Posted 2/1/22

WOODWORKING BY DAVE WOOD Atta Girl, Kipper We received bad news in January, when my nephew and niece phoned to tell us that my younger sister had died, after a long battle with life and later, …

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Atta Girl, Kipper We received bad news in January, when my nephew and niece phoned to tell us that my younger sister had died, after a long battle with life and later, disease. They had graciously invited her to spend her last months at their home in Virginia after she was released from her assisted-living manor when its quarantine was lifted. No, she didn't die from Covid, but from cancer and what better place for her to live but at the home of her son, Vaughn Kowahl, a scientist at the University of Virginia, and her daughter-in-law Terri, a nurse.

She was being treated royally when we visited her in December in Virginia. She was very thin, spoke rather slowly, and her hair had turned an unfamiliar brown. But she was very brave and cheerful, despite what she knew was imminent. Her Christian name was Martha Ann, an appellation that she dearly detested. Since childhood she was known by almost everyone as “Kip” or “Kippy,” the name of her dead aunt, who died of diphtheria in 1876, my mother's attempt to memorialize that poor little pioneer girl. Kip loved her adopted name and when she was a young bride of “Doc Sam” Kowahl, a veterinarian in Independence, she opened a new beauty parlor named “Kip's Coiffeurs.” The sign outside was repeatedly altered by Doc Sam's cribbage pals, who replaced “Coiffeurs” with “Kat House” much to her good-natured chagrin.

Nevertheless, her shop was a was a muchloved hangout of the town's ladies who had weekly permanents and gossiped and laughed a lot, especially every Friday when a local banker came for his weekly trim and a large beaker of silvery liquid, accompanied by an olive prepared by a nameless figure in her kitchen. (Don't worry, Kip, it's too late for the feds to catch you now!)

Kip and I didn't have a lot in common. She was an optimist, and me? Well, we didn't agree on political matters. She quit smoking and I didn't. She loved to golf and I loved to sit in the clubhouse. She bowled on the Lyga General Store team called “Lyga's Lambs,” while I worked crosswords. She paid very close attention to her wardrobe, a trait inherited from her late mother. I have been told that I look as if I dress in the dark. Living in a town that had no chain restaurants, she loved junk food and predictably ate Kentucky Fried Chicken purchased in Eau Claire, which she drove through when she came to our home in Minneapolis to enjoy my homemade Thanksgiving dinner. Names and class were important to her. Her husband's Lincoln Continental was Kip's favorite. She told me my French Simca Aronde “didn't even look like a car.” She didn't much care for school, after her tenth grade teacher expected all of her students to write an imitation Petrarchan sonnet, so she headed for Beauty School in Milwaukee and went to work, then showered me with gifts while I struggled to make do on small stipend in grad school, where I spent a record ten years of my life.

Nevertheless, we loved sharing activities that we inherited from our mother, who died when Kip was 3 years old and I was 9. We liked to eat (especially “Cannibal Meat”) and drink. She liked to tell jokes, to harmonize, to play her French horn alongside my tuba when my band came to Independence to perform at Sylvester's Smieja's bar. In high school she won a first at Madison for her performance, while I could only manage a second.

And she loved people, including all their shortcomings. Whenever we came to visit she was brimming with stories about her clients and friends who harkened back to high school. One day as she gave a haircut to our mutual friend Dagny Lund, whose family was from Norway, Kip spoke to an elderly client who was under the dryer: “I've got to do a good job on Dagny because she's going to Norway on Saturday.”

“Oh,” replied the elderly client. “Is she going to take the Greyhound or drive?” (Sam and Kip and Ruth and I took two trips to Europe. We flew.)

When she had arrived in town as Doc Sam's bride, a curious local lady asked Kip if “she was a Woodson from home,” figuring that all people in Whitehall have a surname that ends in “son,” as in JohnSON, PeterSON, OlSON Thank God we were able to get to Virginia and visit for five days before she died on New Year's Eve, and we had a chance to remember these precious memories, even the one when Kip bonked me over the head with a kitten ball bat in my dad's brooder house.

My sister's life was not a life of wine and roses. After mother died when she was three, she bounced around with relatives, until our dad remarried. She lost two babies who lived only a short time. Her husband Sam died of cancer. I always called Doc the Albert Schweitzer of Holsteins, because he was fond of treating them but not charging owners for his services. So Kip ended up leaving town to live near us in River Falls, where she worked very hard at the University Food Service, lugging around vats of Sloppy J. but quickly made friends of fellow employees. And then she met another Doctor, Paul Proescholdt, who married her and thank God spirited her off to a luxury resort in Arizona, where they lived many happy years until he died. And then it was the cancer and the pandemic and assisted living.

One of the last things she said before we left for home was “Y'know, I've been reading the diary I've been keeping for years…..” KIP THE BEAUTICIAN KEPTA DIARY LIKE ALL OF OUR ANCESTORS! I THOUGHT SHE DIDN'T LIKE HISTORY. “Don't interrupt me, Dave. What I was trying to tell you was after reading all those pages, I've come to the conclusion I haven't had such a bad life after all! (Atta girl, Kipper!)