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Fanning Files


September 2, 2020

By Me

It was February when we found out, right before the pandemic officially hit. A mass in her brain.

When Kay Swiggum (Kay Fossum at the time) walked through our door almost 20 years ago she wasn’t a stranger. She was a semi-retired salesperson we had known, it seemed like, almost forever. Mrs. Me had worked with her for several years in Sparta. I had become friends with her and her husband, Kim, at a company Christmas party hosted by the Foxxy Shopper many years ago.

Kay, it turned out, was looking for something to stay busy. She didn’t need to work, but she wanted to. So, we worked out an agreement that was pretty simple. Set your hours and work when you want. When you don’t work you don’t get paid.

Kay was unique in that she saw value in everything. She was not opposed to digging through dumpsters looking for “things.” It was her translation of a treasure hunt. She even helped open a huge, perpetual flea market in the old tobacco warehouse in Viroqua.

But the most important things she believed in was the power of advertising. She wasn’t out to get rich, and she knew that simply getting business names out into the community. She found different ways to offer affordability, while providing our small-town newspaper to highlight events and feature information we might not have been able to without the business community’s support.

As time went on, the relationship between Kay and my wife became clearer. Mrs. Me says Kay was like a second mother, but I believe it was more like a “best friend” arrangement. They would laugh, they would talk, and they would argue – sometimes to the point that I thought, “This is it! She going to quit or get fired.”

Neither of those things happened and through other conversations they had, about life, about love, about family and about one another, I learned that there was something unique about this bond. That it would last as long as they were both here on earth.

A few years after Kay started working with us, her husband, Kim got sick. Cancer! It would eventually take him from her. I will never forget that man. So humble, kind, and patient. We have two clothesline poles in our back yard that should probably be replaced. The cords running from one to the other might be the only thing keeping them straight. Kim welded them for us, and I just can’t seem to find the will to replace them.

Kim eventually passed due to his illness, and I think her job here with us helped her deal with it a little. Not the job, so much, but Mrs. Me’s ear. It was just one of many things they managed to get through together. They had become each other’s sounding board. Confidantes who shared secrets, sometimes like a couple of high school girls.

As the years passed, that relationship was on full display when Kay was reacquainted with an old friend. It was the first time she had spoken about “liking a boy” since her husband, Kim. She was so uncertain about starting a relationship. It was a familiar tune. “I really like him, but...”

These were just the conversations I heard. I’m fairly certain they were much more in-depth when I wasn’t at the office.

After months of agonizing and uncertainty, Kay accepted her fate. That brought her into a relationship with Buster. One that would eventually lead to wedding bells and happiness for two people who had each suffered tragic loss.

Happiness… that is how I would describe the past four years for the new Mr. and Mrs. Swiggum. And I feel fortunate to have been able to spend time with the two of them.

Last December was the last time Mrs. Me and Me were able to spend any amount of time with them. A trip to the casino in Black River Falls, and dinner at RePete’s in Brockway. We visited, ate, donated to the indigenous people of our area, and started a conversation with a complete stranger who, from a distance, looked like another old friend from their Foxxy Shopper days.

The tumor they found on her brain was cancer, and inoperable. It went by a name that none of us could pronounce, glioblastoma. It’s been a little over three weeks since Kay passed away. But her spirit and her voice will fill our office and our memories forever.

My heart goes out to Kay’s family, and to Buster who, up until he met Kay, I didn’t really know.

I am so thankful for so many things this amazing woman shared with us.


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