Funny how things are. I wrote this on June 11, 2015:
My father would be 91 today. He lost his battle with Alzheimer’s on October 18. Every year, on his birthday, he would have a huge bash, from the time he was a little kid. He always had a party, never fail, year in and year out. The menu would always include BBQ, baked beans, scalloped potatoes, garlic bread, and slaw. Maybe it would include corn. Sometimes there would be watermelon. Every year, for 63 years, my mother would bake him a chocolate devil’s food cake with white, fluffy marshmellow icing. It all depended on the circumstances. He would party from his birthday to Father’s Day, expecting gifts and celebration on both days. Woe unto us if we did not. He required attention and pampering.
We would start at midnight, waking him up, doing as much as possible to keep him from going back to sleep. The effort would include anything from smoke bombs, music, banging of pots and pans, the dog peeing on the bed, to fireworks. One year we set the side of the house on fire, when a chain of M-80s shot up under the ceder shakes. A good time was had by all. There was a year I set off a confetti bomb. One year my sister put the baby in the bed, and of course she over-flowed a dirty diaper. Once we were sure he was wide awake, we left him alone. The moment he was asleep, again, we would do it all over again.
Something quite odd happened about a week after he died. Since the mid-1980s, I’ve been looking for his military records. He was in the Merchant Marines during WWII. His records were in one of the archives that burned. Nothing could ever be found of them. About a week after he died, I was in his office, looking for something. On his desk was a large plastic bag, about three inches thick. Inside it was every single military record, pay records, training, recommendations, pass port, you name it. Every thing was there. No one put it there.
The night before he died, we were battling with him to get him to eat. He nibbled, was a little agitated. While I was clearing the table, after spending several hours cooking, he wanted to pray. He sat at his place, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” Those were his last lucid words.
The Lord is good. My father never lost his dignity. He never lost who he was, even when we were well into Stage 6 of the disease. He spent his entire life following Jesus, never turning back.
I don’t want my father to be remembered because he had AD. He was so much more. He was a brilliant man, kind, compassionate, by preference he wanted to be abjectly lazy. He started working for his family when he was seven years old. His father, in real estate, lost everything in the Depression. My grandmother, who had lived the life of an upper class socialite in Minneapolis, sold her furs, jewelry, china, crystal, sterling, clothes, furnishings, and even the car. She dismissed her maid. Everything went into saving the house. My grandfather had a stroke, and could not work. It reached the point where they did not even have kerosene for her to cook dinner. My father sold paper flowers door to door, for a local woman. He earned ten cents commission, enough to purchase the kerosene Gram needed to cook their supper. He never stopped working – ever. He spent his entire life working for his family.
Every cent he earned during World War II, while he was in the Merchant Marines (and he made good money) was sent home to his parents. He used what he earned during the war to purchase a lot in Lake Worth, Florida. He and my grandfather built the house where Gram would live until she was in such bad shape they moved she and her sister to South Carolina. That was in 1974. He build Gram another house, where she died. He supported his brother. He supported us. He made millions, and paid millions in taxes. He made a fortune creating a ‘dirty job’ which would have caused even Mike Rowe to cringe in horror. (He created a formula for a flour, cornstarch mix to go into glue extender for plywood. It was a nasty job, especially in the rain, but, I think he had a blast doing it.)
My father loved the Lord. The last lucid thing he ever did was pray. His last real words were “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” That is how he lived his life. Funny about that. The ultimate good, Christian, conservative, Republican, his approach to the Sermon on the Mount was to pay for the babies of his employees babies. He paid hospital bills for babies he never even knew. He bought food for those in need. He built houses for people who would never know what it as like not to live in abject poverty, and arranged for them to pay for their land and houses, but never cheated them. He detested people who cheated those in need. He paid for surgery for people he would never meet. He sponsored missionaries, ministers, and ministries. Today’s social justice ‘christian’ liberal talks a good game about giving back. He lived it. There’s a difference.
When it came to my sister and I, he never raised his voice. He never punished us. He decided to spank my sister and I about something. We spent so much time laughing at him, he gave up and took a nap. That was his solution to stress, good times, exhaustion, financial difficulty, before Sunday lunch, after Sunday lunch, after lunch, before going to bed at night, and so forth and so on. He would take a nap. In fact, when he went to meet his Lord and Savior, he was doing just that, taking a nap. His passing was so peaceful, it took a few minutes for us to realize he was no longer with us.
When he wasn’t napping, he was reading. He loved westerns and cowboy books to the point where, as a kid, his local librarian banned him from reading them. She made him read other things. When I discovered this, one Christmas I bought him every single Louis L’Amour paperback available. He would read three or four westerns, a day, if given the opportunity. When he was deep into AD, we assumed he would not remember what he read, so we tried recycling his books. Forget that! He knew what he had read.
He loved his country. My father was patriotic, but did not play politics the way my mother and I would do. The only time he did the lobbyist thing, Strom Thurmond invited he and several others to have lunch with him in the Senate Dining Room. He was shocked to when they were joined by Teddy Kennedy and George McGovern. He was even more shocked to discover that he and George McGovern immediately ‘hit it off’, and spent several hours visiting, comparing been there done that notes about mutual friends back in Minneapolis.
His birthday was, from the time I could remember, akin to a national holiday. We were required to celebrate from June 11 until the following Sunday, which would be Father’s Day. One year, toward the end, I was low on money. I bought him books for both, giving them to him at his favorite Chinese restaurant (his favorite food) on Father’s Day. He was totally annoyed with me for not giving him gifts on both days.
Birthdays were to be celebrated with a huge picnic, at least twenty guests, BBQ baby back ribs, baked beans, cole slaw, scalloped potatoes, garlic bread, and maybe some BBQ chicken. His chocolate cake with marshmallow frosting was required. And – the menu never varied. Funny thing about that, he always helped clean up after his party. That was my father. I don’t remember a time when he did not automatically do dishes after dinner. My mother never asked him. He would tell my sister and I to help him. He would wash, we would be stuck trying, and we would do leftovers. He never changed. He always helped my mother clean. He was terribly helpful, collecting anything in a certain designated location for trash, including groceries and laundry. He vacuumed and shampooed carpet. He cleaned up after the dogs, cats, and my sister and I.
The one thing he could not do was plumb. It was the stuff of nightmares. I’ve incorporated them into the murder mysteries I’m writing. No one would believe it. And, yes, the infamous Christmas eve plumbing misadventure was all his fault. “You don’t think I’m capable of doing anything,” he would tell my mother. “I think you are capable of doing many things. You just aren’t allowed to plumb.” He loved tools. He was not allowed to play with them. He wanted a power saw, but my mother would not allow him to have one. He was also not allowed to own a chainsaw. Any tools he owned were locked away from him, with my mother hiding the keys.
Complex math problems could be calculated in his head faster than the average person could use a calculator. He had a near photographic memory for phone numbers. That’s one way we knew something was wrong with his head – he could no longer remember phone numbers.
As a child, he was known as The Little Shit. Strangely, enough, he was not prone to practical jokes. During WWII, he lived off his black market dealings so he could send his pay to his parents. There are a few infamous stories like the time he sold his entire uniform (it was time for a new issue) down to his skivvies. He and his buddies were shopping in some little town on some Pacific island. The governor invited them to a garden party, to meet his daughters. They told him the skivvies were standard issue for island wear. But – he was constantly falling for anything my mother would tell him, no matter how insane.
The year he turned 60 was no exception. My mother planned a huge party. She had a billboard announcing his birthday and age put up near his bank. She had it announced on the local radio. She had a flashing sign put out in front of the house, after he left for work. While he did errands, all over town, he couldn’t get over how people knew it was his birthday. No one ever said a word. When he arrived home from work, he was a little miffed because my mother was not working on his usual BBQ dinner. He and my grandfather were allowed access to a partial version of his annual birthday cake. When his cousin Tom, arrived, well, that was great. Tom was my mother’s favorite of all his relatives. I even think his brother drove down from DC.
He paid no attention to the catering trucks from Vince Perone’s in Greenville. He paid no attention to the band setting up in the back. He paid no attention to the tables being set up, or the fact that the caterer was in the kitchen, working on dinner. He was so busy visiting with Tom and his brother he finally realized a party was being assembled in the yard.
My mother asked if he could be that stupid.
He wanted to know why Vince Perone was there.
We finally explained it was his birthday and she was having a huge party for him.
Yes, he could be that clueless.
My father adored my mother’s parents. My grandmother Froehlich was want to say she thought he loved her more than his own mother. My grandfather Reidhead died in 1957. My grandfather Froehlich died in 1991. He had Grandy nearly thirty-five years longer than his own father. One thing he could never understand was a man who did not treasure his mother-in-law. They were very good friends. There were even times when he and my mother were arguing, that he would go to my grandmother’s house, and she would take his side! He would never allow anyone to say a cross word to Nana, treating her like a queen. They were very close friends. They traveled with us. He drove back and forth to WPB at least once a month, if not twice (a 600 mile trip one way) for my mother to be with her aging parents). He adored them. He had absolutely no respect for any man who did not stand up for his mother-in-law and treat her the way he treated Nana.
That was my father. Over the years, he had to adapt to my love of baseball. From day one, he kept telling me Chipper Jones was going to be in the Hall of Fame. I cried the day he became immortal.
He would be ninety-four today. I don’t mind admitting I am really pissed with him for the AD and for dying on us. Part of the cause of the AD was from PTSD from WWII. He never spoke about his service. We know he had two ships shot out from under him. He was a ship’s navigator, yet he could NOT read a map! As a Merchant Marine, he was never recognized for his service.