Don’t eat the coffee cake and other truisms

Dale Curtis doesn’t know if he’ll ever live down his peach coffee cake. Last Tuesday he brought a pan of it to share with his fellow supervisors on the Adams County Board. They all grabbed a piece. They nibbled on it as the meeting commenced.

But as the board members were finishing their committee reports, Curtis slumped in his chair and became unresponsive. His heart and breathing stopped. He left the meeting on a gurney. Several days later, he was back at home with a pacemaker and a second chance at life.
When his fellow board members found out Curtis was going to be OK, they couldn’t resist teasing him about the coffee cake.

“That’s the biggest joke going around,” Curtis said, “that they all looked at the coffee cake on their plates and pushed it away.”

No hard feelings, Curtis says. Even though his diagnosis was serious — a doctor told him only 1.8 in 100 people who suffer the same malady survive — he can laugh about it.

“Life is life and you gotta enjoy it,” said the 65-year-old.

And enjoying life is something Curtis likes to do. He cooks. He gardens. He builds things. He likes to teach kids to hunt and fish, and he likes to serve on the county board.

“Doing things for other people makes life worth living,” he said.

His coffee cake wasn’t the first time he’s baked for the supervisors. Used to be, the only time the board members had a snack during their Tuesday morning meetings was when the retired teachers brought cookies as a thank you to the board. So Curtis decided if the board was going to get snacks, he’d just bring them himself.

He’s brought coffee cake before; the last time it was apple. But while he also bakes rye bread, he doesn’t like to bake a lot, preferring to cook instead.

“I like to fix German foods that my grandmother fixed us,” he said.

It runs in the family. When he gets together with his brothers and sister, they try to outcook each other.

They all learned to cook from their mother, but their recipes, although they are from the same source, all differ.

“She was a good cook,” he said of his mother, “so she didn’t have to write anything down.”
When each sibling called Mom to get the recipe, it was never quite the same — a little of this or a lot of that, but never any specific measurements.

She just had a knack for it, and so, apparently, does Curtis.

“We used to say she would sweep the floor and it was the best vegetable soup you ever ate,” he said.

Curtis is grateful that he’s still around to cook. Last week’s episode was a scary one for him and his family, as well as for all those inside the board room.

Besides supervisors, the room on the second floor of the courthouse was occupied by a few county employees and a Tribune reporter.

Those in the room said that while it was a scary situation, no one panicked. No one freaked out. The whole situation unraveled as if the people in that room had practiced it 100 times before.

They realized Curtis was unresponsive. A supervisor took his pulse and couldn’t find it. They laid him on the floor and began two-person CPR. Someone called 911. Another supervisor ran to the first floor to get the defibrillator. They shocked his heart, and it began to beat again.

He was rushed to the hospital.

And after all that action taking place in a small board room, it’s no wonder no one felt like eating Curtis’ peach coffee cake.

The supervisors paid Curtis a visit at his hospital room that day. They said they were grateful that he was alive. They told him he gave them a huge scare. And they teased him about his baked goods.

That’s why Curtis likes these guys, he says. They can be serious, but at the end of the day, they can tease each other.

“You can’t take life too seriously,” he said. “Getting more defibrillators and learning CPR, you gotta take that seriously. But the other stuff, you just gotta laugh.”

Amy Palser

Amy Palser writes personal stories readers can relate to: tales of family and friends, of childhood and rites of passage, of fantastic people and ordinary things. Her column appears each Saturday. She is the Tribune's managing editor.

Copyright © 2015