Monday, June 16, 2014

Dad (StoredStory #21)

Taken by Dad June 2013

It has been a while since I wrote a StoredStory. A little over a month ago, my dad passed away. Since that time, I've been trying to work through the grieving process--it truly is a process.

I began writing this not too long after he died, but I stopped because I felt I needed more time before sending it into the world.  I wanted to write a sort of memorial story about him. This is dedicated to him.

The sky was a dullish gray, stormy, and the florescent lights above me glowed like white light sabers. In the garage, I had jacked up my 1983 Pontiac 2000, had gotten the wheels off, and began the removal of the brake pads. With a Reader's Digest car maintenance book beside me, I worked as far as I could go, but I had questions that the book could not answer, questions that only someone with experience and know-how could answer. I was just a seventeen-year-old kid.

I am not a natural at mechanics; being too skittish I'll break something, I never push myself far enough. On this particular occasion, I was in a real need for a brake repair, and  I had adopted my dad's do-it-yourself mentality. Yet, I was inexperienced. Unfortunately, my dad was sick with a stomach bug and was in bed. Ordinarily, he would have done the job, but I decided to do it.

Despite feeling really sick, Dad worked as my consultant. I would go inside with a question, he would describe what I needed to do, then I would return to the garage. Then another question, another patient instruction, and my return the garage. This went on a few times.

With his help, I was able to successfully replace my brake pads; that day, my dad was a patient teacher even though he felt like crap and couldn't get out of bed.

Even in moments where he wasn't patient with my willfulness, we could always laugh about it later. One time I was being obstinate over learning multiplication. He got a little flustered and asked me, "What's two times three, six?" We all burst into laughs and would chuckle anytime we recounted this story.

Yet, I finally learned to listen when I needed help with the brakes. He had a great deal of mechanical knowledge, accumulated over a lifetime of living and working on a family farm, working as a mechanic, studying electricity, working at Pan American Airlines, owning an RCA TV repair shop, supervising maintenance teams at Armstrong Rubber Company. The list goes on.

On Friday, May 9, 2014, Dad passed away. This has been a difficult loss. Yet, I am happy to think on the life my dad led, to think about the many facets of his personality, and the many interests he had. As all humans are, he was a multi-sided man. That's the beauty of human life--we are often many things, often seemingly contradictory, but these are parts of a whole. My dad's life exemplifies this mystery of being human.

He was practical and pragmatic. He often said things like: "Your home is where you hang your hat" and "Make it a good day!" He saw a job as a means to survive, not as a career that offered a fulfilling pathway. Yet, he was creative. He played the guitar, which he taught himself to play when he was a young man still at home with his parents. He enjoyed playing in an instrumental band for a while.

When I was a kid, he signed up for a correspondence course in photography. Mom and I were sometimes models for his homework, but we also shared the spotlight with Shirley-- a Styrofoam head with a brunette wig. Dad continued to take hundreds of photos for the rest of his life. He loved taking pictures of nature and wildlife. I have the last pictures he ever made on my phone; he had taken some beautiful shots of some flowers and a sunset and had texted them to me.
Taken by Dad June 2013

Dad also painted in the style of Bob Ross; he put happy little trees all over canvasses, framing mountain scenes with coniferous branches. For a few years, each elementary school teacher I had received a painting for Christmas, which often earned me jeers and taunts from my fellow classmates, who felt sure I was getting a bump in grades. He was asked to do a painting of our church upon its 100th anniversary. He had been provided an early photo of a clapboard building nestled against the trees and large hill. The painting still hangs in the church to this day, I believe.

For a while, he and our neighbor made wooden crafts. The most memorable of these crafts are a jackass with overalls, the rooster from Looney Tunes, and bikini-wearing geese.

He also wrote sermons that he often delivered on Wednesday nights at our church. He would type them out on a manual Royal typewriter, which I would sometimes bang on while he tended to bills or other items in his office.

Dad was strong willed, determined, not afraid to stand up to people. Yet, he was tender-hearted, friendly, and a jokester. He kept his word, even when it was difficult. He cried when he prayed. He would cry when he told me he loved me. He always greeted people with a cheerful smile. And, he loved humor and would often find some way to laugh. He would joke even when he was ill.

He loved to tell stories from his life; I would hear the same tales many times over the course of my childhood. Many involved his years of growing up, of playing high school football, of serving in the army, and the rough work of policing, the problems encountered supervising at a tire factory, and the woes and joys of life. Yet, perhaps the best thing I heard was how proud he was of me; he felt it was an important message children need to hear.

For the many wonderful memories and moments, I am grateful and will hold them close to my heart forever.