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EP344: Possum for Supper, The Day a Soviet Nuclear Attack Submarine Rammed an American Aircraft Carrier and From Tech-Startup to Making a Wooden Pen with His Dad

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 9, 2022 3:05 am

EP344: Possum for Supper, The Day a Soviet Nuclear Attack Submarine Rammed an American Aircraft Carrier and From Tech-Startup to Making a Wooden Pen with His Dad

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 9, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Joy Neal Kidney, our regular contributor and recipient of our 'Great American Storyteller Award' tells the story of what her family ate during the Great Depression years. The History Guy gives us the story of the 1984 USS Kitty Hawk collision. Chad and Jess Schumacher tell us how their lives seemed to be going really well and as "according to plan" as life could... and then life took a number of sharp and unexpected turns. 

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes:

00:00 - Possum for Supper

12:30 - The Day a Soviet Nuclear Attack Submarine Rammed an American Aircraft Carrier

25:00 - From Tech-Startup to Making a Wooden Pen with His Dad

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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The parts you need are just a click away at eBayMotors.com. Let's ride. This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Up next, a story from our regular contributor out of Iowa, a listener, Joy Neal Kidney.

And she listens on WHO in Des Moines, a great iHeart station. Joy is the author of Leora's Dexter Letters, the scarcity years of the Great Depression. And today she shares the story of a unique meal her family ate during those tough financial times.

Take it away, Joy. When I heard about someone having to eat raccoon or possum, I thought of poor folks in the deep south. Dad wasn't a hunter. And having grown up on an Iowa hog and cattle farm, I couldn't imagine having any kind of wild meat instead of good old pork and beef. But from old family letters, I learned that both raccoon and possum showed up on the table of my mother's family during the Great Depression.

Some family members reported enjoying them. Clabe and Leora Wilson had seven children, five sons and two daughters. Clabe taught his sons to trap and hunt. Pelts could be sent to Sears Roebuck and Company in exchange for food and clothing.

Clabe insisted that his boys wait until they were 12 and could demonstrate safe handling of a gun before he was allowed to carry one to go hunting. And no animal was to be killed just for sport. Squirrel and rabbit were their main sources of protein during those days. The saying was that Leora would cook anything the hunters brought her, as long as they were already skinned, cleaned, and ready for the skillet or the roasting pan. Clabe taught the boys how to do that and to stretch pelts to cure. During the hard weeks of winter, Clabe hung carcasses on the porch, where they'd freeze until they were needed. Dinner and supper also included fruits and vegetables from their big garden, fresh during growing season.

Leora canned hundreds of glass mason jars filled with produce, anything she could put up for winter. Because of the Depression, Clabe had no steady job. The two oldest Wilson brothers, Delbert and Donald, graduated from Dexter High School in 1933. No jobs for them either. A classmate had joined the Navy and was happy having a full belly, days filled with activities and an income.

Leora said that the boys, with not enough to do, would probably get into trouble. So she and Clabe okayed the plan, only asking them not to get tattoos. Those boys in the Navy were so good to write home. Young siblings followed their world travels on a map. Their mother saved all those family letters. What a joy for me to read through and transcribe them decades later. One was from Leora on her 45th birthday, dated December 4, 1935. My, what a wonderful present from my Navy boys.

Thanks a lot, boys. They had sent a card and some candy. We had roast coon two years ago today, remember?

Leora went on. That would have been just before Delbert and Donald enlisted in the Navy. You caught the last one on December 3, and the folks, that would be her mother and brothers from Omaha, came and surprised me. But the next day was the 4th, and we had that nice fat coon. Their next brother, Dale, age 14, wrote about a football banquet and added, Today we had possum and sweet taters. Boy, it was sure good.

Dale's twin, Darlene, enclosed her letter in the same envelope. The sun is shining beautifully this morning, she wrote. Dad and the boys are out trapping this morning, so Mom and us girls clean house and get dinner ready for the hungry hunters when they come. They come in with two possum yesterday. And today we're going to have a possum and sweet taters. Yum, yum. She chatted about her twin playing football, older sister Doris playing basketball, younger brother Danny being old enough to hunt with their dad. Well, I'll write more after having a piece of good old possum with the fumes just oozing out, and some gravy and some sweet potatoes. Opossum were good for something else than food. Clay wrote just before Christmas that he'd shipped eight skunks and five opossum to Sears in trade for goods from the mail order catalog.

Two years later, in November 1937, Delbert wrote home from the USS Chicago. You boys coming home with all that game makes me sort of homesick. I thought for a while you boys weren't going to take to hunting and trapping so well. But it looks as if you boys will break Don's and my records. Go tour, boys.

It's good outdoor exercise and a lot of fun. Sure like to sink my fangs into some coon meat for a change. In spite of Dale's and Darlene's comments about how good possum and sweet taters were, and even Delbert's memories of coon meat, I'd have to be desperate, as they were, during the Depression to try any.

Just in case you want to try roast coon or possum with the fumes oozing out, you can find recipes for both of these these days on the Internet. And great job as always by Monty Montgomery on the production. And a special thanks to Joy Neal Kidney, a fan of the show, and also one of our best contributors. Possum, raccoon, and rabbit all showed up at the family dinner table during the Great Depression years. The kids, they all knew how to trap and hunt. And mom, well, she'd cook anything that was shaved and clean. Dinner and supper included food from the garden.

They canned any and everything. The story of Joy Neal Kidney and her family during the Great Depression. Their food regimen here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country.

Stories from our big cities and small towns. But we truly can't do this show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button.

Give a little, give a lot. Go to OurAmericanStories.com and give. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Hey, you guys. This is Tori and Jenni with the 90210MG Podcast. We have such a special episode brought to you by NURTEC ODT. We recorded it at iHeartRadio's 10th Poll event, Wango Tango. Did you know that NURTEC ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams, can help migraine sufferers still attend such an exciting event like Wango Tango?

It's true. I had one that night and I took my NURTEC ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NURTEC ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully, NURTEC ODT Remedipant, 75 milligrams, is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. This is our American Stories. And our next one comes from a man who's simply known as the History Guy.

His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The History Guy is also heard here on our YouTube channel. And if you want to learn more about history, you can head on over to our website, WangoTango.com. And if you want to learn more about history, you can head on over to our website, WangoTango.com.

The History Guy is also heard here on our American Stories. In 1984, during a period of Cold War tension, a Soviet submarine collided with a United States aircraft carrier. Here's the History Guy with the story of the USS Kitty Hawk collision. It was March 21st, 1984, and the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk was in the Sea of Japan.

Commissioned in April of 1961, Kitty Hawk was the first of a class of three so-called supercarriers, upgraded versions of the previous Forrestal class. Capable of carrying 85 aircraft and with a crew complement of 5,624 officers and men, the Kitty Hawk had served throughout the Vietnam War and continued serving in the Western Pacific. She had been sent to the Sea of Japan in March to participate in Team Spirit exercises.

Team Spirit was a joint exercise of the United States and the Republic of Korea, held annually from 1976 to 1993. The exercise was designed to evaluate and improve the interoperability of the ROK and US forces. The operation, so close to the Soviet Far East, attracted the attention of the Soviet military. Kitty Hawk reported that over the course of the exercise, the carrier and its escorts came in contact with 43 Soviet aircraft, six Soviet surface elements, and one Soviet submarine. The submarine was the Victor-class submarine K-314. Designated Project 671, or Scorpion Fish, by the Soviet Navy and given the NATO designation Victor-1, the Victor-class was a series of nuclear-powered attack submarines designed to counter enemy vessels, especially American nuclear attack submarines.

Although its exact armament at the time is still classified, the submarine was likely armed with both torpedoes and missiles, including SS-N-15 Starfish nuclear-armed anti-submarine missiles. The Kitty Hawk was aware that it was being shadowed by the submarine since it had left the South Korean port of Pusan on March 19th. Such behavior was not uncommon, as an officer aboard Kitty Hawk explained to the New York Times.

They play cat and mouse with us all the time. As part of their tracking, the US had simulated destroying the submarine that has had units in a position where they could have destroyed the submarine in a combat situation 15 times. A former aviator who piloted a P-3B Orion anti-submarine and surveillance aircraft explained, Chasing Ivan was great fun.

Serious business, but nevertheless great fun. The only problem was that when you caught Ivan, you had to let him go. On the night of March 21st, the Kitty Hawk was leaving the Sea of Japan, heading south to the Yellow Sea. As they deployed, the Kitty Hawk's escorts moved away, some 2.5 miles distant.

This, in essence, left the Kitty Hawk blind to the location of the K-314. The carrier did not have its own sonar equipment, but instead relied on its escort vessels and aircraft to track the submarine. If it were a wartime situation, the submarine would never have gotten within the battle group, Pentagon spokesman Michael Birch explained in a UPI report. In peacetime, it's not required that the Navy keep 24-hour watch on Soviet submarines.

Birch continued, these were peacetime conditions. It's not unusual to lose contact. Still, the pilot of the P-3B Orion explained that he and his crew knew that the submarine was in the area of the carrier, and in fact speculated that the submarine was attempting a maneuver where it tries to hide underneath the carrier to mask the submarine's sound, a technique which the pilot said generally doesn't work. But the K-314 wasn't trying to hide. Instead, the submarine, under the command of Captain Vladimir Evsenko, had lost track of the Kitty Hawk. The most likely reason was simply the rough seas.

An expert quoted in the Washington Post commented that it is a very confusing world beneath the surface. Observe that the Sea of Japan, which is relatively shallow and is teeming with commercial and military ships, is one of the noisiest in the world, confusing the sonar that submarines use to track other ships. There is an additional problem as well, as sonar, which tracks sound, leaves a notorious blind spot in the baffles behind a submarine, where the noise of its own screws makes it impossible to detect other ships across an approximately 60-degree arc. Some sailors suggest that either the Kitty Hawk had made an abrupt course change or was engaging in a deceptive lighting exercise, so the ship would change its running lighting configuration to appear like the guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach. While such operations would have been intended to confuse surface ships, it may also have confused the K-314. In any case, having lost his target, Captain Evsenko decided to bring the K-314 to periscope depth. When he looked through the periscope, he was stunned to see that he and the Kitty Hawk were on a collision course.

He immediately ordered the submarine to dive, but by then it was already too late. At approximately 10 p.m., some 150 miles off the coast of Korea, in rough seas and pitch black night, the nuclear-powered and armed Soviet submarine K-314 collided with the nuclear-armed carrier USS Kitty Hawk. Captain Rogers was on the bridge at the time, bombarding one of the ship's radars.

He said, we felt a sudden shudder, a very violent shudder. The radar was designed to detect surface contacts and would not have seen the still submerged submarine. There was no indication that anyone on the Kitty Hawk saw the submarine in the moments before the collision, and there likely wouldn't have been time to make a response if they had. A sailor on the flight deck felt the shudder too, explaining, that is something you normally don't feel on a carrier. A sailor in the mess room said, his tray jumped up four inches. Others, however, seemed to barely notice, writing the shudder off as rough seas.

One sailor described affecting shipmates in a TV lounge if they felt something, and they insisted that he was crazy. On the P-3 Orion, they could hear a great scraping noise through their hydrophones. Sailors on the Kitty Hawk said the scraping noise lasted five to eight minutes as the submarine dragged along the keel. Evsenko was quoted on the website Russia Beyond, recalling that, the first thought was that the conning tower had been destroyed and the submarine's body was cut to pieces. They confirmed that the periscope and antennas were still working when they felt a second strike on the starboard side.

The collision could have been much worse. It was a glancing blow off the right side of Kitty Hawk's bow. The second strike that Evsenko felt was when the submarine's propeller struck the hull of the Kitty Hawk, breaking off a piece that was left in the Kitty Hawk's bow. The submarine was forced to surface.

The Kitty Hawk immediately launched a pair of SH-3 Sea King helicopters to render assistance. The submarine appeared to have a dent or crease between its stern and sail. It was reported moving at a slow five knots towards the Soviet naval base at Vladivostok, while the guided missile cruiser, Petropavlovsk, steamed apparently to the submarine's assistance.

The submarine did not answer the Kitty Hawk's offers of assistance, nor did it request any, and the Soviet government refused to comment. The Navy's reports at the time said that the Kitty Hawk detected no nuclear leak from the submarine, and that President Reagan was apprised of the situation. The Kitty Hawk remained for approximately two hours in order to be available in case it needed to render assistance, but then continued on its course.

Other US Navy ships remained in the area. While the initial reports were that the Kitty Hawk had taken only superficial damage, within a day the Navy reported that the carrier was taking on water. Collision had ruptured the fuel tanks during aircraft fuel, which was then becoming contaminated with seawater.

The crew had to pump the fuel from the tank. The Kitty Hawk had a hole in the bow and a gash from the submarine's propeller below the water line. Divers the next day brought up a piece of the propeller that had been lodged in the hole, and the crew had it mounted in a hangar. The Navy described the damage as minor, saying that it could be repaired at sea and was not significant enough to affect normal operations. Although crew members aboard Kitty Hawk speculated that there was a significant risk for the crew of the submarine after being rolled over in a collision, the Russian Navy has never provided information on the extent of the damage to the K-314. Several members of the Kitty Hawk and other US ship's crews noted seeing welding sparks as members of the K-314 crew engaged in apparent repairs. The K-314 was not able to return to base under its own power and was eventually met by a seagoing tug.

The report in Russia Beyond quotes Captain Evsenko saying that there was no loss of life aboard the submarine. The general feeling aboard the Kitty Hawk was that the submarine had taken more damage than the carrier, prompting jokes about the Kitty Hawk being the first anti-submarine carrier weapon. The crew painted a red submarine on the ship's island near the bridge to mark their victory, but the Navy later made them remove it. The Kitty Hawk underwent repairs at Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, which crew members described as filling the damaged voids with concrete. During the repairs, it was discovered that some of the submarine's specialized outer coating had scraped off onto Kitty Hawk, could be analyzed, allowing the US a minor intelligence coup. The USS Kitty Hawk continued to serve clear into the next century and wasn't decommissioned until 2009 after an impressive nearly 49-year service in the United States Navy.

She was the last oil-fired US carrier to serve. Sometimes the story about what did not happen is as interesting as the story about what did. The fact that an event was, well, far less catastrophic than it might have been is history that deserves to be remembered. Indeed, and you're listening to The History Guy. If you want more stories of forgotten history, please subscribe to his YouTube channel. The History Guy. History deserves to be remembered. A great story, the History Guy story, the day a Soviet nuclear attack submarine rammed an American aircraft carrier. Here on Our American Stories. UnitedHealthcare.

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And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. It's true. I had one that night and I took my NERTEC ODT and I was present and had an amazing time. Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NERTEC ODT Remedipant 75 milligrams. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully, NERTEC ODT Remedipant 75 milligrams is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. And we continue with our American stories. And now we bring you the story of Allegory Handcrafted Goods, a Chicago-based pen and leather goods company. Here's the founder, Chad Schumacher, to tell us their story. One question I've heard more often than any other since starting Allegory is, well, how did you get into that? Granted, making pens from historical woods and leather goods inlaid with ancient fabrics is certainly a strange enough idea for a company to elicit that kind of question. I usually just smile and give a few sentence answer about my dad teaching me about pens and the rest just sort of happening. But the whole story is much more.

Well, it's just more. In summer of 2011, my wife, Jess, and I were both working at a tech startup. We just announced that we expected our first child, and at the time we were both driving luxury cars, living in the stereotypical suburban dream house. The starter home we lived in when we got married made a nice rental property that usually paid its own bills. We didn't have huge salaries or savings, but we had stock in a company we were helping build that we hoped would be worth millions relatively soon. We had some credit card debt from our efforts to keep up with our business peers and more traditional companies, but all in all, we had life by the tail. My parents were retired and had gotten back together after a divorce, and they were excited to become full-time babysitters to their first grandchild.

What happened over the rest of that year would dismantle all of those things, and it would teach me that sometimes things have to fall apart before they can really come together. The company Jess and I worked at had been sort of a proving ground for me. I dabbled in various forms of garage entrepreneurship and freelancing after college, but this company had real investors and a chance for me to apply myself to a larger, more established industry. I started as essentially a graphic designer, but I was the only marketing staff, so I wore lots of hats. Eventually my work expanded into both marketing and business development, and that's when I really learned how the sausage was made. Between the inside look I got into some big-name client and partner organizations and the day-to-day dance of the inside of a startup, I can't imagine any opportunity creating more learning and growth in a few short years. The first crack started to show when that company began to feel pressure of getting to the end of its financial runway. Any mistake started to seem bigger.

Trying to hold the team together and manage a high-profile deal pipeline and raise capital to bridge the gap proved to be a pretty impossible task. I don't remember if it was just before or just after the birth of our son Liam when our last paychecks came, but I know that for the first few months of his life, myself and a handful of others worked without pay, so that what money was left would let us fulfill our obligations to our clients. I remember setting my alarm for 5 a.m. every morning so that I could make sure that our servers were up and notify our tech contractors of any issues before our East Coast clients felt them. After Liam was down for the night, the evenings were spent on the back porch of that suburban dream house with my wife. We lived on the far edge of the Chicago metro area where skyscrapers give way to subdivisions and subdivisions eventually give way to cornfields. We looked out over the fields watching planes on their way to and from Chicago's airports and we talked about our future and Liam's. Around this time, my father had taken up woodworking in his retirement. He and another friend who had bonded around their time in Vietnam would make pens together.

He made me one and I really liked it, so he'd been bugging me to come down to his place and make some with him. Between a new baby and the upheaval in our work life, that got put off for weeks. Then one Saturday morning my phone rang. It was my mom. She told me something was wrong with Dad and she needed me to come down.

I texted the folks at work to cover for me and just kept an eye on Liam and down I went. When I got there I could tell right away that Dad wasn't himself. He was distant. His memory seemed to have just vanished. Mom told me he had a headache all morning and then he got sick to his stomach.

And when he sat back down he looked at her and asked her how he'd gotten there. Something had happened that was bigger than nausea and he couldn't remember much of anything. So at this point we're terrified it's a stroke and we rush into the hospital. On the ride there I keep asking questions to see what Dad did and didn't remember. I wanted to give the doctors as much information as possible. I don't know much about neurology but I know different regions of the brain have different jobs so maybe some little detail could help them work fast. They ruled out the stroke relatively quickly and told us he had something called transient global amnesia.

The doctor tells us there's no guarantees with the brain but that most patients recover and that he had no idea how long it would take. And after some attempts to reassure us without giving false hope, he left. Mom and I sat with Dad.

I updated family. Dad remembered he had a grandson but it seemed like other than that most of the last few decades had been wiped clean. Only the most important memories, names and faces remained. I remember considering the possibility that he was one who wouldn't recover and that this was his new normal. My father was in his 60s but he'd never shown his age. He'd grown up a farm boy and served in the military.

He was the kind of strong that could sneak up on you. Not long before this, he had helped me and some friends dig a huge trench on our rental property to do some work on our foundation. Four or five of us dug by hand for three days because bigger equipment couldn't reach the spot.

All of my friends were in their late 20s and some of them knew their way around a shovel. He moved more dirt than any two of us but he couldn't remember any of that right now. After a few hours, his brain started to dig memories back up.

It seemed to start in the past and work its way forward. I watched his brain rebuild itself and I watched him relive much of his life as it came back to him. Answering his various questions to help him piece his reality back together. I remember as he was starting to get into the current decade, he asked about his sister who had died a few years previous. What about Donna?

What's she up to? He knew there was something important there but he didn't know what. Mom and I looked at each other and she hesitated so I told him his sister had passed away. For 15 or 20 seconds he'd mourned her all over again as he absorbed the news before drifting back into the fog to rebuild some more.

I broke the news to him about Donna three times before it stuck. As the evening hours came, Dad started to be more like himself. His doctors were less cagey now. Having seen his progress, they assured me it was likely to continue until he recovered. And that his hospital stay was unlikely to last more than a couple days. I dropped Mom off, I went home and I got some rest. Sure enough, after a couple days I picked my Dad up from the hospital, his old self.

Only missing a few hours of memories of the morning before his episode. And when we pulled into his driveway he said, okay, let's go make that pen we've been talking about. So we did. He showed me all the wood chunks he'd prepared for pen making and the different types of hardware. The woods had names I'd never heard and came in colors and textures I'd never seen. And the hardware reminded me of some of my favorite pens. Dad's favorite part about the pens was the way people responded to receiving one. So he'd often say, now if you give somebody one of those, oh. I picked out all the parts of my first pen and I started to work on the lathe. I was less concerned with the finished product and more concerned with what kind of techniques were possible with the chisel.

So I still have that pen, but it's pretty ugly. And you're listening to Chad Schumacher tell the story of how his company, Allegory Handcrafted Goods, came to be. And there are so many reasons why people start businesses. So many reasons why people do the things they do that have nothing to do with the obvious. And it has something to do with profound shifts in their family life and in their personal life. And you can hear it in Chad's voice, something deep and profound happened to him.

And he just had to be there. And by the way, if you have stories like this, and I'm sure you do, just listening, you're nodding your head. And it's good. And it's okay to say, hey, that sounds like the dream, but I got some reality in front of me that's better than the dream.

And it's more important than the dream. If you've got a story like that, send it to OurAmericanStories.com. I know there are tons of them out there. Feel free to share them.

When we come back, more of Chad Schumacher's story, his family's story, his father's story, here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Such an exciting event like Wango Tango. It's true! I had one that night, and I took my NURTEC ODT, and I was present and had an amazing time.

Here's a little glimpse of our conversation with some of our closest friends. This episode was brought to you by NURTEC ODT Remedapants 75 milligrams. Life with migraine attacks can mean missing out on big moments with friends and family.

But thankfully, NURTEC ODT Remedapants 75 milligrams is the only medication that is proven to treat a migraine attack and prevent episodic migraines in adults. So, lively events like Wango Tango don't have to be missed. And we're back with our American stories and the story of allegory handcrafted goods. After his father had a health scare, Chad Schumacher decided to take him up on the offer to make a wooden pen in his garage woodshop.

Let's pick up where we last left off. That night, I dove into research of what I thought might be a new hobby for me and my dad. But as I looked at the hundreds of types of hardware available and their pricing, I couldn't help but imagine a business around making these pens.

One that didn't include servers and seven figure monthly retainers or investors or any of the things that were currently involved in my work life. And then I started looking into woods and I found one called Ancient Kauri. It was 50000 years old from a tree that had been part of a forest that was buried underground in New Zealand for all that time. It's one thing when you use fancy wood, but it's a whole other thing if that wood has a story, especially one that spans millennia. I felt like there was an opportunity to make products that really meant something, more than just a list of features and a price tag. I wondered if there were other reclaimed woods out there with interesting stories and before long I had a whole list.

Redwood from decommissioned pickling vats, Cyprus from the bottom of the Mississippi River, even a board that one vendor had in their back room that had been part of the Cuban Revolution. From there it became about what the brand might be, how could we take the raw materials available to hobbyists and make sure it all felt like a real product and company. And I'd heard about this new website Kickstarter that created something called crowdfunding. Crazy folks like me could post their product idea and people would buy the product while it was still an idea, giving you the funding to make it a reality. On one of those back porch nights with Jess, I presented my ideas to airliners crossed in front of the sunset over the cornfields. I could say that the most important moment for Allegory was our Kickstarter launch day, when complete strangers bought $7,000 worth of pens.

Or maybe the moment when I settled on the name with two of my closest friends in an evening drive on the north side of Chicago, our old stomping grounds. But that wouldn't have been enough to see Allegory through some of the trials that it's faced. When I realized a year or so in that I'd started a company that probably needed around $200,000 in funding to do correctly and all I had was my dad's band saw and maxed out credit cards, I would have given up if that's all there was to it. Entrepreneurs talk about bootstrap funding, starting a company without outside money.

In our case that just meant that we were willing to make up for not raising money by skipping paychecks and solving problems ourselves instead of outsourcing to someone who already knew what they were doing. Boy howdy did I underestimate the amount of figuring out we had ahead of us. We started Allegory in my dad's garage.

Within a couple months we moved it to ours to save on commute time. And about a year in we found a great deal on some unused space in the upstairs of a friend's business. This was going pretty well. We had some customers, some employees, and some revenue. It was starting to look like a business. And then we got the notice that we'd missed all the mortgage payments our bank was going to allow. It was time to foreclose on that suburban dream house, sell my car, and move both our family and Allegory back into that little starter home we got married in, cramming Allegory into the basement we had finished after digging the trench with dad.

Allegory went through two other resets like that in the last nine years. Times when no amount of sweat or creativity was enough to cover the costs of creating a manufacturing company with an e-commerce business model out of thin air. In both cases we had to lay off most or all of our team and go back to just Jess and I. Toss in raising Liam and having our second son Griffin in the same time frame and it becomes clear pretty quickly that something else was keeping us on this path. And all that time ago on the back porch, my wife, who is wise in ways I can't express, had it all figured out.

After I walked her through my little pitch that day, she said to me, You know, with the things going on in our life right now, Liam, our jobs, the way our future is being changed so much, and then getting the first glimpse of your dad getting older, they're really going to need a lot of help in the next few years. And now you're finding this pen business through him. This all seems like God is up to something. And that was it. We were doing it.

I had a job offer, but that wasn't much of a consideration. And that understanding that allegory was a journey we were meant to be on is what kept us in the game through all of those challenges. Because years ago on my back porch, my wife had the wisdom to know that God was at work. So fast forward to 2020 allegories had a pretty solid year in 2019. We were starting to feel like we'd recovered from the most recent reset. We'd put away enough money to start planning more than two months ahead, which only helped us save more. And we'd finally pulled together the technology and know how to scale our digital marketing efforts after lots of trial and expensive error. We'd gotten pretty good at making our products and teaching others how to do it, too. We had even recently moved out of that little starter home and found a place with a 14 car garage that Dad and I converted into the perfect space for allegory. And we just finished moving Mom and Dad into the same neighborhood in a house that was perfect for them to retire in.

We felt ready for some big growth, and it would come, but not yet. One day in January, Jess was taking Mom to a doctor's appointment, and Dad had one at the same time. Jess called me as Dad and I were on our way home and said, we're going to need to talk. Let's meet back at our house.

I said, yeah, we've got stuff to talk about, too. Mom had been struggling with her memory, and that day she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And Dad's heart murmur had grown into full blown valve failure.

He would need open heart surgery. We were able to look them both in the eye and know we had the freedom to be there for them through what promised to be a tough year. And then we started hearing reports about COVID-19. Dad's surgery was delayed and then eventually put back on the schedule because it couldn't wait. He would spend two weeks in the ICU afterward, but the risk of his current heart valve failing was deemed greater than his risk of dying of COVID. His surgery went well.

His new heart valve gave him a good prognosis. But when he woke up, something was off. He had something called post-op delirium. And this time he wasn't himself. It wasn't just his memory. It was all higher level brain function that was missing.

He couldn't reason or hold conversations, and the first thing that came online for him was his fight. They were worried he would hurt himself or someone else. So the hospital decided our best bet to keep him calm and alive was for me to come in.

When I got the call, they were able to waive COVID visitor restrictions. I was in the car in minutes. And when I walked into the ICU, Dad was surrounded by security guards who were likely just about to try to restrain him because he had just swung his walker wildly at some of the staff. Dad might be a bit older, but he's still over six feet tall and very strong. The chances of them getting him under control without opening his chest back up didn't look good. Fortunately, I was able to calm Dad back down. We went back to his room and we waited for his brain to rebuild. This time it took two weeks. Jess made a camp-style bed for me in our van because the idea of staying in a hotel near the hospital seemed too risky during COVID, and we lived 45 minutes from the VA hospital he was being treated in.

And 45 minutes might have been too long if his confusion led to another moment of rage. Dad was still a little foggy when we brought him home, but over the next few months both his body and his brain righted themselves. We rolled out the growth plans we had for Allegory once Dad started feeling better. And they worked. We're only halfway through those plans now and we're already on track to double our best year ever.

It won't always be an easy road though. We were reminded of that in January when we were in the middle of a record-breaking month and my phone rang again. This time it was Dad, worried about Mom. Since we'd moved them into our neighborhood, I was able to pick her up and get her to the ER in minutes. And as a result, a major stroke that would have almost certainly been fatal turned out to only have minor long-term symptoms. In a way, the parts of her brain she lost were the ones stressing her out. And while she needs a little more help now, she's happier and more connected with all of us. So I know this story was supposed to be about starting a business.

We spent all kinds of time talking about just about everything else. Here's the thing. That job offer I turned down when I started Allegory, it was out of state. I wouldn't have been able to look my parents in the eye and promise to be there for them. I wouldn't even have been able to take them both to the doctor that day and I don't have any brothers or sisters. I wouldn't have been there to help them find a home to retire in 40 minutes closer to the hospital and 3 minutes from my house. I wouldn't have been able to rush in to be with Dad at the ICU to help him stay calm long enough for his brain to come back. I wouldn't have been able to rush Mom into the ER for life-saving stroke treatment.

That little baby who was sleeping in the other room while we talked about pens on the back porch would have lost his grandparents way too soon. And yeah, it was hard. Lots of sacrifices were made compared to if we'd pursued more traditional work.

But we've proved a few times now that finances can be rebuilt and people can't. So if you're feeling like you're being pulled into something big and you're not sure if you should go through with it, I can tell you three things. You're probably underestimating how hard it is.

You're probably also underestimating yourself. And it's probably worth it in ways that you can't possibly predict. And what a beautiful piece of storytelling. Great work on the production by Robbie and a special thanks to Chad Schumacher. What a story and what a piece of storytelling.

And that's why we do this show folks. It reminds us all of the stakes on the table in our own lives and how we can elegantly and beautifully live them and still live your dream. But it's just a different dream now. It's just a different dream. And in the end, I'm sure the shoemakers would say a much better dream than that one in that high-tech startup in downtown Chicago. Chad Schumacher's story, a family story like few we've told, a beauty, a real beauty here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 11:45:14 / 2023-02-16 12:02:40 / 17

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