Today my Dad would be 110 if he were alive. He died when he was 55 years old. He was a healthy, vibrant man who didn’t wake up one day. I was a child. Seeing death happen up close through a child’s eye was a very surreal experience.
It all started around 1 a.m. on a cold winter night. I had a nightmare that my Dad died. I don’t know if I truly dreamed it or if I was unconsciously aware of the “goings on” which translated into a dream before I woke up.
All the lights in the house were on. My mother was frantic and my brother was calling people on the rotary phone (do you remember those? They took forever to dial). I climbed out of bed to see what was going on. My Dad was motionless in bed and my mother was close to hysterical. I was very scared.
A doctor came shortly and said he was gone. Nothing was ever the same again. There were people in the house all the time for what seemed like days on end. My father was “laid out” in the house for viewing. They did that in those days. Old German ladies came and said German prayers almost around the clock. People were bringing food but no one could eat. The atmosphere was eerie, part party, part intense sadness.
I think someone brought a keg of beer. The Irish aren’t the only ones who honor life with a celebration. After a couple of days the commotion died down and the people left. It was only when he didn’t come home from work that I really understood what had happened.
Back in those days, there weren’t any tests or unnecessary autopsies so we never knew what exactly happened. The doctor said it was a heart attack. Did he have high blood pressure or cholesterol or perhaps a birth defect? None of that really runs in our family. He was a thin man who worked a very physical job so he was very fit. We will never make any sense out of it.
What I remember most about him was his devotion to family. Because I was born so much later than my two brothers, I was not only a novelty but exulted as her royal highness. My mother scolded him many times for catering to my whims. There were late night runs for potato chips. He encouraged me how to eat weird stuff like pickled lamb’s tongue and raw bacon and I did. He taught me how to work with wood. My brother swears that he had a lot more patience with me than he did with my brothers.
My parents were married close to twenty years when I was born and he still treated my mother like a queen. If she gained a pound, he would declare that he liked a woman he could grip properly. He attributed any good things that happened to her. They occasionally bickered but of course, she was always right.
It took my mother a good two years to recover. In today’s world, she would have had therapy and probably been medicated. Back then, you talked to your friends and sobbed in your pillow. I remember she tried smoking cigarettes but that didn’t work so well. It made her barfy.
I missed experiencing a lot of things with him but I never miss his birthday. Happy birthday Dad!