Grief feels like everything and nothing.

Craig Max Olsen died peacefully on Jan. 30, 2022. He was 65.

Craig was a father, grandfather, brother, son, cousin, friend, and classmate. He was also a farmer, photographer, dog lover, 4-H’er, Husker fan, bowler, softball player, cribbage player, state fair enthusiast, and—once—the Tin Man in a high school production of The Wizard of Oz.

Craig—or “dad,” as I called him—was born Nov. 12, 1956. This is the day after Veteran’s Day. I never remember this. Never. You’d think my dad’s death would be an incentive to remember. But if you were to put me in charge of dad’s headstone, it would probably end up saying, “BORN 11-11-1869.”

11 for the atomic number of sodium.
11 for the eleventh day of the month.
1869 for the year University of Nebraska-Lincoln was founded.

We all know how big of a Nebraska Huskers fan Craig—er, dad—was. He took me to my first college basketball game, as it were. He, my grandmother, and I drove to Lincoln sometime in the late ‘90s, back when Cary Cochran was on the team. As a photographer, dad got to be on the floor. As spectators, my grandmother and I got to be in the rafters of the Devaney. I was young. I was bored. But the Huskers won. I think.

Dad always gave me shit about my lack of spornts knowledge. But spornts weren’t my thing. I peaked at age seven, when I hit a home run during a tee-ball game. (I didn’t use the tee. Honest.) My mom couldn’t make it to the game—she was working at the hospital at the time—but my dad was there. He saw me do a spornt. After decades of going bowling and playing basketball, golf, and softball, dad probably wanted me to also succeed at athletics. But I’m not the softball whiz he was. When I tried my hand at it, I broke three fingers on that hand. To this day, I have the grace of a newborn giraffe and the balance of a three-legged tortoise.

I barely remember my dad playing softball. My brother, Keith, is different. “Being a ‘softball kid’ is a great memory,” he posted on the online obituary. “As the designated bat boy, I got to hang out in the dugout with dad and the other players and eat sunflower seeds. Those guys were all like superheroes to me when I was a kid.”

Keith has eight years on me, so we have—er, had?—very different relationships with our begetter. When Keith was a kid and my parents were still married, dad farmed the Saar land south of Treynor. Keith remembers riding in the combine, going for four-wheeler rides, and playing in the machine shed. And since my family always had Herefords, Keith got to name the calves. One year, there were four calves named “Spot.”

Honestly, there’s a lot I don’t know about my dad. That’s largely because—and I speak for only myself—he wasn’t a great father. We started building a functional relationship only a few years ago.

When I was a kid, I wrote “Dad buys way too many frozen pizzas” in my journal. I stand by that. And also next to the Everest of empty Pepsi bottles he had by his chair. He wouldn’t have passed the white glove test, let’s be honest. But you didn’t come here to read about my dad’s preferred window cleaner or vacuuming habits. So, here’s the brass tacks: Dad was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Max E. Olsen, M.D. and Carolyn Elaine (Saar) Olsen. He was the youngest of four and, like his siblings, took piano lessons and joined the Nednim Hustlers 4-H club. (Fun fact: “Nednim” is “Minden” spelled backwards.) He attended Minden Public School and Tri-Center High School, where he got the life-long nickname “Boogie.” Don’t ask.

Dad was only four years old when he started kindergarten. (You know, because his birthday is Nov. 11. I mean 12. I mean … whatever.) He graduated from high school in 1974, same as my mom. The two of them got married in Treynor in 1978, had Keith in 1980, and (surprise!) had me in 1988. Then they got divorced and things got muddy and things got forgotten or went unspoken and suddenly I’m 33 years old, editing my dad’s obituary at a local coffee shop, where there’s the clink of ceramic mugs and a sign on the door about masks.

“How are you holding up?” a neighbor asks.

“Things come and go,” I say.

“That’s okay,” they say.

“Yesterday, I cried over a pot of boiling water and then decided to start a Twitter poll about farts,” I say.

“That’s okay.”

“I feel everything and nothing.”

“That’s okay.”

“I didn’t know, when I called him in November, that that was the last time I would talk to him on the phone. The last text I sent was, ‘Merry Christmas, dad.’ There’s nothing beneath it. And there will never be anything beneath it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I wish obits didn’t have to be so abbreviated. I want people to know that, back in the ‘80s, there was Benji, a blue heeler. Dad would use the McDonald’s drive-thru to order two double cheeseburgers—one for himself, one for Benji. Dad believed the larger a dog was, the more loved it was. (Not the best logic.) He taught my brother and I how to play cribbage, then took great joy in annihilating us whenever we played. Dad’s friends and classmates remember him as a good guy, as someone who made them laugh. Once dad got older, he wanted to buy a motorhome and drive around the country. He used to take me to the Royal Fork, the buffet-turned-Panera at the now-demolished Mall of the Bluffs. I remember eating a lot of ham.”

“What else?”

“A lot. Good memories. Bad memories. In-between memories. Habits. Tics. Phrases. My brother says anytime he sees a Hawaiian shirt, a can of Pringles, a bottle of Pepsi, or a bag of sunflower seeds, he thinks about dad.”

“What do you remember?”

“Hawaiian shirts. SLR lenses on the dashboard. Peanut shells and sandals, no matter the weather. That time he made the two of us spaghetti, then stitched a new button onto a shirt. Watching John Carpenter become the first person to win Who Wants to be a Millionaire together. Then there was the time at Estes Park when he got so mad at my aunt that he walked down a mountain. The time he drove 10 hours to Indianapolis to adopt a beagle, visit me for 20 minutes, then immediately drive back to Iowa. The time we went to Mahoney State Park and I got my period. I remember a terrifyingly brown Christmas tree one year. And my toes—I have his toes and his penchant for being dramatic. I also inherited his love of ketchup.”

“What else?”

“I don’t know. This is all so much. But I take comfort in the last words he said to me: ‘I love you. I’m proud of you. You’re my baby girl.’”

Read Craig “Boogie” Olsen’s official obituary here.
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