and his Savior. Within 24 hours of being notified of his passing I was on a plane bound for Great Falls, Montana, where my brother Shane lives.

Shane and I are typically pretty organized, but we were so discombobulated from our grief that we couldn't seem to get our act together.  Thankfully our spouses are calm and helpful, and they babystepped us through packing our stuff and actually getting on the road.

Curt didn't flinch at being in charge of the kids for an entire week and insisted they'd all survive just fine without me pre-planning meals and carpool.  He arranged my entire travel itinerary and took over packing my bag when I was staring blankly at piles and piles of winter clothes that would not fit into the tiny suitcase I originally pulled out.

Shane's wife Quenby rearranged her entire work week to accommodate me on the one day I was visiting.  She took me out to breakfast, insisted I take a nap, and wouldn't let me help make dinner.  She also made a point of telling Shane, "Take all the time you need.  We'll be okay."  All this with kiddos that were either sick or just getting over being sick and a big volleyball game to coach that evening!  There is no doubt about it.  God gave us both the perfect life partners and we are so blessed!

Shane and I loaded the entire back half of his van with winter survival gear, sleeping bags, cots, food, guns of various shapes and sizes (this is Montana after all), and who-knows-what-else.   Our route took us through some pretty barren landscape at sub-zero temperatures and it was reassuring to know we were prepared for any scenario.

Before we left, we huddled as a family and prayed -for safe travels, for God's blessing on our time together, and for peace in our grief.  It was a sweet time of fellowship and made it difficult to actually go get in the van and pull away.

We drove away at 8 p.m. with an estimated midnight arrival in the town of Jordan, Montana, where we planned to stay the night.  I overheard Shane making the hotel reservation at Fellman's Motel.  He was talking to the owner Clyde and he said, "Oh we need a room with two beds.  I'm traveling with my sister.  I'd prefer not to sleep on the floor and I'm sure as hell not sleeping with her."  Welcome to the world of Shane and Jodi.

We weren't a block from Shane's house before things got crazy.  Shane parked his car sideways in the Walgreen's parking lot then left it running when we went inside to buy a phone charger.  He was hungry so we had to go through the McDonald's drive-thru to get a Fourth Meal before we headed out into the Wild Blue Yonder.  And the van was out of gas.  After Shane filled it, he quipped, "Are you going to be like this the entire trip?  Cause I'm not sure how I've managed to survive so far."  All this and we were still in the Great Falls city limits.  Let the bantering begin.

Shane made up for lost time by exceeding the speed limit driving rapidly on the two lane highway that we used to get across the majority of eastern Montana.  We spotted herd after herd of deer on both sides of the highway so Shane drove straight down the middle.  "I pay taxes on the entire road," was his logic.

Jordan, Montana, (population 355) looks decent sized on the map.  In reality it's just two motels, a gas station, and a smattering of houses.  We arrived at midnight and had no cell service, making it impossible to text Quenby and Curt to let them know we arrived safely.  Clyde told Shane he'd be in bed when we arrived so he left our room key in the drop box outside the motel office.  We giggled when Shane pulled out a key on a big plastic keychain with a Post It note stuck to it that said, "Shane K. #24."

Our room was outdated, but clean with comfy beds.  It had everything we needed, except the few pink tiles that were missing in the bathroom.  We left the next morning by 7:30 and Shane complained the entire day about "getting raked over the coals" by Clyde's (who also owned the gas station) prices on gas.

Circle, Montana, (population 607) was the next big city.  It seemed like a thriving metropolis compared to Jordan, and it had cell service.  Both our phones started exploding as soon as we came in coverage.  Poor Quenby was worried sick and about to call the Highway Patrol to find us.  OOPS.  We won't make that mistake again.

Shane and I had great conversation and boatloads of fun the entire time we were together.  The road trip was a highlight.  We have never spent so much alone time together as adults.

It's a rare gift to have a brother like Shane.  We bantered back and forth.  Whined about all the crappy coffee we drank.  Sang Home on the Range six times in a row - once for every time we saw the "Home on the Range, North Dakota" sign on the Interstate.  It got funnier with each repetition.

We sang along to the radio.  (I forgot what a deep and melodious singing voice Shane has).  We car danced.  Laughed.  Prayed.  Made bets about if Dad would immediately talk "time to Brainerd" when we called him with a location update.  We wrote down all the funny road signs we came across:  Camel Hump Lake, Sucker Creek Preserve, Oint Joint Road, and BUMP signs that were marked by so many reflective diamonds we expected to drive over a crater instead a small blip in the road.  I made Shane stop or slow down at each state crossing so I could get a picture.  When we crossed into North Dakota it was -3 degrees.

We laughed.  A lot.  At one point we said, "Are we supposed to be having fun?"  But we knew Grandpa would be happy that even in his death, he was spreading joy to those who loved him.  We shared our hearts.  Our dreams.  it was really special for both of us.

When we finally arrived in Brainerd twelve hours later, our mood changed.  We got nervous and sad the closer we got to Grandma's house.  Right before we parked outside her home, we grabbed hands and prayed together.
It was FREEZING cold (often at zero and sometimes below zero) when we were driving.
When we saw Grandma it was emotional.  I burst into tears and she said, "Don't cry Granddaughter.  You always were Grandpa's Blondie."  She called Shane, "Grandpa's Boy" then gave him Grandpa's fireman pins from his dress uniform and a ring that Grandpa often wore.

Love and grief were thick in the air.  It made our loss seem so real to be in Grandpa and Grandma's house, but Grandpa wasn't there.  He wasn't sitting in his chair watching the weather channel or reading his Bible.  His absence was palpable. I was so glad to be sharing this heaviness with my Dad, Marcy, Shane and Grandma.  Somehow it didn't seem so oppressive because we were all together.  

We didn't stay at Grandma's long.  We had dinner together - casserole, bean salad, pickles, and chocolate covered Rice Krispy bars - all handmade by Grandma's friends and neighbors, and then headed out.  When Shane and I got back in the car to drive to Uncle Jeff and Aunt Jacque's house, we were both emotional.  We talked about having regret.  Why didn't we call more?  Write more?  Visit more? Do more?  As Shane said, "Regret is an evil Mistress."  We knew we couldn't dwell on it, but we both started crying.

That's when Shane reached over, grabbed my hand and squeezed.  But he didn't let go.  We cried, talked, held hands and gathered strength from each other all the way to Jeff and Jacque's house.  I needed Shane.  And he needed me.  We needed each other.  What a gift that God gave us this time together.

As the week progressed, Shane and I continued to support each other.  We laughed, cried buckets of tears, and made sure everyone knew we were brother and sister and NOT husband and wife.  (Gross.)

I know Grandpa would be proud of how well my big brother protected me and comforted me, in spite of his own grief.  It's part of the legacy he left - a loyalty to family, no matter the cost.  Thank you Shane for being so loyal, tender, and loving.  I love you Bro!


  1. Thanks for sharing this Jodi! Love you guys!!


  2. So glad you guys went back together. Just got the cd of pictures you sent, shared it with kiddos and my parents, we all bawled as Shane talked us through it. Makes me realize how few hours we do have here and to make the most of them. I am the proud new owner of an awesome retro retired fireman jacket :) blessings of joy on you, Quenby

  3. OK you and your brother are hilarious together! "I'm sure as hell not sleeping with her" and "I pay taxes on the entire road" - HA! Glad you had such a special time together. And again - so sorry for the loss of your grandpa. He sounds like a wonderful man. Love you. - Faith