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My Life, My Story by Arlyn

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"That evening, they were prepping me for the surgery. I know someone had to pass away to extend my life. It's hard to even guess what I would say to that person, or his family. It's a gift."

When Veterans share their stories through the My Life, My Story project we build stronger connections between Veterans and their health care teams. We'd like to thank all the Veterans who have shared their stories so far and for sharing their stories with you.

My Life, My Story believes that stories heal, teach and are powerful. You have a story that we want to hear, contact Casey Gunderson at 612-629-7618.

"My grandfather immigrated from Norway around 1916. He was in the service in World War I, and when he got out, he bought land through a government program. They logged that land, built a house, and from there, he made a farm. That was in Roseau, Minnesota, way up by the Canadian border. That's where I grew up.

My parents were Ruby and Melvin–I say Mom's name first because she wore the pants [laughs]. I had seven brothers and sisters–it was boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl, all the way down. I was number seven. My dad farmed and hauled wood on the side, but the farm didn't make a lot of money, so after years as a farm wife, my mom started working as a waitress. Polaris, the big snowmobile company, was starting up back then in Roseau. We knew the family. After a couple of years waitressing, Mom went to work for Polaris as a laborer. She ended up retiring with them.

I got along great at school. I was kind of a clown, so I got in trouble a few times, but overall it was a good experience. In high school I took every vocation class–from woodworking to welding. Anything using my hands I enjoyed. Still do.

After I graduated in '77, I was ready to attack the world. I'd joined the Army on the delayed-entry program and went to Fort Knox for boot camp and AIT. I was 63C10–a track-vehicle mechanic, working on gas and diesel vehicles. They sent me overseas to Friedberg, Germany. The work was hard, but when we had time off, I'd go see the scenery or goof off in Frankfurt, things like that. I had a great time.

After I got out of the Army, I took what I'd learned about traveling and goofing off and just kept going. For four or five years, I went around the West and Midwest, traveling and working. I was in Tacoma and Portland, went through Montana and Wyoming and both North and South Dakota. I had some great jobs. It was a fun part of my life.

Around '83 or '84, I was in International Falls, intending to move to Alaska to meet up with friends. But then I met my wife. Sandy needed help moving back to the Twin Cities. I knew there were jobs down there, so I thought I'd go with her and help her out. That's how it started.

After that, I just kept working in the Cities, making as much money as I could, sometimes working two jobs. I worked hard for probably 30-some years altogether–until this disease took me out of work.

Most of my jobs were as a mechanic. Me and another guy started two different shops. My last job was for a company that warrantied Great Dane trailers. For the most part, a mechanic's life is a dirty life–your hands are always beat up–but that job was clean.

Early on we had a house in St. Paul. One day I came home and realized, "I'm from out in the country. This is not me." I found a place north of the metro area. Then, after about 29 years of development, that place was almost like the inner-city. That's when I found the place where I live now.

It's actually a lodge. I made a lowball offer, but the owners just wanted out and accepted it. One side of the property is state forest. It's also on the river. There's two docks, a boat launch, a shooting range, a guest house. There were a lot of trees down when I got it; it needed a lot of cleaning up. Well, that stuff's right up my alley. Now it's my retirement home. I love the peace and quiet and solitude and nature.

I'm still married, but Sandy didn't like the solitude like me. So, we bought a place by the Cities for her to live in. I still see her quite a bit, but we live separate lives. We have three shelter dogs. Two of them–Lucy and Jeff -- are with me. Sandy has the other one, Becky.

Sandy and I had three kids–Brandy, Bailey and Britney. Britney passed away two-and-a-half years ago, which I'll never get over. Brandy and Bailey are both down in the Cities, both married, both with three kids–each with two girls and a boy. Brandy's an RN. Bailey has a master's and bachelor's degree in long-term health care but works for Wells Fargo. They're both doing really good, which is really comforting.

My health problems started when I was having a lot of jaw and cheek pain. Then I started having other issues. One day at work, I dropped to the floor. They carted me to the hospital, and that's when they said it was due to complications from hepatitis. After that I went to the VA. Eventually they realized how much damage it had caused and said, "You're done": I no longer could work. I was 52. That was a scary time. I wasn't ready to retire, and a lot of my social life was at work. But eventually I got the 100-percent service-connection, so at least my financial worries went away.

Several years back, I ended up with liver cancer. The radiation zapped so much strength out of me. That was a turning point for my liver, too. I got the transplant on the first of this month. They sent a taxi to my place in the woods, took me to Bemidji, and had a flight chartered to fly me here. That evening, they were prepping me for the surgery. I know someone had to pass away to extend my life. It's hard to even guess what I would say to that person, or his family. It's a gift.

I'm going to be at my sister's while I heal up. But my intent is to be back at my house. I have the means of taking care of myself. And I have a large family to help out.

I always have stuff to do. I have motorcycles, a four-wheeler, boats. Things like that. I also make board games. As kids growing up in the country, we played a lot of games. We had a game like Chinese Checkers that we called "Marbles." When I couldn't work anymore, I made my sister a Marbles board. She loved it. Another family member said, "I'd like one like that." So I made each of my siblings one. Word gets out, and pretty soon more people want them. I've made almost 80 now. They're all made out of recycled wood. Not one of them is the same. I've used plywood, butcher-block wood. When my parents' barn was falling down, I took old red cedar off that. I donated one to the Roseau Fire Department. There's another one in the office of a guy at Polaris.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I've always thought it's easier to be happy than sad. People don't like hanging around angry people. I've always tried to be on the happier side of life."

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