Casi’s red roses bloom along the front porch of the old farmhouse.
They could use some tending. Faded blooms need to be picked to make room for new ones.
Joey Rott shook his head. He doesn’t have time. He’s too busy finding his way in a world without Casi.
She died Feb. 8 on what he would call “the happiest day of her life.” She’d just come home after giving birth to triplets a week earlier. Her death left Joey alone on the farm with three new babies and the couple’s two other children, daughters Chloe, 7, and Tenley, 2.
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“That first month was just survival,” Joey, 33, said one hot day this week as he walked around the farm on the edge of the Flint Hills.
Triplets would have been new to Casi too, but Joey knows she would have fallen right into it. She would know which one needed changing and when to feed them. She would tell their cries apart, know how to dress them and know how to make sure Chloe and Tenley didn’t feel left out.
And she’d do it all while smiling, putting in a garden and tending the chickens and ducks — and those roses.
That was his Casi.
Newspaper stories and television reports about Joey and Casi touched the world’s heart. Hundreds of cards and letters poured across oceans to get to the farm. As of Friday, a GoFundMe account had raised more than $164,000. Joey and the kids recently were featured in People magazine.
But as Joey said, it wasn’t a story to him. It was life.
And many times in these four months and dealing with five kids, he wondered what Casi would do. In part, maybe, because the question kept her close.
But one day it hit what she would really tell him. That now it was his job to raise the kids. That he should stop worrying about how she’d do things and just do them the best he could and that he should do it for all of them.
“It took a while, but I know I’ve got to do things my way,” Joey said. “That’s what she’d want.
“It’s not easy, but I think I’m doing OK.”
A service spends nights so Joey can rest, but he hopes to soon scale that back as the babies are mostly sleeping through the night. Now he’s the one who recognizes each baby by the cry.
The cold of that February day seems a long time ago. The brown fields Joey raced past on the way to the hospital now wave green in a summer breeze.
And now it’s almost Father’s Day. But for Joey Rott, when’s it not?
“I’ll probably get up a few times during the night,” he said.
‘It was a struggle’
Joey was small-town Kansas, quiet and shy. He met Casi when he went to find a job in the city. They worked together at a high-tech company before moving to a run-down, century-old farmhouse near Clay Center, population 4,000 or so.
Casi, short for Cassia, worked as a secretary at Garfield Elementary School in Clay Center. The kids loved her.
Joey found one of the few information technology jobs in the farming community.
Casi, who grew up in Olathe, was determined to carry the triplets 34 weeks, so she spent the third trimester in Wichita to be near her doctor and hospital.
Asher, Levi and Piper, two boys and a girl, were born prematurely Jan. 29. They had to stay in the hospital a little longer, but Casi arrived back to the farm Feb. 8, surprising the two older girls when Joey brought them home from town.
They ran and jumped into Casi’s arms. She had been away so long.
But just minutes later, Casi complained of chest pains. Joey soon was racing down a gravel road with Casi beside him. She died of a blood clot.
The big house was a busy place after that. Family and friends came to help. Even strangers showed up with casseroles and offers of breast milk.
“It was a struggle for Joey,” his father, Charles Rott, said Thursday. “That first couple of months was really hard for him. But it was for all of us. Casi was so wonderful. The kids are doing fine, but I’d say we’re still not over it.
“I’m sure Joey’s not over it. Not for what he’s been through.”
Growing each day
On Tuesday, the temperature at the farm nearly hit 100 degrees.
But it was cool inside the big house. A ceiling fan in the living room stirred the air above the triplets, now 4 months old, as they sat in little foam seats in sort of a circle.
“They like to look at each other,” Joey said as he watched. After a pause he added, “They change every day.”
Each weighs more than 11 pounds now. Healthy all, Joey said.
“Piper was the smallest at birth, but she’s the best eater,” he said.
He worries most about the older girls. They miss their mom. Chloe still includes Casi in the family pictures she draws.
On Mother’s Day, Joey took them all to the cemetery. Chloe picked a bouquet of her mom’s irises that grow out by the red barn.
Turned out to be a sad trip for Tenley. When her dad said they were going to see Mommy, she thought Mommy would be there.
Joey knows now that’s one of those things Casi might have known to phrase differently to a 2-year-old.
But things here get better with time. The family all attended when the school where Casi worked dedicated a bench in her honor. Ask Joey if he’s glad that reporters have mostly stopped calling and he smiles and says, “Yes.”
One of the many letters came from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
“A lot of them had stories about losing someone,” he said. “It was very humbling to hear from so many people I didn’t know.”
The Rott family now is settling in. Joey is working full time. Chloe helps with the babies and Tenley. The babies grow each day. Years from now, Joey will tell them about their mom.
And when next summer comes, Joey said, he will tend Casi’s roses.
Who knows, he may even put in a garden.
“This is the first year we didn’t have one,” he said.
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182
How to help
To contribute to the Rott family fund, go to www.gofundme.com and search for Joey Rott.