Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch


Back in August, when my father-in-law Carl was getting ready to be discharged from his rehab facility, he talked over and over about his goal of making it back home to his easy chair and large-screen television in time for the start of the NFL season.

And that's exactly what he managed to do. My brother-in-law Kim -- no, that is not a misprint -- came down from the Bay Area to help with the transition and Carl was sitting happily in his chair to watch Peyton Manning's remarkable Thursday night performance for the Broncos against the Ravens.

When I brought Skylar over to talk with him about her first month of high school -- it was crucial for her to have "normal" time with him -- the following night, he was still in good spirits and talked about the game with me. By Sunday, though, Kim had returned to California and Carl had experienced a series of mishaps which, along with my mother-in-law's near-constant haranguing of him for both doing too much and doing too little, left him too exhausted to watch the first Sunday of the NFL season in his chair.

Because I knew how important it was for him to watch his 49ers at home, I went over in the afternoon, dragged a chair into his bedroom, and watched their game against the Packers while he rested in bed. It was disturbing to see how much his body and spirit had flagged in just a few days time.

I was pretty certain that he wouldn't be at home for very long, particularly the way his wife was behaving, so the time I spent with him felt very melancholy. Still, he did get to see the 49ers win more time in his home, to listen to the broadcast crew talk about how this would be the last season for Candlestick Park, and to reminisce about the wonderful playoff game -- for San Francisco fans, anyway -- between the same teams back in January. I felt a need to document the experience:

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers on September 8th, 2013 in Carl Gruenwald's bedroom

That's the kangaroo watch and change holder on the right that Kim -- not her brother -- was so keen to have as a memento of her dad after he passed away in October. He had owned it as long as she could remember, so it reminds her of him like nothing else. It makes me sad to see it sitting there on his dresser now, but I'm also glad that it's part of the picture.

Today has been especially hard, emotionally, because this is the 49ers first playoff game and they are once again playing Green Bay. I've been watching the game in our house, on the flat-screen television I got at a steep discount in November because I realized, finally, that I wouldn't be able to go over and watch with Carl on his much-larger unit, not because it's gone -- it still sits in the middle of the living room -- but because it would feel wrong to be there watching without him.

But I am watching it wearing the wireless headphones he used to aid his hearing of the game -- and also stop his wife from complaining about the noise of his football games -- and am otherwise doing my best to conjure his memory to accompany me. It's not hard. I watched so many games with him over the thirteen years we lived next door to him in Tucson that I can hear his voice in my head complaining about the things he always complained about and telling the "war" stories of his youth that he would invariably trot out during breaks in the action:

The San Francisco 49ers playing at the Green Bay Packers at frigid Lambeau field in the playofs on January 5th 2014

It's a tense game so far, the sort he always enjoyed watching most. Some fans just want their favorite team to win. But Carl liked good football more than a good result. And he also enjoyed watching Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whom he and I had followed during his time as a Cal Bear, one of the few players about whom he almost never had anything negative to say. Right now the score is tied at 20 late in the fourth quarter and I can feel his presence stronger than ever.
Tags: family, sports

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