Tuesday, March 28, 2017
What can I say about my father? He was the most important man in my life. I adored him. Like all little girls my first love was my daddy. That is the yardstick we use to measure all other men, especially in choosing a father for our children.
I was a teenager before I realized that my father was not perfect. I also realized that he was so close to being perfect that the imperfections did not matter.
Daddy was born into a family of 11 children. He and his slightly younger brother were what was called "change of life babies" because their mother was older when they were born. Most of the older siblings were already gone from home.
It was a dysfunctional family. My grandmother was a cold woman who found it hard to care for anyone. I do not know the reason why or if there was one. Daddy loved her though.
His father was a heavy drinker.... sort of the town drunk. He worked as a brakeman for the railroad. My father always had a fascination for trains and had them for the boys to play with all the time.
The older siblings were gone from home. They could not wait to get away from the turmoil. Most of them moved far away and seldom came back for a visit.
I know very little about Daddy's childhood. I know where he was born and some of the places he lived when he was growing up. I know that once there was a terrible flood that destroyed their home and everything in it. That is about it.
Apparently Grandpa's drinking was a problem for Daddy. One day my father came home and found his father drunk again. They had a terrible argument. Daddy told him that he was through getting in fights to defend his father. Then Daddy left the house and joined the Navy.
World War II was in full swing so it did not take long for him to be sent to the Pacific arena. We do have a picture that he had taken somewhere in California before he shipped out. On the back he wrote "To the best Mom in the world".
Daddy was a gunner's mate first class, whatever that is. He told us very little about his experiences in the war. I do know that his ship engaged the enemy more than once. One time they were on radio silence for days. That menat no communication at all with the outside world.
When the silence was finally lifted he was notified that his father had died. It was too late for him to go home for the funeral. His last interaction with his father had been an argument. I know it hurt him for the rest of his life.
Daddy got the required tattoo of a sailor. Apparently it was a naked lady on his upper arm. He could make her dance by flexing his muscles. When they married my mother told him he needed to cover that lady because they wanted children and her children were not going to look at a naked lady on their father's arm. He went back to the tattoo parlor and had clothes put on his lady.
When the war was over he went home, met my mother, they were married. they were happy to find out that they would be having a baby soon after. My parents turned out to be very fertile.
Daddy wanted a daughter. He had come back from the war with a kimono for his wife and one for his daughter. I was the daughter he wanted and I have always felt very special because of that.
My father is proof that a person can rise above a bad childhood. He was a loving family man. He truly enjoyed his wife and children and we all knew that. He showed it in so many ways every day.
That is not to say that he did not make mistakes. I guess when I was a baby I was crawling around with no diaper on. It was believed that fresh air helped prevent diaper rash. Anyway I bumped the table where his glass of iced tea was sitting and spilled it. He had a terrible temper and swatted my bare behind before he realized what he was doing.
When he saw the red mark left by his hand he vowed to never hit any of his children again. There were a couple of times that he went back on his word but we usually deserved a lot more that the smack we received.
My father never seemed to find his "home" as far as where we lived. He was always looking for that place over the hill and far away. We moved a lot. I went to 10 different schools before I graduated from high school. And that is not counting the times we lived somewhere only during the summer.
Most of the places we lived were in Nebraska. We lived on farms and in small towns. If we stayed in a town for any length of time we moved to different houses. We kept looking for the place that was his.
One summer we moved to a dairy farm outside Spokane, Washington. I loved it there. We lived at the top of a mountain. The only employee of the farm who lived as high up as us was a man who lived in a small mobile home nearer to the barns.
Evergreen trees covered the mountain. We could run and play in the trees to our hearts' content. And we did. My brothers got caught smoking up there one day. They were made to smoke cigarettes until they got sick. It did not stop them from smoking when they got older. Pobably did not stop them then.
The Spokane River was at the bottom of the hills and across the highway. We used to go fishing almost every day.
Daddy got very sick while we lived there. He had the Asian flu. The doctor said to keep all of us away from him. Daddy was put into the boys room. Mom had to take all his meals to him even though he could hardly keep anything down. She had to take care of all his needs plus care for all of us. Poor thing.
It seemed like he was in that room forever. He was so sick. And we were not allowed in there at all. He had never been sick before. It was a little scary.
Finally he began to get better. Sometime after that we were allowed to visit him for a few minutes only. No touching and no getting too close. He looked so thin and weak. It was hard to see him like that. Eventually he recovered and was good as new.
It was a happy day when my grandparents arrived. They moved there with my youngest aunt and two uncles. Grandpa had a job at the dairy farm too. They lived about halfway down the hill from us. My aunt raised worms for us to use for fishing. What she did was keep the soil under a big rock loose. She put coffee grounds in it every once in a while. We had plenty of worms for fishing.
The owner and his wife lived in a big fancy house at the bottom of the hill. The wife had three big bulldogs. They were her babies and she spoiled them rotten. Everyone laughed at her because when she took them for a walk to "do their business" she carried clean white cloth hankies to wipe them afterward.
The owner died at the end of the summer. His wife sold the dairy farm. We packed up and moved back to Nebraska.
Daddy always found work. He often worked as a farm hand. One time he was on the back of the tractor while the farmer backed up to get near enough to a piece of machinery that Daddy could hook it up. Somehow Daddy got his foot between the hitch on the tractor and the tongue of the machinery. He broke his foot and the farmer had to replace him.
For a few years he worked for a house mover. People would own a house and buy new land to put it on. It was the responsibility of the house movers to get it there safely. We sometimes got to go watch them if they were driving near enough to home. One time they were close and we drove out to watch.
Daddy and another man had long poles with a "V" at the ends. They had to hook the utility wires and lift them so the house could roll safely beneath them.
While they were holding the wires up Daddy was waving to us and maybe showing off a bit. They rolled that house right over his foot! Thank goodness for those old dusty dirt roads. His foot sank far enough into the dust that all he got was a bruised foot.
After a severe car accident and long recovery Daddy got some training. He was able to get a job as a foreman on the night shift in a factory. He loved his job. But the factory was experiencing financial diffficulties and they shut down the night shift. They told him they wanted him to stay on as an hourly employee but he declined.
I had my first son before this. I wanted my father to see his grandson but we lived so far away then. I finally saved enough money so I could take the bus with my baby and visit my family. Of course Daddy was proud to be a grandfather.
When it was close to time for me to go home to my husband Daddy told me that he would drive me. He and my mother had decided to move again. They moved to the big city that I was living in.
Daddy found a job almost right away. He was a foreman at a chemical plant. He and my mother actually bought a house. He found his place. He was so happy there.
The plant manager who was also an owner decided to retire. My father was made plant manager. He was liked and respected by the men who worked there. He was a very likable man. Most people liked him immediately.
One Good Friday a friend and I went shopping for Easter. My husband insisted that I take his beeper so he could contact me. I took it but I turned it off. I do not like being so connected. When we were done shopping my friend dropped me off at home.
When I went inside no one was home. In a few minutes my friend called me and told me my husband and children were at her house. They wanted me to come on over. I decided to stay home. It was quiet for a change. She insisted and said she was on her way to pick me up.
When we got to her house my husband finally worked up the courage to tell me that my father had died of a massive heart attack. I wanted to see that my mother was alright so we went to their house.
There were arrangements to be made. Several of us kids went with her. When she was picking out his coffin she was having a hard time deciding between two. One was a nice hardwood and the other was a metallic gray. Both were nice. Mom said she kept being drawn back to the metallic gray one and could not understand why. When I gently told her it was because it was the exact color of a suit she had given him for Christmas when I was a little girl she smiled and chose that one. She loved that suit because she said it went so well with his blue eyes.
Daddy put great stock in honoring the dead. Visits to the cemetery and keeping graves looking nice were a must. And attending funerals was a way to show respect.
The chemical company was a union plant. When someone died the union would send a delegation to show respect. That is what they did when Daddy's predecessor died.
When Daddy died all the workers in the plant demanded the day off to attend his funeral. The plant finally realized they would have to close for the day.
It was a beautiful spring day. Much too nice to be indoors. Every last one of the men from the plant came to Daddy's funeral. They could have gone boating or anywhere else and they came to the funeral. The funeral home was so full of people they had people outside waiting to come in. He would have been so proud and touched. I know I was.