Taurus: The Bull

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.

My dad and his mom - one year old - May 1934
My dad and his mom – one year old – May 1934

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?

image courtesy of Space.com

14 thoughts on “Taurus: The Bull

  1. So hard when a close family member passes such as a father. My dad is still here and I’ll see him in a few weeks. Gonna have a few drinks and enjoy the weekend with him. Cancer survivor. Old Army guy. Retired with mom to Florida.

    Funny about jeans as we all wear them now. I can see your dad’s point of view though. They were a different breed back then.

  2. My dad died way too young (at 43). It was very painful on his “birthdays” for twenty years or so, now I feel like I have someone watching over me on the other side. How much do you know about astrology? Do you do charts?

    1. No, unfortunately, I don’t know much about astrology – I read my horoscope in the paper, if I remember. I am teaching astronomy to my 8th graders (13-14 year olds) and made the connection to the night sky with what could be seen and what was visible at the time of the year at out latitude….I got some looking up – so I call it a success. Teaching kids always gives me a topic to go deeper and connect to the real world. I learn a lot from my kids and they learn, too. It’s a fair trade. Thanks for stoping in – enjoy your week and look up.

  3. What a trip that must have been, to spread your father’s ashes. I suspect your Dad, being a reader, would have come around to the Internet. Mine, who is fortunately still around at 87, to my surprise, reads my posts, and even indirectly contributes He likes to see his stuff in print, but wants me to do it to guard his privacy. Funny. Putting on khakis today instead of blue jeans in your dad’s honor.

    1. That’s very cool – I wish my dad could read what I’ve written – though if he were around I might’ve written a bit differently. It so happened – as many things do – that 5/20 is also the anniversary of Levi and Strauss getting their jean design patented. Irony. I helped my step-mom step into the digital age a couple of years back, but she’s been resistant to getting on the iPad wagon of sorts. I wish I were closer to provide support and a kick in the you know what – she could return the favor. Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Hi Clay,
    It’s wonderful that you are taking back your story, one snippet, one photo at a time. Isn’t it ironic that by the time we are old enough to understand the importance, so many of the people who can help us fill in the history are gone? I thought the story about your dad and blue jeans was very telling. I’m guessing you could surmise a great deal more from little stories like that. I hope you are writing down every little memory!

    Here is a post about how I made my days count. It also started with a box in the attic, one that helped two families untangle a thread of family history.


    1. MakingtheDaysCount.org has sort of morphed into that with ramblings of the present intertwined with the past. When I visited my mom a month ago we sorted through photos and talked about their ancestors and found gravestones posted to the web. You are so right about not understanding the importance – I teach 8th grade and try to pass my lessons to my kids. I had a phone conversation with one of my student’s parents that brought a tear to my eye when they shared how they talk about what happens at school and the student complained about ‘my stories’ and getting off topic. the parent told me he thought it was the best part of what I do. A couple of weeks ago, I received a packet of photos from my step-mom of my dad and his parents – dating from 1933 – 1960? So, I’ll scan them and archive them and share them with my brothers….continuing to tell the story of how I got to be me. Thanks for stopping by. have a wonderful weekend.

    1. You are right, it’s a tough one. I always call my step-mom on those days to check in and check up. I call at other times, too so as not be obvious – but I am sure she marks the date as well. The older I get the more my present is intertwined with my past. I saw a quote in a book that read to effect – ‘the past determines your present and your present determines your future.’ Abraham Lincoln – but I’ve not been able to confirm it. My dad had his moments, like we all have – there are times when I feel like V2.0 of my dad. It’s gonna be a great day – pay it forward. Peace.

    1. It turns out there is irony involved as well – 5/20/1873 – 60 years before my father’s birth – Levi and Strauss patented their iconic design for blue jeans – a brass rivet and durable denim cloth. I shared the story with my students before class – I’ll be posting an addendum later this weekend. The older I get the more I understand my father and what shaped him and what shaped me. Have a wonderful weekend.

Thanks for visiting MtDC. How are YOU Making YOUR Days Count?