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The man behind the curtain (06/27/2012)
By Cynthya Porter

I’d like to tell you a story about John Edstrom. And my kids. And about how trampolines are stupid. And how even a book with the seemingly hardest cover can open to contain pages filled with gentle kindness and compassion.

When I first met John during my interviews for a job at the Winona Post, I’ll admit it – I was afraid of him. His stern countenance and direct conversation left me with the unmistakable impression that this was a no-nonsense man who likely had little time for the follies of us emotional sorts.

But one day some time into my second year at the newspaper I got a phone call every parent dreads, and it changed my appreciation of John forever. It was my daughter calling, just nine at the time, to tell that me her brother, my stepson who was 17, was hurt.

It’s hard to get details out of a frantic nine-year-old, but the essential information was that her brother, who was babysitting her and her sister, had an accident on our trampoline and was lying on the ground. They were words that made my knees weak and my head spin.

“Is he awake?” I asked her.

“Yes, mom, but he’s hurt really bad and you need to come HOME,” she insisted, sobbing. I don’t remember very much about being nine, but I needed to gauge the seriousness of the situation with more than just her hysteria. After much convincing I got her to bring the phone out to him, and I was relieved that he sounded so calm.

“I did a flip on the trampoline and I kind of missed it when I came down, so I hit my shin on the edge and cut it,” Cam told me. Now this didn’t sound too bad, and I could feel the blood returning to my head. The edge of the trampoline had a thick foam pad on it, and I just couldn’t envision anything terribly serious coming from such a mishap. Then again, I don’t understand something the medical community likes to call “pressure splits.”

“How bad is it?” I asked him.

“It’s pretty bad,” he said.

I asked if he was bleeding. “Not too much,” he said, telling me that he had edged himself over to the basketball hoop to elevate his leg. Smart kid, and I was calmer still, but I was also still trying to understand my daughter’s hysteria and what exactly “pretty bad” meant.

“Cam, I’m trying to figure out if I need to call an ambulance or if you can wait for me to get home to bring you to the doctor – help me out here,” I said.

“Well…(pause)…I can see my bone all the way down my shin,” he replied.

And then all hell broke loose. I think I told him I was calling an ambulance before I hung up on him, but I don’t really know. Then from my desk phone I dialed 911 and waited for a dispatcher.

Here’s the thing about 911 – it seems to take an eternity when you have an actual emergency. As I stood there twitching, waiting for someone to talk to me as the call relayed through wherever it goes through, I spied my cell phone sitting in my purse, and I realized I was stupid for standing there on a land line when I could be on my way home while talking on my cell.

So I hung up on the 911 call – which was a bad decision because apparently that makes those 911 folks a little jumpy. But I called back immediately on my cell while I was in motion getting out of my office and to my vehicle, and the first call never connected, so I didn’t think twice about it. As I passed through the lobby, I know the receptionist heard me reciting my address and telling dispatch to get an ambulance to my house, and I realize years later it was rude of me to not tell the receptionist before I flew out the door that everything was mostly OK, but that I had to get a kid to a doctor. Then again, had I, I would have never gotten to know Fran and John the way I did that day, and that would have been a shame.

It turned out that while I was flying down the stairs to my car, a 911 dispatcher called back and said they had a hang-up from the office. The receptionist, having heard my call from the cell, informed them that I must have been the caller and was communicating with them from another line. But the commotion of me tearing out and 911 calling our office got the attention of the Edstroms.

All they knew was that I had children at home, and that I just sent an ambulance to my house. Meanwhile, I was tearing down Broadway at an extremely illegal speed, but I was following the ambulance undoubtedly heading for my residence, so I had every intention of ignoring any cop who might have happened upon me just then.

It’s a very surreal experience to come screeching up to your house and see a fire truck with its lights flashing and people surrounding one of your children. I booked it across the lawn, met by both of my completely hysterical daughters, and I had no sooner reached the firemen working on my son when the Edstroms came screeching up behind me, with John behind the wheel.

All they knew was that one of my kids was hurt, and that it was serious enough to warrant an ambulance, and they dropped everything and tore out of the office behind me to see if they could help in any way.

I was so surprised to see them – so humbled that they cared enough to do that, and so grateful that they were there. They tended to my daughters sweetly while I communicated with the people loading my son into an ambulance. I heard Fran say, “I know honey, it’s really scary,” while John patted the shoulder of one of my distraught daughters.

This was no curmudgeon…no stoic growler who distanced himself from the ordinary emotions of those less powerful than he was. Inside that no-nonsense exterior was a soft, warm person who was a man, a father, a person who worried for me at my most frightening moment, a gentle soul who was kind to my children.

John had no problem ruffling the sometimes ridiculously sensitive feathers of those he did not agree with — he said what he meant and meant what he said. I very much enjoyed working for that man and I respected him beyond all measure. But I felt blessed to work for the man behind that persona too, the one who laughed openly, thought deeply, and cared completely for those around him. I am lucky I had the chance to know him, even though it took a stupid trampoline trick and near-disaster to introduce me.

Rest in peace, John.



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