A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg


The Ledge


Dan planned to retire from the music business when he turned fifty-five. On May 03, 2004, at the age of fifty three, he sent an email to Irwin Rennert, his long-time business adviser. He explained that, after careful consideration, he’d decided to put his 600-acre ranch on the market. 

     He had been actively writing, recording and touring for well over 30 years and, “although I certainly have enjoyed my musical career to the fullest, I truly feel this time in my life is drawing to a natural close. It has been with this in mind that I have built the new house in Maine where, over the past decade or so, Jean and I have been spending more and more time each year.”

     After thirty winters in the Rocky Mountains well above 8,000 feet, he had grown weary of plowing and shoveling snow. Also, Pagosa Springs was no longer the well-kept secret and funky little western town it had been when Dan first moved there twenty-five years earlier. 

     He continued:

   “It has been a magnificent refuge for me during my pop music years,” he wrote, “and I feel very privileged to have spent a quarter century enjoying its beauty and serenity. But as I prepare to close down my music career and move into other areas of creative pursuits (painting & photography) the need for such a large and burdensome property diminishes. I still have many dreams that I wish to realize and a smaller, simpler, more mobile life now appeals to me.

     Our plan for the future (if we can sell the ranch for anything near what it should be worth) is to spend our summers and autumns in Maine and, hopefully, our winters and springs in either Santa Fe or Europe. I’ve always felt a strong bond with the Chianti region and now may be in a position to fulfill another of my lifelong dreams; and as a painter, what better place to immerse oneself in the greatest art of mankind’s history.

     We still both love Santa Fe and consider it a good way to keep our feet in the West without the complexity of owning and operating the ranch. Also, I have become, over the last 20 years, a passionately obsessed ocean sailor and prefer it to any other activity I know. So, we are considering many options and possibilities.”


Stained wood samples were being sent to us from Maine for the new house. We liked the honey-colored wood at the ranch, and decided to go just slightly darker in Maine. When a sample finally matched the “warm honey” shade we envisioned, we sent it back with our enthusiastic approval. We continued to answer questions with emailed photos, drawings, and mock-ups to ensure our intent would not be misinterpreted.      


     During that first week in May, we returned home late at night after a few days in Santa Fe. As we walked into the kitchen, I heard a crackling noise, like paper being crumpled. “What’s that sound?” I asked, but Dan didn’t hear it. I briefly thought it might be fire, but smelled no smoke. We went further into the house. The sound seemed to be coming from the basement, and now Dan heard it too. We moved cautiously down the stairs and followed the crackling toward the pool room. At the doorway we were met with thick, humid air smelling of wet chalk, and a sight every homeowner dreads.

     Big chunks of drywall were hanging from the ceiling and lying on the floor, furniture, and pool table. The noise we’d heard was hot water raining down on the flooded wall-to-wall carpet. I ran to my desk and ripped the power strip from the wall. As Dan hurried to the garage to turn off the main water line, I began carrying my wet computer, monitor, and keyboard into the next room. The deluge subsided and Dan returned. We stood for a moment, marveling at the destruction, then Dan began cursing George, the ranch foreman.

     While we were away in Santa Fe, George had done some repairs on the plumbing under the kitchen sink, which was directly over the pool room. Dan figured he must have turned the water to the house off, made the repairs, then turned the water back on without opening any faucets in the house to relieve the pressure. Every weak point in the 20-year-old pipes burst, spraying hot water into the space under the kitchen floor until the pool room ceiling began disintegrating. Dan shouted, “That’s it, I’m done!” He was going to fire George.


     We’d just hired Cary, who was learning the ropes from George; we were about to list the property; we were in the middle of construction in Maine; and we had a tour coming up in the Fall. I rarely got involved with ranch business, so I didn’t know what had led up to this, but it would have been a terrible time to try to find and train a new ranch foreman. So, as he started up the stairs toward the kitchen phone, I said he should probably wait until we were positive it was George’s fault before firing him.

     As I continued sloshing around and carrying wet things from the room, I could hear Dan talking above me. Trying hard to control his anger, he was no longer shouting, but speaking loudly. He told George what we’d just come home to and then, after a brief silence he yelled, “No, I’m not fu**ing kidding!!!”


Whenever I think back to the time when our life together changed so abruptly, my mind always returns to the pool room calamity as the start of it all. It was like we’d been sailing for months, having one glorious adventure after another, with many more planned. Then, on a perfect summer day, with the wind at our backs and sparkling seas before us, we hit a submerged ledge that threw us to the deck and ripped our hull apart. 

     That isn’t entirely accurate, though. Our hull had actually been breached two years before and, unbeknownst to us, we’d slowly been taking on water ever since.


     When May of 2002 began, we were three weeks into our marriage and almost six years into our relationship. And although we’d settled into a cozy domesticity, our initial physical attraction had cooled little. We continued to kiss frequently and friends still teased, "Get a room!"

     The boys in the band would be arriving soon to rehearse for the Summer Tour 2002. To prepare, the guest house had been cleaned, sheets and towels washed, and extra groceries bought.

     We were relaxing late one night, watching a movie, when Dan got up. I paused the DVD and after a while he came back and stood on the step between the living room and TV room with a look of concern on his face. He said he was having problems urinating. “What if it’s cancer?” he asked. 

     Dan would have shared his sacred Man Part with me any time, any place, for transcendent, playful sex. But when it came to its other bodily function, elimination of urine, information was strictly classified as Need-to-know. The fact that he was discussing peeing with me meant it was serious, so right away I was on alert. It was the fear on his face that got me moving, though; I’d never seen that look before. 

     I got the phone book from Dan’s desk and looked up the number for his long-time primary care physician, Dr. Jim. Although the medical office was closed, there was a recording with an emergency number. We called the number and the answering service told us the doctor on call that night was Dr. X. Dan was relieved to hear it was someone he knew and, while we waited for the call to be transferred, he told me that Dr. X had been diagnosed with cancer not long ago, and had “beat it.” We felt like it was a stroke of luck that he happened to be the doctor on call that night. 

     He came on the line and calmed Dan’s fears, explaining that Dan was probably experiencing BPH (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia,) an enlargement of the prostate common in men over 50. He told Dan to come to his office the following afternoon and he’d give him an examination. They arranged a time, and when Dan hung up the phone I was happy to see a look of relief on his face.

     The next day, Dan said there was no need for me to accompany him to the appointment; he’d get the exam then pick up some groceries. When he came home, he shared the good news. Doctor X had done the PSA and DRE tests and told Dan that his prostate felt soft and spongy, which was a good sign. When the PSA test results came back he’d let Dan know if there was anything to worry about. He gave him a prescription for some pills that would help with inflammation, and they worked. 

     The band arrived for rehearsals and on May 27 we boarded the bus for the 2002 Summer Tour.


In May of 2004, the pool room ceiling collapsed. George knew of a local company that specialized in disaster and restoration services. They had a good reputation and he knew the owner, Jeshua, from church. Jeshua came right out and viewed the damage, pointing out the pin holes in the copper pipes, and he and his crew got started that day. They moved the heavy pool table out and pulled down what remained of the ceiling. Then they rolled up the wet carpet and padding and carried them away. A big de-humidifier was brought in to dry out any remaining moisture from the walls, ceiling, and floor.  

     Dan had been experiencing some back pain, so he called Dr. Jim to make an appointment. He said he’d also like to get a prescription for Ambien while he was there, for the upcoming fall tour. Dr. Jim said that would be fine, and he also suggested Dan get a PSA and DRE, since he had missed his physical the previous year. It had been such a hectic year, neither of us had given a thought to check-ups in 2003.

     A week after Dr. Jim gave Dan his check-up, I went down to the guest house for something, and noticed the blinking light on the answering machine in the kitchen. It was a new message from Dr. Jim, asking Dan to call the office. I called the house and gave Dan the message. 

     The phone in the guest house rarely got calls, but when it did, George would take any messages after eating his lunch there. His memory was becoming increasingly unreliable, though, so I was glad I’d happened upon the message. He’d started carrying a small notepad in his shirt pocket for jotting down reminders, and sometimes he wore a tee shirt letting people know he was afflicted with CRS (Can’t Remember Shit.)

    When Dan called the medical office, Dr. Jim asked him to come back in for another PSA test. The numbers were high, and Dr. Jim wanted to repeat the test to verify the lab results. We went in the following day, and  this time Dan didn’t try to discourage me from going along. Before leaving the medical office, I made sure the guest house phone was deleted from his contact information and replaced with the home number. 

     On May 26th, I answered the wall phone in the kitchen, and it was Dr. Jim. He asked to speak with Dan and I could hear the effort it was taking to keep the emotion out of his voice. Dan was working in his office next to the kitchen. He’d heard the phone ring and was dreading my words, “It’s Jim.” I followed him into the kitchen. “Hi Jim,” he said, and then he listened. He wrote a name on the pad of paper by the phone, said, “Yeah, I will. Thanks, Jim,” and hung up. We’d done a bit of internet research and learned that a PSA level of 4.0 could be cause for concern, and should be closely monitored. The blood drawn during Dan’s physical on May 17th had registered a PSA level of 151.

     Jim had given Dan the name of a doctor in Durango who would do a biopsy to verify whether any of the cells in the prostate were cancerous. We called, and the doctor had an opening in just three working days so we made an appointment. The doctor did a very good job of the biopsy; Dan found it uncomfortable, with a few sharp, brief jabs, but not as painful as he'd feared.
     On June 7th, the Durango doctor called and, as usual, I answered the phone in the kitchen. I went to get Dan and stood by the sink as he put the receiver to his ear. His face remained impassive as he listened, his body completely still. Then there was a slight shift in the muscles of his forehead and shoulders. For the life of me, I can’t remember what Dan said after hanging up the phone. I only know the word “cancer” was in there, as was the new lab result: 346.

     He went to the other side of the kitchen and stood with his back against the counter. I could see he needed a minute to process the news so I followed slowly. We’d known this was a possibility after the first lab results, but it was still a punch in the stomach to be told that Dan had prostate cancer.

     He was staring at the floor, his eyes unfocused, and he looked utterly devastated and defenseless. The maternal instinct had always been strong in me and now it rose like a fury, replacing any initial fears. In that moment I wouldn’t have hesitated to step between Dan and a grizzly bear. 

     I took his shoulders in my hands. “Hey,” I said, looking up into his face. When his gaze met mine I said, “We are going to fight this, and we are going to beat it.” Searching my eyes desperately for any sign of bullshit or pity, he found only unwavering conviction, and love. After a moment he started nodding lightly.  “Okay,” he said, and put his arms around me.


"We hit a submerged ledge that threw us to the deck and ripped our hull apart."


Posted February 13th, 2021  Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021