Today as we were driving home from church, the smell of an outdoor fire drifted into the car. My mind was transported back to my earlier years growing up in Western New York. As a child, I grew up in a house that had four levels. The very top held two bedrooms–mine and my parents. The next level down was the kitchen, dining room, living room, front and back doors and a room that served a variety of purposes throughout the years (den, bedroom, office, sewing room, etc…). The next level down we called the family room. It had a makeshift bedroom that was my brother’s room and an area with a couch, TV and rocking chair. There were also lots of storage cabinets in that area. The lowest level was the basement. Half of the basement was my dad’s workshop and the other half was my mom’s area. She had her washer and dryer there, cupboards for storing extra food and fruits and veggies she had canned, and an extra freezer.
What does all this have to do with being thankful for my dad?
One year, a very cold year, my dad had grown tired of the lower two levels of our house feeling like the arctic. He bought some red bricks and built a platform and enclosure in the family room and installed a wood burning stove. If the door between the family room and living room was closed, it would get so hot down there that it felt like the middle of summer. Whenever I smell a fire, it reminds me of my dad.
He was a hard working man who did not believe in vacations. Seriously. We never went on a vacation in all the 19 I lived at home. He owned a gas station and I was not given a choice of whether I wanted to work there or not–at age 15, I was put to work. (That’s okay though. It gave me good spending money and I met my husband there!) Labor Day weekend, while all my neighborhood friends were going away with their families to a fun destination, we were painting the house. I learned at an early age how to paint, mix cement, lay brick and mortar, drive a nail, and a host of other things most girls do not get to learn. His hands were always dirty with oil and grease from his job as a mechanic–back then gas stations did mechanic work as well. He worked long days and often into the night, and when he came home, we knew better than to make trouble. The 6:00 news was a sacred time as was dinner time. He wasn’t a fan of eating out either–that was a huge treat! He would do anything for someone if they asked, but don’t cross him–he could hold a grudge like no other. He wasn’t big on socializing either–the polar opposite of my mom. He enjoyed being alone much more than being with people. In that regard, I am very much like him. He loved his family and sacrificed for them. He was Zach’s best friend for many years. He would take Zach walking up and down the sidewalk in front of their house, stopping every time Zach wanted to pick up a stick or two.
The last 15 years or so of his life were spent in extreme misery. My dad had smoked cigarettes from the time he was an adolescent until he finally quit in 1990. But the damage was done. Emphysema settled in and would not let go. For the last few years, he was housebound, barely able to dress himself or walk from the living room to the bathroom in their small apartment. He needed oxygen all the time and could not walk stairs. He underwent a lung surgery to buy him time, and it did buy him several more years. It was actually a heart attack that claimed his life in June 2004. I did not get home in time to say goodbye. That fact has haunted me ever since. I flew home by myself the evening that he died. It was by far the most difficult flight I have ever made. I fought back tears as others around me talked of vacation plans. I still miss him so much and think of him every day. When I see a red carnation, his favorite, I have to smile. I hope he has a large garden to tend to in heaven.
I am thankful for his impact on my life. He didn’t run away when things got hard. He faced problems with determination and wouldn’t stop until a solution was found. He taught me what hard work was and also allowed me to ruin the shingles on the garage every spring, summer and fall as I bounced soccer balls or tennis balls off of it. Each year he would pound the nails back in. He had a wicked curve ball and would sometimes play catch with me in the backyard. He didn’t care what we did to the grass in the backyard–even allowing us to have a go-cart track back there–but don’t even step on the grass out front. That would bring a swift yell!
I miss him. I wish I could pick up the phone and call him one more time. I can’t, but I will be reunited with him some day in eternity. What a wonderful reunion that will be!
(Dad and I at our wedding in 1987)