We generally don’t see our parents as young, vibrant, passionate people. At least for me that’s true.
Even being around them and watching them – and ourselves – grow older, we generally don’t see our parents as young, vibrant, passionate people. At least for me that’s true. I have a hard time picturing my parents when young.
Viewing photographs of them on their honeymoon dug from my dad’s wallet this past week – he carried them unbeknownst to my mom – my parents seemed foggy like when we dream of people we think we should know but can’t recognize them try as we might. The people in those photos have a vague resemblance to my parents, but have an unfamiliar edge to them, and I can’t quite make them out even though I know it’s them.
My dad died unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago, hence the fact we were digging through his wallet. Well, unexpectedly is not really a fair word for his death. So many people lose their dads far earlier in their lives than I lost mine. At his age, anyone with any sense, you might say, should expect death any day.
But, nonsensically, I didn’t expect his death. You see, he seemed kind of indestructible I have to admit, even as he got older and unrecognizable as the young man he once was.
Dad died at 92 years of age. Healthy as a horse until the moment of his death, he had not been to a doctor for more than 50 years. Fifty years. That must be some kind of record.
When I called to talk to my mom three weeks ago and then asked to speak with Dad, Mom said, “He can’t come to the phone right now. He’s in the basement up on a ladder replacing a light fixture over the washing machine.”
Maybe now you know why, nonsensically, I really didn’t expect his death. He was there for as long as my 64 years could remember and if he could still climb ladders and balance himself on 92-year-old legs while using both hands to change a light fixture – well – what was to stop 100?
Still, unexpected as it may have been, we have far more to celebrate about his life – and his death – then we have to mourn, his advanced, healthy age not the least of it. He died the way he would have preferred: a burden to no one, in his sleep in his own bed, in the home in which he raised his children. He lived and died well.
Since envisioning my dad as a handsome, passionate, young man is difficult, some of Mom’s stories when the family gathered to mourn his death helped develop that youthful picture of him. Mom and Dad were together for 75 years between their eight years of courting and 67 years of marriage at the time of Dad’s death.
Blessedly in the pre-Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter era, people were more private. I had never heard this story so Mom recounted for the first time that she met Dad when he, a 19-year-old college freshman home for the summer of 1941 wolf-whistled at her, a 15-year-old high school freshman, as she walked by his house. Mom admitted she was thrilled this man, her neighbor, would pay her any attention.
Shortly thereafter in 1942, Dad would enlist in the U.S. Army after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Eight years later after war and college, Mom and Dad were married, consummating their union on a broken bed.
On their honeymoon, Mom continued during her storytelling, Dad threw her on the motel bed collapsing it to the floor. She demurely stopped the story at that point. Nonetheless, the picture of my dad as an exciting, ardent, young man came into focus.
Maybe it’s my mom’s 88 years, a throw-caution-to-the- winds attitude that comes with her age, and the fact that Dad was gone and couldn’t care anymore about exposing such private things. Maybe she wanted to make sure these stories were told so they’d survive her own death. But Mom’s willingness to tell these stories helped me picture my parents as I should have – as we all should.
Gathered together to mourn Dad’s death, we laughed and we cried over stories of my parents’ life together. If you knew my mom and dad, you’d know that telling such stories is far outside of their element. Nevertheless, Mom told a final story of a cousin who, if the story is believed, died during lovemaking.
Laughing, we all agreed that while Dad did die well, his death was actually second best.
Most importantly though, in life Dad was a good, honest, hard-working man, a loving husband, father, son, brother, grandfather and great-grandfather, who made a positive and lasting difference in the lives of uncounted many during his long and productive life. He is, nonsensical or not, sorely missed.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.