Earlier this week, I flew out to St. Louis to attend my father’s funeral (which was held in Illinois). Up until then, I was constantly going over in my head what I would say at his funeral. I knew I was going to read my poem at his funeral, but I also wanted to share some memories of my dad. I picked some of the memories which I thought represented the many different facets of my father. My dad was a complicated person. I take after him like that. I am a complicated person, too. There was no one-size-fits-all definition for him. He was different in so many ways. But all of those many different facets of my dad were what made him the kind of person that is hard to forget.
The other night, I was texting with my youngest sister, who was still back east. (She flew out of there yesterday.) We got to talking about the house we once lived in in St. Louis. Well, I lived there, with my parents and some siblings. This sister was not yet born. This house is where one of my other sisters was born. Well, my sister wanted to drive out to see the house. I told her that when we lived there, my dad and my Uncle Mike used to go down the hill behind the house close to the river and go fishing. I can still see it in my mind very clearly; I still remember them going down that hill together, carrying their fishing poles.
I also remember how, when I was a child, my dad often drove out to the Santa Anita racetrack to bet on the ponies. He loved playing the horses and he loved those horses, too. I can still remember reading those race line-ups in the race bulletins he brought home from there. I always liked reading the interesting names of the horses in the races. Not too long ago, I purchased a stein of the Santa Anita racetrack. It has pictures of the racehorses on it, too. I bought the stein because it reminded me of Dad, how he often went there.
Dad was often up bright and early in the morning. I always felt this came from his military days, when he was in the Army. He’d be up at 5 a.m. without fail every day. Sometimes, I woke up early to find him already at the kitchen table, drinking his coffee and reading the newspaper. He was always making the morning coffee, every day. That was his thing. He’d get up at 5 and make coffee. Well, I later started doing the same thing, but these days it’s 5:30 for me. But when I do that, I think of Dad and how that was his routine, too.
Dad took us to Disneyland a lot. He loved Disneyland. We all have a lot of Disneyland pictures with our parents in them. In fact, one picture on my wall is of my parents at Disneyland. Such good memories from those many visits. Of course, we also went to Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. Even Great America, when we lived in Northern California. But Disneyland always held a special place in my father’s heart.
My dad was born in Los Angeles proper and his mother lived there for a very long time. I remember trips out to L.A. to visit with my grandmother. Now every time I think of L.A., I remember those days of visiting there. Sometimes my dad’s brother, Bill, would be at my grandmother’s house when we visited. I remember playing card games with him. He always tricked me with that “52 Pick-up” game! We did live in Southern California for a very long time after Dad married my mom (who was from back east – she was born in Missouri but lived in Illinois too), but we never lived in Los Angeles proper. But we did drive out to L.A. a lot to visit my grandmother. Then it was also to the hospital out there in Sherman Oaks when I had to go see Dr. Grossman or to visit my older brother, who still lives in Southern California. (The thing I love about my family is that we have strong roots both in California AND Illinois. Apparently, we’re all a complicated bunch. There just is not one thing about us!)
My parents often got on each other’s nerves, as often happens with any married couple, and there was one time my mother almost married another man when she separated from my dad (though they were not legally divorced). But that never happened and my parents got back together. No matter what, my parents loved each other. My dad tried to make my mom happy. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and worked hard to cook, clean and care for us 7 kids even though she’d lost half her leg in the accident she and I had been in. But Mom was a fighter and she NEVER expected anyone to feel sorry for her or act like she had a reason to bow out of her responsibilities. Even when in a wheelchair, she did what she had to do. And my dad did what he could to make her job easier. He had us kids helping out around the house. Whenever my mom made dinner, he’d go around, gathering us all up and making sure we were at the table for dinner. If we didn’t listen, oh, we were in trouble. My dad was constantly on our backs until we got to that dinner table to sit down and eat.
I also remember how my parents often settled in for the night in their room, watching their shows. Star Trek, Hill Street Blues, Columbo and Trapper John, M.D. Dad often hid a bag of candy near his side of the bed (he had such a sweet tooth!) and he’d lie there with my mom, watching TV and eating candy from his bag. That was their thing every night. They would settle in and watch TV together. My parents also enjoyed watching movies together. He loved Casablanca. He also liked Bridge on the River Kwai, The Taking of Pelham 123, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, North by Northwest, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Man Called Horse and Three Days on the Condor. He also liked Cary Grant movies, James Bond movies, John Wayne movies, Clint Eastwood movies, James Dean movies and Alfred Hitchcock films.
Like my mom, Dad loved music. My siblings remember more about this than I do, especially since I became deaf when I was 13 and pretty much didn’t stay in the loop about the kind of music my dad liked to listen to. But what I do remember is that he liked Frank Sinatra (especially the song “My Way”), the Gatlin Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater and the Beach Boys. He also liked Elvis, although Mom was a MUCH bigger fan of Elvis than Dad was.
I remember the big steak dinners that Dad used to make. He was famous for his steaks. He made them really good and we always enjoyed those dinners. I have never had a steak the way Dad used to make them and I tried many times to learn how to make a steak like he did but I never quite got a handle on it. He also loved to barbecue – the hot dogs and hamburgers. His barbecue burgers were the best. And it was always a treat when Dad made his famous banana splits. My mom may have been the main cook in the house but my dad could cook a meal like nobody’s business. That was one of his talents. (HE WAS a cook in the Army.) He could cook up all kinds of things and it was always good. He even taught Mom how to make one of the dishes they served in the Army because he liked it so much.
Another thing my dad was good at was painting. He was a painter. He painted houses. I remember seeing pictures of him wearing paint clothes at some job site or another. Even my mom would occasionally paint with him before the accident. My husband even painted houses with him. Dad did odd jobs here and there – cleaning flus (he had his own flu-cleaning business once upon a time), putting up Christmas lights and working in construction – but Dad never really stopped painting houses, even in his last years. In fact, the last house he painted was the same one his funeral was held in.
Because we moved around so much, we didn’t often see all of our relatives as we grew up. But we did see many of them in the different places where we lived. My dad’s sister, Aunt Dot, lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, so we saw her often when we lived there. His other sister, Millie, lived in the California desert, in Indio, so we saw her a lot when we lived in the desert. Once my Aunt Pat and Uncle Bus visited my grandmother when she lived in Indio during her last years so we’d go out there to see them too. My Uncle Jerry lived in Southern California for a time, so we saw him and Aunt Lita a lot and my cousin, Joe, when we lived there. Dad would often get a phone call from Uncle Jerry and every time he took the phone to talk to him, he’d say in a loud voice, “Hey, Jerry!” My Uncle Jerry was so funny on the phone. If any of us kids answered it when he called, he’d talk in silly voices or pretend to be somebody else before finally admitting it was him. Dad would always laugh and he knew it was him.
Dad once had a huge sports cards collection. There were maybe thousands of sports cards from different sports. He had boxes of them. That was one of his big hobbies. He’d often pick up a Topps Magazine to stay updated on what cards were hot or which cards were rare collectibles. He really had some good ones. Some of us siblings even got in on that, too, and I learned a lot about the hobby of collecting sports cards. My dad and I both eventually lost our card collections but I’m always going to remember that about him. That and how he’d often sit at the table reading sports magazines.
Another thing Dad took interest in was koi fish. He used to have a huge fish tank with koi fish in it. He was REALLY into that! He read a lot about koi fish and taking care of them, as well as maintaining the tank, was serious business for him.
Dad also loved eagles. We often got him eagle things for Father’s Day or his birthday – eagle pictures, eagle plates.
If you asked my father what his religion was, he’d say “Christian.” But Dad never took anything at face value. He often reminded me about reading Bible passages very carefully, to pay attention to what was being said and how it could be interpreted. He had a HUGE Bible Concordance that was an exhaustive reference book about the Bible and he used it a lot. I’ll never forget Dad and his religious books. He didn’t just read the Bible; he studied it. He also read other books like Oahspe, the Apocrypha and The Dead Sea Scrolls in English.
Dad was curious about a lot of things. He was interested in herbal medicine and once made using plants and herbs for medicinal purposes a big deal for him and my mom. He often shared with me how certain herbs helped certain ailments. He was always curious about what kind of predictions people had for a year or for the future. He read those a lot. He also took an interest in the life of Nostradamus and his predictions. He was always fascinated about what people thought might happen. He even read his horoscope. He was just really intrigued by all of that. He also read about various religions and beliefs in the world. He would get into lengthy discussions with people about all kinds of topics – history, religion, cosmology and science – because of all the things he read about. Dad read every day – he read newspapers, magazines, tabloids, books and advertisements. He was really curious about a lot of things going on in the world.
I have so many good memories of my dad and I am grateful he was in my life. He taught me a lot and influenced me in a lot of ways. My dad was a fighter and he passed that fighting spirit on to a lot of his children. He was a creative, funny, smart and daring person who wasn’t ever afraid to walk up to strangers and strike up a conversation with them. Dad was the kind of guy you could rely on to fix something or take care of something. If you needed to talk, he was there to listen. He was the kind of father who was an ACTUAL father. He stepped up and took responsibility. He was there for his kids in whatever way he could be. Dad lived a wild and crazy life and he left a lasting impression in so many peoples’ lives. There are a lot of people who won’t forget him.
Now Dad is at rest and has found peace. He has gone to be with my mom now. Rest in peace, Dad. We love you and will never forget you.