Saturday, April 8, 2017

Memoirs of Eugene Gochenour: The Story of a Friendship

Dad finished his Chrysler stories with the story of his friend's tragic end.

"Russ C.

"I worked at Chrysler Engineering at Highland Park, Michigan, from 1964 to 1992.

"Chrysler had a plant in Huntsville, Alabama, and another at Sterling Heights, Michigan where engineering and building of major portions of the Redstone, Jupiter, and Saturn rockets were done for the U.S. Space Agency. When the contract with the government ended, many of their engineers and managers moved to Highland Park. This must have been hard for them, leaving modern plants with the latest technology and going to work where the buildings and equipment were ancient. Pat McI., Vic A., Al P., and Russ C. were a few of the good people that joined our lab. At that time we were the Air Conditioning and Heater Lab.

"Russ had been a foreman at the Van Dyke facility in Sterling Heights, MI and when he came to Highland Park he was made a technician. Even though he did not have a degree I thought he was the best engineer I had ever seen.

"Russ and I became good friends, and since he lived near by and his house was on the way to work I would pick him up. He was always ready and waiting when I came. Russ had a wife named Joyce, like my wife, and she was a very fine person.

"One day Russ told me he was going to sell one of his cars. it was a 1967 Plymouth Satellite convertible. I knew Russ had always taken excellent care of his vehicles and I bought it from him for $800. Joyce and I enjoyed riding around the town with the top down in the evening during the summer. Eventually, I gave the car to my son Tom when he left high school.

"Russ and Joyce had a cabin in the northern lower peninsula on Lake Bellville near Traverse City. One winter right after Christmas, Russ, Ron H., Dick D., Terry H., Bob P., and I drove there to do some ice fishing. The cabin was a beautiful log structure and it had a clear view of the lake.

"When we arrived the snow was fairly deep, but the lake had not yet frozen. Dick and I had brought our shotguns along, so the next day we decided to go rabbit hunting. As we loaded the car, a neighbor lady called over and told us we had better not shot the bunnies that lived in the swamp in front of her cabin. We assured her we were not hunting near by and left.

We drove a few miles and found an area that looked promising and parked. After tromping through the snow in the woods for a while, and not seeing any bunnies, we left and went back to the cabin.

"While we waited for the ice to freeze we played cards and drank apricot brandy. Then the ice froze enough for us to set out tip-ups and begin to fish. It was very cold and one day after we had set up our tip-ups we went back to the cabin and sat by the window so we could watch them.

"We had not sat there long when we heard a knock on the door. When we opened it, standing there was the game warden. We asked him in and then he asked to see our fishing licenses. Lucky for us we all had bought them and set up only two tip-ups each, so we were legal. But he told us that he could have given us a ticket because the lines were unattended. But he overlooked it because we could watch from the window. We did not catch a lot of fish, but we had a great time.

"At work, when Russ brought me a work order it was always well thought out and he always provided me with everything I would need to complete the job. Russ was liked by everyone. He was one of the finest people I knew. But things were not well at home. Joyce left him, and only then did I find that Russ was an alcoholic. I never had a clue that Russ had a drinking problem. I did not know that he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous until one evening when he called my wife and I to tell us and relieve his conscience.

"Russ missed a few days of work, and one evening I went to his house and knocked on the back door. Russ only opened the door because he had ordered a pizza and thought I was the delivery man. I was shocked to see the condition he was in. He had not shaved, his hair was uncombed, and he looked like he had not changed his clothes in days. When I entered the kitchen I noticed all the clutter on the table and counter. This was not like the Russ I knew.

"We talked for a while and I listened as he told me that his wife had left and that they should have had kids, should have moved to a different house, and other excuses, avoiding the real problem--his drinking. I tried to build up his ego by telling him that everyone I knew thought very highly of him, then eventually left.

"After Joyce left Russ she would occasionally call my wife to tell her what was going on. She said she had joined Alanon. They told her an alcoholic will not stop drinking until they hit bottom, and that is why she left Russ.

"One day Russ's wife Joyce called me at work and asked me to meet her at their house at noon so she could talk to him. So, at 11:30 am I left work and when I got there I saw police cars and fire trucks surrounding the house. I parked and asked someone what had happened, and they said Russ had committed suicide. This was a shock to me, and when I looked toward the garage I saw the door was open and the interior was all black from a coating of carbon.

"As usual, Russ had done a meticulous job. He had bought some flexible metal tubing which he taped to the tailpipe of the car, some duct tape with which he sealed the doors and windows of the garage, then he started the car engine and sat in the front seat.

"Russ had called his wife Joyce and asked her to meet him at the house. When I talked to another close friend of Russ's I was told he thought Russ had planned for Joyce to arrive before he was asphyxiated because when the garage door was opened, they saw that Russ had left the car, as if he had changed his mind, but it was too late.

"And so I lost my good friend Russ. Not too long after, Joyce sold the house and moved to be near her sister. We still write Christmas cards to each other every year."