My Dad died this past week. It was not expected. In fact, we were planning on going down to help with some summer yard work and had been calling to find out when we should plan on being there. He didn’t answer. He didn’t answer when my sister called to find out what the Dr had said about his meds change. Nor when my brother called to find out if he could stay with him when he was in the area for work this past week.
My Dad was a truly brilliant man who never really let on exactly how brilliant he really was. During his stint in the Navy, he taught himself enough engineering that they offered him a degree for it. He was a few hours shy of his doctorate in Physics. He helped develop the original carbon dating computer and was part of a very small team that created the entire computer system for HFC, IBM and then Associates. But, were you to meet him, you would certainly think more “Red Green”, than “Stephen Hawking”!
As my siblings and I have been contemplating what it is that we wanted to have to remember Dad by – we couldn’t come up with anything. His mind was so full of trivial and not so trivial information, that we could never begin to capture in any thing what so clearly made Dad, Dad.
About two years ago, not too long after my Mom passed away, knowing that my Dad was a treasure trove of interesting and amazing stories, I started recording them, knowing that one day, they’d slip away. There were the stories that I heard over and over like the time he was DJ’ing for a local radio station in Abilene, KS and someone called in to ask how to stop new shoes from squeaking and he suggested that they boil them in motor oil…jokingly. She sent him the bill to replace her shoes.
There were those I had only heard once or twice, like the time he and some friends found a ski lodge to work at during Christmas break from college, so they drove from Kalamazoo, MI to Utah, just the four of them. On the way, they encountered a blizzard, while crossing North Dakota. They were doing fine, driving very slowly, until just ahead of them, they watched a huge old tree fall across the highway. They were trapped. They took an assessment, trying to determine how they were going to survive until the blizzard abated and someone could dig them out. They had peanut butter sandwiches, a few bananas, some saltines and a can of Sterno in the glove box. Within an hour, 3 other cars were piled up behind them. One of the guys was a farmer and he had some rope with him, which he tied to his truck and wandered up and down the group to assess who had what. Even though it took over 24 hours for them to be found and rescued, between all the cars, they shared lots of Christmas goodies, ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches, drank fresh milk, nibbled home made rolls and cooked sardines and melted water to drink over Sterno. They sang Christmas carols, they shared their cars, horse blankets and winter clothes and when all was said and done, they went on their way without so much as exchanging an email address. 😉
There were some I only heard bits and pieces of – how the CIA rented the upstairs of my grandparents home as a lab during World War II, using my milkman Grandpa as a secret agent who picked up more than just empty milk jugs at the homes of people outside Chicago.
All the way down to one I heard only once – the Sunday before he passed away – of his time sitting on the bottom of the ocean in a nuclear sub during the Cuban Missile Crisis, just off the shore of Cuba, awaiting the notification from the Marines (I think – could have been Army) to surface and whisk Ernest Hemingway to safety.
Yep, that was my Dad, unique, ornery and yet so hard to capture with words. While I don’t have much I can put my hands on tangibly, he gave me something spectacular and irreplaceable to remember him by – a love for a good story. Thanks Dad. It’s been a lot of fun.