A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg


A Home by the Sea

For many years, Dan had dreamed of retiring at 50. A few unforeseen and expensive events along the way had forced him to change the target age to 55. Then, three months before his 53rd birthday, the cancer diagnosis came from behind and shoved him into retirement. In May of 2004 he was living in Colorado and planning a Fall tour. Thirty days later, he was living in Maine and planning monthly trips to Boston for treatment.

     August of 2005 found him living in a beautiful new home by the sea. He had a sailboat, a cat, a trusted circle of friends, and a first mate who, although prone to seasickness, adored him. This was pretty much his retirement dream, come true ahead of schedule. The cancer inside him was a weak spot in the hull that needed attention from time to time, and he knew it would most likely sink him one day. Until then, he was determined to harness the wind and ride it as far, and as fast, as it would take him.

     His first boat had been called Minstrel, and she was his “sweet sixteen,” a Luders 16 sloop. She was a fast little thing and Dan honed his sailing chops on her. Serenade was his second boat, a 33’ yawl. Both boats had been wooden sailboats, and he’d loved them, but boats made of wood require lots of costly and time-consuming maintenance. He’d begun thinking about sailing to the Bahamas so he wanted a boat with more living space for two people; one that was built for long voyages to harsh tropical climates.

     Nevertheless, we did look at a few wooden boats while shopping around in the summer of 2000, and they were truly gorgeous things. When we stepped on a Robinhood 36, though, we were hooked. The first thing I noticed was the roomy deck. Many of the boats we’d looked at had very limited walking space surrounding the cabin - you had to walk heel to toe to get to the front of the boat. The Robinhood 36 had more than a foot of walking area, a huge plus for a landlubber like me. Inside the cabin, every inch had been utilized to create a roomy yet functional living space. The interior was trimmed in wood, but the boat was made of fiberglass - she was light and sleek and could withstand harsh sun rays and salt water.





     We drove to Robinhood Marina, near Bath, Maine, and met with the kind and knowledgeable sales manager, David Perry. He answered all of Dan’s questions and talked about the modifications and choices that were possible. Dan placed his order for a Robinhood 36, a 36-foot fiberglass cutter modeled after the Cape Dory 36. She had been built to Dan’s specifications and would also be called “Minstrel.” Then began the long wait for her to be built. At least twice a week I’d see him gazing longingly at the brochure, anxious to get her out on the open sea. 

     Each year we spent a couple of weeks with Minstrel docked at Robinhood Marina. We’d find David and catch up, eat at “The Osprey,” the marina restaurant, and get to know other sailing couples. We became friends with two couples who lived nearby: Peter and Barbara from Winthrop, and Kevin and Carolyn from Bath. We would spend time with them at the marina, and whenever they were up our way they would anchor in the cove near our house. Over dinner the six of us would decide on a destination, then we’d take off for a few days to sail together. 

     Our three boats, Minstrel, Kristin Sue, and Huntress, would follow each other between the islands. After anchoring in a cove, we’d convene on one boat for drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the cockpit. Once the sun went down or the mosquitos got too bad, we’d go below for dinner. Each couple had their own specialties and I was amazed at the sumptuous meals that came from those tiny kitchens.


     Barbara was a breast cancer survivor, and Dan took great comfort in their talks about living with cancer. I found myself wishing I knew a woman whose husband had prostate cancer, so we could share our fears, and lessons learned.

     During Lynn and Elliott’s visit, Lynn was going to be meeting up with her old friend Susan, who lived in Blue Hill with her husband Joe (not their real names.) Lynn told us that Joe had cancer and when I asked what kind, she said she didn’t know; Joe had asked Susan to not talk about it. I knew right away it must be prostate cancer. We were invited to go with Lynn and Elliott to Susan and Joe’s place for lunch, and accepted. We arrived at their beautiful old house in the woods and were introduced simply as Dan and Jean. I liked Susan and commented on her cozy decorating choices as she showed us around.

     After Lynn and Elliott left, I asked Dan if he would mind if I contacted Susan, so I could have my own Barbara. He said he was okay with that, so I wrote Susan an email. I said how nice it had been to meet them and see their beautiful house, and she wrote a very nice email back. In my reply email, I told her I was sorry they were dealing with cancer and said that Dan had cancer as well: prostate cancer. She wrote another nice email back, confirming that Joe had prostate cancer, and commiserating. 

     It was such a relief to have someone who knew just what we were going through. I’d looked online for caregiver websites, but had found only general forums that were impersonal, sterile-looking message boards with no helpful information. In my next reply to Susan, I mentioned that my husband had advanced prostate cancer. I waited for her reply, and when I didn’t hear back I sent a follow up email.

     She never wrote to me again. 

     I hadn’t realized how deep my need for a connection was, until I thought it was about to be met. What had started as a twinge in the night suddenly felt like a calf-bulging cramp and it took me weeks to walk off my disappointment and hurt feelings.

My parents were living in Kentucky now, near my youngest sister, and they drove up to Maine to visit us in September. As always, they were undemanding and appreciative guests. They loved the new house, which was half the size of the house in Colorado, where Mom frequently had to ask for directions. The macular degeneration in her left eye had worsened since our trip to Kalaupapa three years earlier, turning the iris from brown to light blue. The lid often closed over it now, making Mom look like she was winking. 

     Dad had a quiet calm about him that was reassuring, especially now, and especially for Dan. That Zen demeanor masked his deep insecurity in large gatherings, which is when Mom stepped up, with her love of people, and dancing. I inherited all of that, which makes me a social schizophrenic at parties.

     Mom and Dad met in 1952 at the Army base in Fort Lee, Virginia. If you asked Mom about the first time they met, she’d tell you that Dad’s girlfriend at the time, liked to dance, and she was becoming increasingly frustrated with her reticent boyfriend. So, Dad asked his secretary, Francis Ray, if there was someplace where he could take dance lessons. She told him she knew a WAC who was a really good dancer, and who would probably be willing to teach him. The WAC was Edna Leslie Cooke, known to her friends as Cookie. Mom was standing with Francis Ray at a base dance when her new pupil walked in. Francis pointed him out from across the room and Mom whispered, “Oh, Mommy, get that for me!” 

     If you asked Dad about the first time they met, he’d tell you that he was sitting at a long table at a social hall gathering. He was looking at something toward the end of the table when a beautiful girl, seated about six people down from him, leaned forward, in to view. She turned and looked right at him with those big brown eyes and when she smiled, he was a goner. He asked Francis Ray to introduce them, so they concocted the story about Dad wanting to learn how to dance.

     Three months later, Cookie and Gene were married in front of the base chaplain. Neither wanted kids, but three years later I was born at the naval hospital in Queens, New York. Five years, five moves, and two sisters later, Dad asked for a permanent civilian post at Vandenberg AFB in Lompoc, California so he could give his girls a stable childhood.


     It was October in Maine, so we took my parents to all the scenic and touristy places, and at the end of the week Dan took off on Minstrel. I asked Mom and Dad to sit for me in my new photography studio in the basement, then we went to Pauline’s house for tea. The next day I drove my folks to the Claremont hotel in Southwest Harbor, where we met up with Dan. We had dinner and stayed overnight at the inn. After breakfast Dan took us for a cruise of Downeast Maine in all its colorful Fall glory, and the weather was glorious. We had lunch on board, then returned Minstrel to her mooring and wandered around the harbor town. Later, Dan returned to the boat and I drove my parents back to the house, where we all had big naps.

     When I looked at the photos I’d taken of Mom and Dad, I wasn’t happy with them. On October 3rd, their last full day in Maine, they agreed to sit for me again.  I set up a black backdrop and had Dad wear one of Dan’s black turtlenecks. Mom wore a black top of mine and this time I got what I was looking for.


Dan was getting into digital photography and was quickly learning Photoshop. He didn’t want a bunch of lessons, he would just wait until there was some change he wanted to make to a photo, then he would ask me to teach him how to do it. We both had Nikon gear, so he bought a Nikon D90. A part of his retirement dream had included a return to photography, so another piece fell into place.


Sailing season was coming to an end and the nights were getting cold. Dan would light a fire in his office fireplace almost every night now. Sometimes we’d get my Beatles Songbook out and play and sing together on his leather couch. Our dog-eared favorites included, “I’ll Be Back;” “Things We Said Today;” and “If I Fell.” Abbie the cat would lie between us, staring at the flames, her ears swiveling forward and back like little radio antennas.

     One night we were sitting together, watching the fire and talking. Dan was in storyteller mode. I can’t remember which of us said, “We should be recording these,” but we agreed it was a fantastic idea. I had a tiny blue MiniDisc recorder and a couple of blank cartridges. I plugged in the little microphone and set it on the back of the couch between us. That was October 13; by the 15th I realized we were going to need a lot more cartridges. 

     Dan would open a bottle of wine and bring in two glasses. I’d pop a cartridge in the recorder and he would take up where he’d left off the previous evening. Sometimes I’d ask for clarification about something, or I’d say, “What about the story you told me about....” and off he’d go. Each cartridge would record for 74 minutes, which was usually just right for one chat session.


Change was in the air back in Colorado. Our ranch manager, Cary, had been seeing a man in Pagosa for a while and it had become serious. The ranch foreman, George, had a friend who wanted her job, which was good and bad. It was good because hiring his friend would save us all a lot of time and effort. It was bad, because George had a habit of hiring with his heart, not his head. He would happily hire the least qualified person because they had the greatest need for the job. We asked Cary to talk to her beau and let us know when she might be moving in with him.
   Meanwhile, a friend of hers was visiting from New Hampshire. Cary and Kathryn walked up to the main house to feed our skittish cat, Rilly, who immediately began flirting with Kathryn. It was love at first sight. At the end of the week, when she flew home, Rill’ went with her. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect outcome for our ghost kitty, now that we were going to be living in Maine. Once or twice a year, Cary would pass along email updates and photos, and there was Rilly, lying contentedly on a bedspread or sitting in a cabin window. 
   When Cary moved in with her boyfriend, we agreed to let George hire his friend. He didn’t last long. George’s next pick sounded more promising to us, a man named Don, and his wife. When they moved into the manager’s apartment, they had the unenviable task of cleaning up after their predecessor, who smoked, had a big hairy dog, and rarely cleaned.


Now that we were living in Maine full-time, there were days when a second car would be very handy. My birthday was coming up on November 19th, so Dan said we’d find a car for me.

     On our way home from Boston one day, we stopped in Portland for lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant. Dan started talking about the Subaru Forester, but the 2005 Forester was too boxy for me; I preferred the sleeker Outback. Or maybe we’d see something we liked even more. When I said I was really looking forward to car shopping, and finding just the right car, I couldn’t quite read the look that passed briefly across his face. It seemed to be apprehension. 

     On the 15th, Dan said we should go car shopping on Thursday the 17th. I had some big web projects going, and Saturday would have been better for me, but he seemed excited about it, so I agreed. The 17th was a hectic morning, with a lot of last-minute things to do before we left and Dan kept rushing me, like we had an appointment or something. I told him I just had one last thing to do. I got the bird feeder and started for the kitchen door, and he was practically sputtering. I hung the feeder in the tree and ran back inside, and now he looked relieved. I grabbed my coat and purse and hurried out the front door.

     When we got into our old burgundy Subaru Outback, I buckled my seat belt and leaned back with a huge sigh of relief. We were going to start our car quest in Bangor, which was over an hour away; I would have plenty of time to relax and decompress.

     Dan buckled in, turned the key, and put his hand on my knee, saying, “Let’s go get Jeanie a car!” I had to laugh, it was so cute. We drove down our dirt driveway and stopped to turn on to the paved road. In the empty field across the street someone had parked a car. It had a big red ribbon on top and a balloon tied to the outside mirror.

     I stared at that car while my mind struggled to make sense of it. Dan put the Subaru in Park and turned off the engine. I opened my mouth to ask a question and then closed it again. When I looked at him, he was cool and calm, and wearing a big, victorious grin. “Happy Birthday, my love,” he said.


     He’d spent weeks shopping online for the right car for me. Once he’d narrowed it down to a few, a review of the 2006 Lexus RX400H had said, “environmentally conscious geeks will love it.” That decided him. He called a few dealerships, but this model wasn’t in stock in the Northeast yet. Undaunted, he called a friend, who called a friend at Toyota. They were happy to help Dan with this gift, and when the next Lexus shipment arrived in Florida, a model in Bamboo Pearl was delivered to our friend Bryan’s boat shop. 

     That day at the sushi restaurant, when I told Dan how much I was looking forward to car shopping, he’d already ordered the Lexus and was suddenly wondering if that had been a mistake. 

     He asked Bryan to park the car in the field on Thursday morning at a certain time. It was sitting there when I dashed outside with the bird feeder, so Dan was sputtering because he was afraid I’d look down the drive and see it.


     We got out of the Subaru and walked to the Lexus. It was sleek in the front, with plenty of room for canvases in the back. The balloon said “Happy 50th Birthday,” and there was a bouquet of pink roses on the front seat. “Come on,” Dan said, “Let’s take her for a ride!”

     I got in the driver’s seat, which was soft tan leather, and Dan explained about starting a hybrid. I turned the key then let go and waited, and in a moment the car came alive. After shifting into Drive, I stepped on the gas and man, that car wanted to GO. We drove to Blue Hill, trying out the stereo and nav system and enjoying the smooth ride on our pot-holed roads. This was going to be fantastic for our drives to Boston. 

     We took a different route going home and in a very rural stretch of winding highway I saw a big gray cat lying just off the road. I pulled over and went back to look. The cat was freshly dead. Dan said there was nothing we could do for it, but there was only one house nearby, and school would be letting out soon. I didn’t want any little kid coming home and finding their cat on the road. Dan agreed and we pulled in the dirt road between an old house and a barn. 

     A big dog came running up to us and I thought how awful it would be if it jumped up and scratched my brand new present from Dan. It just barked, though, and then a man in work coveralls came out of the barn. I told him about the gray cat and he confirmed, ruefully, that it was the kids’ cat. The bus would be dropping them off out front before long, so he thanked us for stopping and headed back to the barn. I did a careful five-point turn, the dog barking directions all the while, and as we passed the barn the man came out, carrying a shovel.

     Back on the road, I suddenly felt bad about interrupting our very first drive in the new car, and thought I might have stolen some of Dan’s thunder. We quickly got back in the groove, though, and after we parked in front of the house I posed next to the car, holding the balloon and flowers, so Dan could take my picture.


     The next day, Sugarloaf Ski Resort opened. Winter had arrived in Maine and Dan was anxious to ski, so he would be needing a photo for his day pass. We went into my photography studio and Abbie followed. I hung a white backdrop and had just started shooting when Abbie rubbed against Dan’s leg. He swooped her up and I got a few cute shots of them, our calico kitty and my Leo man, matching cats in black and white.


     For my birthday on Saturday night, Dan took me to Arborvine, our favorite special-occasion restaurant in Blue Hill. Dan drove the Lexus and after a gorgeous, romantic dinner, I drove us back home.

     On December 3rd we recorded our last fireside chat. I labeled the cartridge and we put all seventeen of them in a safe place. Five days later, we got some bad news: Dan’s friend, and drummer, Mike Botts, had died.

     Mike and his wife, Michele, went to Hawaii for his 60th birthday in December of 2004. The following January, he started feeling like something wasn’t right in his body. His doctor ran a few tests and said it might be his heart, but Mike pushed hard for more tests. They showed that he’d had colon cancer for a while, and it had already spread. It was a shock, since Mike had annual physicals, as well as three-month checkups to monitor his blood pressure. His doctor hadn't thought to suggest a colonoscopy until it was too late.

     It was crazy. We’d been with Mike on the 2003 tour, and he looked great. He’d written to us after we announced Dan’s diagnosis:


August 20, 2004


Dear Dan & Jean:


        Michele and I had no clue of Dan's recent diagnosis until Robert called us yesterday afternoon. We were obviously shocked and a bit dazed by the news and it took me a while to wrap my brain around that reality. Robert later forwarded a copy of your letter to us which explained things in more detail. It certainly sounds like you're doing all the right things and are in the very best of hands.


        Jean, as far as I'm concerned, you're one of the best things to ever happen in Dan's life. I could sense the strength and depth of your relationship on the 2003 tour. I also sensed a profound change in Dan. Although he was still, as he says, a "frickin' loony", he seemed to be a more serene and contented loony whenever you were together. You are a blessing for each other. I have no doubt you will be a great source of strength and comfort for Dan in the trying times ahead.


        Dan, you've always been one of the toughest monkeys in the jungle. You had to be to get this far. And it's because of that tough, ornery, steel willed part of you that I'm convinced you're going to beat the shit out of this disease. Beside that, I've got the Fabulous Stella (Michele's mom) calling in some favors from a couple of heavy duty saints that she knows personally. And of course, you know that Michele and I will have you in our thoughts and prayers each and every day. Your friend, your drummer, your fan!


Mike & Michele


     Five months after writing that letter of encouragement, Mike received his own diagnosis. Dan called to see how he was doing and the two of them became closer after that. They’d both had successful careers in music (Mike was the drummer in the soft-rock band, Bread, and was a studio musician who played on a long list of albums for various artists and films, as well as his own album, Adults Only.) He loved animals and was an experienced sailor with his own boat. 

     Now they both had this terrible disease and lives and wives they loved and didn’t want to leave. Mike fought hard for a year, then died the day after his birthday. Dan wrote a message for the website:


December 9 , 2005

In Memoriam


Michael Botts


With great sorrow we mark the passing of a dear friend and brother in arms.

An exuberant lover of life and laughter.

An exceptionally talented musician and consummate professional.

A loving and faithful partner to his wife Michele.

And a hard-rockin' road dog.

He will be greatly missed.


Vaya con Dios, Amigo.


     It seemed unreal that Botts could be gone, so quickly after his diagnosis. It made our own situation all the more real, the time we had left all the more precious.


Posted April 2nd. 2021 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021