On Monday, March 12, 1990, my father suffered a heart attack. He was attending a conference of the Society of North American Goldsmiths in San Francisco. The attack was the result of a condition which he had been taking medication for about 6 years. Unlike a coronary artery problem, this type of attack is quite painless, and simply involves the heart fibrillating. Dad passed out over breakfast, while eating with Bob Mitchell.
CPR was performed, and the paramedics called. He was resuscitated after repeated charges from a defibrillator. He was then rushed to a hospital about 6 blocks away. Bob did not know how to contact Mary, but did know how to reach Becky Thatcher in Atlanta. She provided Mary's phone number, then immediately arranged travel plans for herself. Mary called me from Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal, saying only that he had a heart attack, was unconscious, but breathing on his own, which was all she knew. I too immediately made travel plans to San Francisco. Mary and Becky arrived within minutes of each other, I arrived several hours later at around 8:30. Mary stayed the night in the CCU, while I returned to the hotel.
The next morning I returned to the hospital and asked some questions. I observed one of the nurses performing the standard set of tests for reflex responses. It did not appear that there were any. After she had left, and while Mary was absent from the room, I repeated them. At this point I was more or less certain that the situation was beyond saving. I had specific instructions from my father for exactly such a situation. I was "to write him off and take care of Mary."
At no point did any of the medical staff provide any strong hope that dad would ever recover in any way. We obtained a second neurological opinion on Thursday. The outlook was bleak. The respiratory specialist and the neurologist concurred that he was fully capable of breathing on his own without a respirator, and we decided to do so. He continued breathing on his own with little difficulty. His body temperature rose to approx. 103, another indication of severe brain damage. Questioning one of the medical staff it became apparent that we should not leave the hospital that night. So, myself, Mary, and Bob stayed the night. About 2:15 the following morning, Bob moved Mary to a couch down the hall. I was sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed. About 10 minutes later, I awoke to find two nurses in the room with me, examining the heart monitor. I stood and scanned all the numbers, as I had been doing for three days already. One look told me that it wasn't going to be much longer. I got Mary and Bob, and we all went back to the CCU room. Dad's heart rate slowed, and the beat became weaker, and at about 2:50 Friday morning ceased altogether. The end was peaceful, and gentle.
Of course he died in the middle of plans. I would be surprised if it would have been any other way, at any time. There would always be plans-that's the kind of man he was.
Dad was a metalsmith, I'm not, neither is my sister. There is a lot to be read into that I suppose. I've thought about it before. I think that subconsciously I avoided the competition. Only two possibilities existed: that I would in the end fail to equal his standards, or that I would surpass him. I'm not sure which I feared most. Whatever the cause, my sister and I have gone in other directions.
My earliest memories of my father are tied to his jewelry making. On weekends we would end up in the basement workshop. Dad, me, and Chris. The beginning of that devotion is rooted in dad's first job-the military. Knowing what he did then, I can see it as a way to escape the reality of the job. There is a certain mindless, therapeutic nature to the hours spent on the task, and I suppose it helped.
Which brings us to skill, mechanical or otherwise. I remember a demonstration booth at a gem show-where I don't recall. Dad and another metalworker were demonstrating wax model making. In the time they worked together, he produced at a rate better than 5 to 1. He overheard her comment to a friend that dad was "like some fucking machine-one wax after another." The truth is, the mechanical stuff he perfected-less to do if it's done right the first time, leaving time for the creative.
Dale Austin, 3-30-90
Dennis Austin, Greg Austin, Richard Austin.
Richard Austin, Betty Austin, Keweenaw, MI.
Richard Austin, Independence Pass, CO, 1976.
Richard Austin, Michigan, 1950s.
Nancy A. Austin, Richard D. Austin, Mary Zazeski Austin, Dale Austin. My father remarried in 1985. I got to be the best man.
Richard D. Austin, 1939. Dad was one cute kid. Even managed to win a beautiful baby prize once.
Richard D. Austin, Copper Harbor, Michigan. late 1980's. Collecting agates in Copper Harbor, Michigan. Copper Harbor was our family's summer destination of choice throughout my childhood. My parents honeymooned there. I've stayed there before or after most every backpacking trip to Isle Royale. For many years the gift shop at the Minnetonka Resort sold my father's jewelry.
Sometime in the late 1940'early 1950's
Fishtown, Leland Michigan. Later in life the west side of Michigan - the Leland Penninsula - became a favored destination. This was largely a result of an ongoing creative collaboration with Becky Thatcher, who runs a jewelry shop in Glen Arbor.
Rocky Mountain National Park, 1976
Richard Austin, Helen Austin, Midland, Michigan, ca 1986.
Copper Harbor, Michigan, ca. 1985
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008