Before he dies, Dale Potter wants to be a better son.
“I did this to myself,” acknowledges Dale, 52.
The deep-voiced man looks too tall for the small, makeshift bedroom in his mother’s neatly kept Centerville home. As a 6-foot tall high school athlete in the mid-1970s, he lettered in basketball, football and baseball.
But the athlete turned drug-addict is dying of AIDS, and recently underwent his fifth cancer surgery.
“I’m a swizzle stick. And my immune system’s shot.”
Hospice is doing what they can to allow his mother, Pat Crosson, to care for him in her home.
“I don’t want to die at the hospital,” he admitted. “My mom deserves a medal. She’s 70 years old, and I’m ruining her golden years. I ask myself, ‘Dale, what drove you from the ballfields to the back alleys?’ And I still don’t know. She warned me. And every prediction came true.”
He’s not giving up, he said, but his doctors said he’d have about six months to live. That was in December. This may be the last Mother’s Day he’s alive to say thank you and to apologize for “not being a good son” for so many years.
“This is the first time in 30 years I’m out with my mom planting flowers. After all I’ve done to her, I’m finally doing what a mother and son should be doing.”
His mother said addiction seemed to run through parts of Dale’s family.
“I left his dad because of the drugs,” said Pat, who has a daughter and five other sons. “I wasn’t going to live that lifestyle.”
After a difficult divorce, she said she married a wonderful man in New Jersey. Dale’s late stepfather loved all the children, and Dale loved sports.
“No matter what baseball team [Dale] wanted to get on, they’d make room for him because he was so good.”
Maybe too good, Dale says now. When a Major League scout expressed interest, the teen felt he had it made. He increased his partying, figuring he could stop any time and go pro. Relatives who turned out for high school games, as well as his party friends, agreed. But Mom saw the writing on the wall.
“She said, ‘No, he’s chosen what he’s going to do.’ And she was right. I was headed down the wrong road.”
Dale and Pat hope a young person may hear their story and know how easy it is to fall into addiction and how ruinous a few bad choices can be, even at 17.
“If I could be with my buddies having a beer now or here, I’d rather be here with Mom; I love my my mom, and I’d give anything to plant one more flower with her,” Dale said. “I just wish [one young person could] know how important their mom is. I finally know, but I’ve broken her heart.”
“When you get in that scene, it’s an elevator to hell,” Pat said. “No more sports, no more school. Dale left home and it was drinking and drugs. He never finished high school.”
Partying with his buddies became his life. He ran away to be with more lenient family members in Centerville. He was in and out of jail and, 30 years ago, was shipped off for a stint at the state prison in Anamosa.
“I’ve broke her heart so many times, and now I’m doing this to her,” Dale said, beginning to cry. “I really get upset with myself. I had it made. Now look at me. Broken down, weak, laying in this bed ... I see the pain in her eyes.”
Before he made his worst mistakes, Mom wasn’t shy about warning him.
“Tough as nails — for all 100 pounds of her. Indestructible. And if the answer is black but she says it’s white, then it is white.”
Yet after he repeatedly messed up, she never turned her back on him.
“I think with a mother it just comes natural,” Pat said. “Your kids are your kids. And he’s always been so caring, even when he was doing wild things, he was never ruthless.”
Dale said in his younger days, she’d scrape together bail money and get him out of jail. The times he was in trouble for something he didn’t do, she’d tell him she knew he was innocent. When he faced more accurate charges, “she’d tell me, ‘Well, nobody’s perfect. We’ll get through this, Dale.’ Nobody loves me as much as she does.”
Worse than dying seems to be the guilt of feeling he’s taking years off his mom’s life.
“I see the pain in her eyes. She seems so alone. She never goes anywhere. I’d love to take her out for dinner ... for Mother’s Day, or even send her and a friend to a nice dinner. But how do I pull that off?”
Besides having rough days where he can barely move, his limited income goes toward medication plus some of the utility bills he insists on paying at the house.
“Don’t think I have my hand out. Really, all my material needs are met, but what can I do for her? My mom was always there for me.”
Dale has his own children now and an amazing grandson, he says. He loves them all. He admits his daughters haven’t had an easy life; a drug-addicted dad, their mom — Dale’s wife — died of a drug overdose when the girls were younger, and now their father is dying of AIDS.
Still, the subject of his beloved grandson, age 2, makes him smile.
“They’re at the circus in Ottumwa right now. He was wanting to see the elephants and eat what he calls ‘hopcorn.’ That’s what he says for popcorn: hopcorn!”
Pat said she’s proud when she sees the toddler and Dale interacting: “He has a loving, loving heart.”
On a recent afternoon, Pat was in the kitchen cooking; since her son moved in, she’s pushed him from a low of 116 pounds to his current 131 pounds.
So how can moms get through the hard parts?
“You say a lot of rosaries. And you never give up,” she said. “There are times you want to rip their head off and, well, just hit them with it ... but you’d be hugging them with your heart at the same time.”
Before he dies, Dale Potter wants to be a better son.
- Local News
- Iowa is third best-run state OTTUMWA — The good news is that Iowa was recently ranked in the top 10 best-run states. The question remains, however, where this part of Iowa stands compared to the rest of the state — or even other states on the list. Besides things like budget and
- Party time for needy children OTTUMWA — Possibly the greatest joy for any child during Christmas is getting presents. But for some, presents aren’t part of their holidays. At the Workingman’s Christmas Party, to be held this year at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Eagles Club in Ottumwa, v
- Red Cross responding more often in cold weather OTTUMWA — With all of the good that comes from this time of the year, it has to be equaled out by one thing that is just downright terrible: house fires. As noted in previous Courier articles, Ottumwa has been far busier than usual in 2013 with struc
- Bright Ideas grants will help local nonprofits OTTUMWA — Many nonprofit organizations are doing amazing things in Ottumwa and the surrounding area, and the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation has recently helped several of them reach new goals. ORLF has released the 16 new grants from the Bright I
Interactive: Firefighters' busy year coming to an end
OTTUMWA — This year has been unlike any in recent memory for the Ottumwa Fire Department. Over the course of 2013, Ottumwa firefighter have handled 40 separate structure fires. Chief Tony Miller said that is more than any other Iowa city this year on
Reindeer cam draws holiday viewers
NORTH POLE — Want a sneak peek at the reindeer as they prepare for their big day? Try the Reindeer Cam.
- Preparing taxes from the heart OTTUMWA -- This volunteer opportunity is different than the traditional "helper at a soup kitchen." For one thing, volunteers can't be afraid of computers. Or numbers. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is sponsored by the United Way
Snowman sculpture raising money for OFD program
OTTUMWA — Usually Christmas tree decorating comes with lights and ornaments, not a chainsaw. But thanks to some creativity and a great cause to donate to, one log was transformed into a snowman, and it is helping to raise money for the Ottumwa Fire D
- Board rescinds secondary roads employee hire KEOSAUQUA — The Van Buren County Board of Supervisors Monday approved a motion to rescind the hiring of a secondary road department employee, after that employee declined to take the position. The board rescinded the hiring of Tom Yochum in the secon
- Unanimous approval given for confinements resolution KEOSAUQUA — The Van Buren County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved renewing a construction evaluation resolution (master matrix) for livestock confinements during the board’s regular meeting Monday. Confinements in counties that file the reso
- More Local News Headlines