Remembering My Dad

mjh0018My Dad died 40 years ago, 5/28/71. I had just turned 16 and we had just moved into a new house, a quirky fixer-upper that would become Pine Street in many memories.

Dad came home early that day in a cab, not feeling well. He went upstairs while I threw a ball against the back of the house for Barnabus, our St Bernard, to catch. The ball got slobberier and muddier with each iteration and a Pollack of brown spots broadened on the white stucco between windows on the second story. Those blotches stayed there for years. I heard a thunderous crash and ran inside to find my Dad prone on the landing where the stairs turned. He was unconscious but breathing. I tried to rouse him, then ran for the phone. I didn’t know what to do, so I called my sister, Elizabeth. (This was before 911.) She called emergency rescue. I sat on the steps near my Dad, listening to his last breaths. Rescue arrived too late to save him.

I remember when my friend Dave Stilwell came over the next day I said, in effect, if things seem weird around here today, it’s cuz my Dad just died. My first obituary.

My Dad was a farmboy who grew up to be an engineer and work for a series of communications companies, ending with Comsat. Mom loved to say it was his job to figure out the cost of the phone call between the President and the astronauts who first landed on the moon. By hobby, he was an excellent carpenter. Just this weekend, I saw a bench around a tree whose hexagonal design reminded me of a far-sturdier version he build for Mom years earlier. To this day, when I concentrate on certain chores, I whistle tunelessly just like he did.

Dad was a military man, proud of his service in Asia as part of the Army Corps of Engineers. He was a Colonel in the Army Reserves at death. Military service played a huge role in his largely-self-destruction. I have no affection for the War Machine. We need to outgrow the waste and destruction we celebrate too often.

I don’t remember crying when Dad died. We were unhappy with each other then. However, many years later, I wrote a letter to Dad, imagining he had outlived Mom and lived in Montana with dogs and a pickup truck. Then, I cried.

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