My dad was a Taurus. Today would have been his 82nd birthday. He passed away after a brief illness on July 20, 2009. He was 76, too young. His passing took me by surprise, though if I had been paying attention I would have known, or at the least been more prepared, more ready.
It seems like just the other day, but it was almost six years ago. It was at the end of the school year and I remember the entire event unfolding in slow motion in my memory, as if it were yesterday.
A year after my dad passed away, my brothers and I escorted his cremains to France and spread his ashes where he wanted to spend eternity in the countryside of northern France. Since that summer, I’ve been on a quest to recapture and gather my history, my story – who I am, where I have been, and where I am headed. In a way, MakingtheDaysCount.org has been my journal and my travelogue.
This past spring we took a trip to Washington, D.C. and on our way home, we stopped in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my dad’s parents are buried. It was my side trip. I had never been to the cemetery. I was too young to have gone to my grandfather’s funeral and there was no service for my grandmother when she passed away several years ago. My mom and my step-mom were instrumental in helping me find my way to their gravesite; and since that trip, I have questioned both of them about my dad’s family. It’s been over forty years since my parents divorced and my mom’s memory of my dad’s parents is understandably fragmented. My stepmother’s memory is equally patchy because she married my dad after my grandfather passed away and she and her mother-in-law, my grandmother, had limited contact. However, my stepmom had my grandparent’s photos. A couple of weeks ago an envelope arrived in my mailbox and it was full of photos of my dad and his parents. I sifted through the photos and found notes from my grandmother to us three boys. I need to spend some time and make copies and forward them to my brothers – if they read this – which I doubt – they’ll discover I have some photos, I haven’t disclosed. Sorry, bros.
My dad was born in the middle of the Depression, a couple of months after FDR took over the helm for his first term. He was born in West Virginian coal country in Huntington. Life was very difficult for him – his parents divorced and his mom remarried when he was in grade school. His step-dad – the man I know as my grandfather – adopted him when my dad was in his teens. He had a difficult relationship with his mom and it spilled over in to my relationship with him. It turns out I was just as bull-headed as my Taurus father, despite being a Scorpion. His tough upbringing branded him in a way I am only just beginning to uncover and understand. I remember his busting my chops about wearing blue jeans when I was in my twenties. I asked him why he couldn’t understand or cut me slack and he looked me dead in the eye with the coldest iciest stare, and he said:
“Sonny, I worked my ass off, so I’d never have to wear blue jeans.”
He never did wear blue jeans.
He graduated high school sixty-five years ago this June and he went off to college, graduating in 1958 after a three-year stint in the Marine Corps from 1953-56. He met my mom in 1958 or 1959 and they married in 1960. The rest, they say is history, my story. Regardless, today would have been his birthday. I’ve been blogging for almost five years and I wonder what he would think about this space or this post. He never did like the internet, despite being an early adopter of the personal computer. He loved basketball, especially his alma mater Kentucky and enjoyed playing golf. He was a book collector, an avid reader, and amateur historian. We talked history and politics. I remember arguing, being lectured; and learning. He was a complex person, which I am still discovering six years after his passing, and today would have been his birthday. Happy birthday, dad.
Out of the corner of my eye, I am watching the Blackhawks and the Ducks play hockey and it’s late, very late. Usually at this time, I am looking at the inside of my eyelids and sawing logs. I’ve planned tomorrow’s lessons, I am ready for Wednesday and whatever it brings. Today is gonna be a great day, possibly a million and six times better than Tuesday, so I had better finish this post and get to sleep. The Hawks can wait – they’re into the third period of overtime. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, because that’s the way it comes.
How do you handle a loved one’s birthday after they have passed away?