My dad was good man who had a great and long life - darn shame it was cut a bit short - as my brother Kris said during his eulogy, he still had a quarter tank left in his life gas tank.
Oleg used to tell Betsy that anything past age 50 was gravy - well, those of you that have eaten with him at Old Country Buffet would agree that he got lots of extra gravy.
I know everyone here has many great memories of my Dad, and I'd invite you to share those publicly up here, in conversations amongst yourself and with our family, or on the memorial website.
I too have many personal memories to share today, but since my Mom told me not to talk too long (!), I'll just share my last times with my Dad, my last phone conversation with my Dad, and (since we live in a high tech world), my last email with my Dad.
The last time I saw my Dad was a month ago. I had flown up to Seattle with my wife and my two sons Dirk (12) and Kyle (9) for an 11 day visit in early August. While we didn't do anything special, we had a great time (as we typically do) playing golf, swimming in the lake, racing in the go-cart, playing cards, and just generally hanging out. While my wife and my Dad didn't always see eye-to-eye (mostly over silly stuff like how long to cut the kids' hair), Wendy commented on the flight back to Colorado that it was the "best visit ever" as she and my Dad had some really positive connections. One reason may have been that they were both dealing with their own mortality. My wife had been recently diagnosed with Breast Cancer (which is why my family isn't here today) and my father was fighting Bladder Cancer. Oleg was overjoyed when he heard that Wendy's surgery just over two weeks ago was successful. And a few days after that, Wendy was similarly delighted to hear that it had been determined my Dad's bladder cancer would not require surgery.
The last phone call with my Dad was a few days before he died. Our phone conversations weren't usually very long (those are usually with my Mom), but this was a good one that last about a half hour. We talked about various mundane stuff including a pesky squirrel that was taking peaches from my tree, how the kids were behaving, and reminisced about the fun times during our earlier visit.
I mentioned my lawn mower was periodically stalling on me and as always, his ears perked up immediately. He asked various troubleshooting questions and offered some possible remedies which I said I would try out. The conversation was especially funny because he got my mother on the phone - "you've got to hear this Honey" - since the symptoms were similar to ones they had with their car years earlier during a cross country road trip ... and were tempted to shove the car into the Grand Canyon!
The Last Email with my Dad was the night before he died when he wrote at 8:58PM on August 28th, 2010:
"How is your mower working?"
The next morning, he passed away at 7:47AM (PDT) on August 29th, 2010.
After getting over the shock of hearing the bad news Sunday morning, I removed the lawn mower spark plug and carefully cleaned and re-gapped it to 0.030". The following morning, 24 hours after his death, I went out to mow the lawn, wearing a "70 is just my golf score" shirt we had made up for the whole family to wear on Oleg's 70th birthday. I pulled the starter cord and the lawn mower fired right up on the first pull ... but then a few seconds later, it stalled out. I frantically pushed the choke button several times, pulled the cord, and again it roared to life ... but then the sound of silence a few seconds later. This pattern repeated itself several times - I was not happy.
Normally, I'd give Dad a call, say "Hey, Plan A didn't work, what's Plan B?" ... but I, of course, will never be able to call my Dad again. Fortunately, he had instilled in all of us a "can-do attitude" so I came up with a Plan B myself, calling my neighbor and asking to borrow their lawn mower! ;-)
They were happy to help out, but did wonder why I was mowing the lawn a day after my Dad died ... but understood when I explained. That mower also fired up on the first pull ... but this one kept running. And while I usually only do a single pass, my father always said (and set the example) to do the "best" job ... so I did a second pass just for him - the lawn never looked so good!
Remember that Oleg led by example, and he was a great Dad to us kids and wonderful husband to Betsy. So one of his many "gifts" to me was helping me be a good father to my family and husband to my wife.
My Dad and I would talk occasionally talk about death. He did not seem to fear it, but accepted it as natural part of life. Although I wish it hadn't been so soon and he had been able to shoot his age on the golf course.
As you know, I've been a bit busy the month or so, but I finally had some time to look at the balky lawn mower. You would have figured it out much quicker than Kyle and I, but thought you might like to hear what the problem and the fix ending up being.
Recall that it would start (after pushing the choke several times), but would then stall out. If I continued to push the choke button, it would run until I stopped that. So while I was pretty sure it was a fuel/mixture issue, I did try the "quick" solution of cleaning/re-gapping the spark plug ... but still had the same stalling behavior ... just like that car you and Mom wanted to push into the Grand Canyon years ago.
Kyle is really into mechanical stuff, so the two of us took it apart yesterday. We noticed the rubber hose from the choke into the cylinder was very cracked, but fortunately, it was just at the end, so we snipped it off and re-attached the hose. Hoping that would solve the problem, we hooked everything back up again ... and same crappy behavior ... and in the process of testing, the pull cord broke - ARG! ;-)
Fortunately, it broke at the end where it was knotted, so was easy to re-attach ... but of course, we forgot to thread it through the housing (again, you wouldn't have made this mistake, but everyone has to learn once), so had to redo it.
The same stalling behavior persisted after pulling the air cleaner, so despite that being pretty dirty (even after I cleaned it), that was not the problem. I removed the carburetor, float bowl, etc. but nothing looked that amiss or gunky ... but I did hit 'em with carb cleaner and then compressed air to make super-duper clean.
I then re-attached it to the mower and as I re-hooked up the rod/spring to the throttle plate (which is controlled via vacuum), I saw it bumping into that rubber tube that ran from the choke - AHA!!!
The tube is pre-bent, but if I reversed it, there was more clearance ... so I did that, put everything back together, and it ROARED TO LIFE AND KEPT RUNNING! In fact, it ran much better than it has for years and sounded like it was a super-turbo-charged new mower!
So ... what almost certainly was happening is that over time, that rubber tube moved forward (due to cracking where it went in) and started to block movement of the rod that opened up the throttle plate. It was a subtle change that reduced the output of the lawn mower (cleaning everything up probably helped too) so I didn't pick up on it and/or figured it was semi-normal. There have been some stalling problems in the past, but perhaps the vibration was sometimes just enough to move the tube ever so slightly to allow movement of the throttle plate rod.
Thanks for showing me how to fix things ... and want you to know that Kyle not only enjoyed learning about engines, but did a great job handing me tools ... just like I used to do for you! ;-)
Love and Rest in Peace,
P.S. I just finished mowing the front lawn. Recall I did a "double pass" three weeks ago with the neighbors lawn mower ... but with my "new" super-turbo-charged mower, a single pass was sufficient to do a good job.
BETSY KOMARNITSKY said the following on 9/23/2010 11:26 PM:
Great Job Alek and Kyle!!!
Click here to see Alek's closing comments at memorial reception
I literally jumped back as the lawn mower roared to life on the first pull and ran strong - thanks again Dad!
Debated pulling the drain motor from our washer to absolutely 100% confirm that was the issue, but figured we were already at the 99% confidence level ... plus Wendy would not approve. My friend was initially of the feeling that he'd just have to get a new washer (it's a $1,000+ model ... but they have lots of money) ... but I suggested that if he gets the $55 motor - can order from Amazon - it would be easy to swap out.
Per Dad's Obit: "As a handyman and someone who looked down on wastefulness, he kept many appliances inside and outside the house running far beyond their years and was invaluable to his children on innumerable projects."