Devoted dad keeps his son company
CHAMPAIGN — Meat Loaf is in the house, today and every day.
His 51-year old son, Kelly Curry, who calls his dad Meat Loaf — as do friends and other family — is in Helia Healthcare of Champaign.
The son, who looks like a linebacker, requires medical care for a major head injury he sustained in a driving accident more than three decades ago.
Meat Loaf will reluctantly tell you that his real name is Marion L. Curry but that he hates it — and instead goes with a child's guess of what his initials stood for.
And at age 80, he remains a devoted dad.
He's at the nursing home five to eight hours every day, sitting next to his son to feed him, talk with him and watch "Wheel of Fortune" with him.
At the end of every night, he passes out candy to the nurses and some residents.
"'Bout the only time I take off for is deer season," says Meat Loaf, a man rarely without his National Rifle Association cap.
The nurses are impressed with this man, whose devotion has lasted decades.
"He is always there for his son," says Rosanna Fabi, the director of nursing. Araceli Henson, the facility's administrator, calls him "a marvel."
That doesn't mean much to Meat Loaf.
"I'm not doing anything exceptional," he says emphatically. "Anybody who spends less time (with their children) is substandard."
Meat Loaf describes himself as unemployed, but this jack of all trades will admit, if pressed, that he is "retired."
"I say I'm re-tired because I was tired before," he jokes.
The years this father and son have spent together — Kelly lived for 15 years in Meat Loaf's house before entering the nursing home — have formed a strong bond.
Kelly can be a little hard to understand for others, but to Meat Loaf the voice is nearly crystal clear.
He encourages visitors to give Kelly a listen.
"Kelly's very patient," Meat Loaf says. "He will repeat it until you understand him. But he can also be ornery."
"And proud of it," Kelly adds.
"But he behaves," Dad says.
"No, I don't behave!" his son answers.
Meat Loaf said that he understands many severe brain injury patients come out of a coma "with a 180-degree turn in their personalities."
But he was surprised and grateful that his son still has the openness and loving nature he showed as a small child.
"He was the only one of my five kids that always woke up with a smile on his face," Meat Loaf says.
What really gets Kelly talking is the St. Louis Cardinals.
Posters of the Cardinals and Illini basketball players make his half of the room all his own. The other client is behind a divider.
Being a Cards fan can be lonely sometimes.
"We're considered communists around Tolono; they're mostly Cubs fans," Meat Loaf says.
On the wall hangs a sign to prepare visitors, welcoming Cards fans.
"Others wait until next year," it adds.
Besides sports events, father and son enjoy watching the History Channel and especially "Wheel of Fortune."
It comes on right after Meat Loaf feeds his son an egg salad sandwich.
"I feed him big bites because small bites would take an hour," the father says.
Meat Loaf thinks some "Wheel" contestants must be prepped first.
"They can guess the whole thing from just two letters," he says.
Father and son wholeheartedly endorse Vanna White, the show's long-running hostess.
Hearing them comment on White's pulchritude, a friend once brought in an old Playboy where she took off some but not all of her clothes.
"She looks better with clothes on. She knows how to dress," Meat Loaf says after everyone in the room has had a glance at the lingerie shots.
It will be several more hours before Meat Loaf heads back to Tolono.
He said he's used to the long hours. In the early 1950s, he served as a helmsman in the Navy's "splinter fleet," minesweeping ships called "peanut hulls" because they were made out of wood so as to be able to locate the mines without activating the magnetism that activated them.
They trained him on radar and other skills.
"They schooled me to death in the service," he says.
Meat Loaf worked as a tool-and-die man in the Windsor and Mattoon areas, hoping to "get on with the railroads."
He then found factory work in Decatur.
His family of six — his wife passed away young — was used to eating squirrel and rabbit meat when times were tough.
"It'd take six or eight to feed the family," Meat Loaf says.
Kelly has good memories of the rodents "with brown gravy and biscuits."
Meat Loaf eventually moved to Tolono when he grew tired of conditions in Decatur.
"It was too cold to be on strike all the time," he says.