Aunt Izzy remembers our Dad singing his favorite song on Sundays, his only day off. So, Izzy, this one is for you!
Dear Boo, today is a day that I try hard not to be sad. I try hard not to think of “what might have been” or thoughts of “what ifs or should haves”. Twenty-nine years ago one of the greatest men I have ever known, my Dad , died and that thought makes me so sad. So sad as I miss him dearly every day and wish he had had a chance to get to know his grandchildren and great grand-children. How he would have enjoyed himself and all of them! One memory Aunt Izzy has is of Dad babysitting with your cousin, Patrick. She came home to see a wonderful sight. There was a crying Patrick being held by his Grandfather, who was frantically trying to warm up is bottle. You were only one when he died, so I don’t have many memories of you and him together. However, I do remember the only Christmas present he gave to you. He asked what would I like for him to give you and I distinctly remember telling him anything but those awful “popping” pull toys. So, what did he get you? Of course, one of those awful popping pull toys.
Each and every person is much like an onion – we all have layers and layers that are peeled back to reveal more of our selves to others. My Dad was a man of many layers and in looking back at his life it is wonderful to discover some of these layers. One really important thing I learned from him is that there is one sure fire way to keep a person alive forever. You pay attention to that person and how they act in their life and how they interact with others. You will discover some qualities/traits that you admire and you then make those qualities/traits a part of your life. By doing this one thing the person you love and admire will forever be alive in your heart. And once they are alive in your heart they will live forever.
Lee Iacocoa is quoted as having said, “My father always used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, then you’ve had a great life.” If that is true, then, judging from the people at his funeral, my Dad had a super life. He was so likable that he drew people to him much like a magnet draws metal shavings. During his life it was common for people to continue to live in or near by to the area where they grew up. Naturally, the friends he had in grade school would continue to be friends throughout high school and their adult lives. What I find wonderful is that some of these friends have continued to be friends of his children, long after his death. They talk about him and share memories, all the while keeping a part of him alive. Now that we are such a mobile society, it is no longer common to have so many life-long friends. It must be such a rare treat to be able to visit with someone who knew him when he was a wee one. To hear tales of the naughty things my Dad would do and how he was able to sweet talk himself out of being in trouble with his parents or teachers. I remember having talks with him when he would say “there isn’t anything that my children can dream or think of doing that I have not already done”. It would be so much fun to sit with him now and test out that theory. He was a much loved and treasured man until the day he died by his mother, whom I remember her calling him “Sonny Boy”.
“Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.” (~Ruth E. Renkel~) I have no idea who Ruth Renkel is, but she must have known about my Dad, as this quote fits him perfectly. Several of your aunts have graciously allowed me to share with you, Boo, some of their memories of him. To the world he was just one person, but to his daughters he was the world. When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure and here are their treasures.
Aunt Izzy’s memories were of the times he raced stock cars at Playland Park in Council Bluffs. You can’t tell from the above photo, but in the early 1950’s it had a dirt race track. It was built in 1941 by the gangland czar Meyer Lansky as a dog track. About 1943 the mayor shut it down and it remained idle until 1947 when it became the race track. The bulk of the park was condemned in 1964 to make way for the interstate. He had an old car that he painted “67” on it as his racing number. The trunk of the car had a picture of Bugs Bunny and the side advertised another old school chum’s auto repair shop. We little ones sat in the grandstand with our mother waiting and watching to see our Dad race around the track. One time he was in a crash, but refused to go to the hospital in an ambulance as he did not want to alarm or worry his little girls. As the time went on and he had to use another car the number and Bugs remained on his car, until he “retired” and your Uncle Al took over the tradition. However, Dad still stayed active at the race track by becoming a flagman.
We were poor, but did manage to take several vacations. Aunt Izzy remembers the one to South Dakota where our Dad did some of the campfire cooking. One night he grilled us a big old juicy steak. This was a real treat for us, so I am sure we all gobbled it down in record time. It was only after our plates were cleaned that he told us it was a buffalo steak. I am sure that he feared if he told us first we would never have even tried the meat and it would have gone to waste. Wise man. He also made some wonderful baking powder biscuits every Saturday morning at his shop. Dang, how I wish I would have paid attention to his technique. I could have learned from the master!
She remembers how important family and family get-togethers were for our Dad. He was forever telling us that friends will come and go, but family is forever. We needed to treasure our siblings and be there for them through thick and thin. As we were growing up into teen-agers we always had to take one or two of our younger siblings whenever we went anywhere. When Izzy was old enough to get her driver’s license our Dad did buy her a car. She was the lucky one………for a whole year she did not have to share it with anyone else. However, the trade off was that she became the taxi driver for the rest of us and I am pretty sure that we used and abused that practice!
I, too, remember the trip to South Dakota, but not for the same reasons. The plan was to stop by our family’s cabin on the way home to celebrate the 4th of July. Our cabin was just a one room cabin with an outhouse out back. It was close to the Platte River, so several times during the spring/summer months it would flood. The extended families would always meet out there for the summer holidays. We would load up the back end of the pick up truck with bottles of soda, such a special treat for us as this was the only time we could drink soda to our hearts content. Mom, Dad and the youngest child/children would ride in the front and the rest of us urchins would get to ride in the back. This was long before child restraints or restrictions on riding in the back of a pick up truck. What a sight we must have been, five or six young children sitting on cases of bottled soda fighting for the two coveted positions of sitting on the wheel wells. It must have looked like the Nebraska version of the “Beverly Hillbillies” traveling down the highway!
But I rabbit tracked away from the vacation memory. Why I remember this trip is because on the way home I had my first visit from my “Aunt Flo”. That was bad on so many levels. First being that I had no clue as to what was happening to me and I am sure I thought I was dying. As if that wasn’t bad enough, since my mother did not drive once we got to the cabin my Dad had to go find a store to purchase my “supplies” and then, to make matters worse, he was the one who explained to me what was going on and what I had to do with these “supplies”. The final “coup de grace” was the fact that our Uncle Bill had brought his horses for us to ride and he came over to tell me that I could not get near the horses. As he explained, since he had male horses if they smelled “my blood” they would go wild. Good gracious!!! Did the entire family know my business?? I don’t remember the rest of that trip, except that I am sure, in young teen-age fashion, I went off in a huff and slept the day away.
Several other quick memories I have of my Dad is when he would allow his upper teeth, which were false, to fall down onto his tongue. He then took great pleasure in “presenting” his teeth on his tongue to any young child around. How he loved it when we would squeal in fear as to what we were seeing. He had tattoos on both of his arms. I remember on his left shoulder he had tattooed the names of our mother and all of us children. However, the real attraction for me was the mermaid on his right forearm. I remember all of us begging him to make her “dance”, which he would gladly do by flexing his muscle. Clearly this was long before television and he was cheap entertainment. Aunt Izzy reminded me that he made a mean pot of chili. Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if I could serve him a bowl of our “Jailhouse Chili” made with ground buffalo in his honor?
As we were growing up when we were naughty one of the favorite sayings of our mother was “wait until your father gets home”. In my young, weirdo mind, somehow I got the idea that was something really, really bad because if we were loud after we were sent to bed our Dad would call up the stairs for us to quiet down or “the belt will wail tonight”. Did not know what a wailing belt was, but I was pretty sure that it sounded like it would tear the flesh from our skins and I wanted no part of that! I was able to escape that corporal form of punishment until I was about seven or eight. A couple of us wanted to color and Aunt Izzy was the only one who had colors. Pretty sure I was the ring leader and took your Aunt Margaret and Aunt Bev along in my crime spree. During our color time one of us broke one of the colors and your Aunt Izzy ratted us out to our Dad when he got home. He asked us if it was true and we told the truth, yes we were guilty. We then had to lean over the couch and get ready. Get ready?? Oh Lordy! Get ready for what?? Was this going to be the “wailing of the belt”? Was our skin going to be ripped from our bodies?? I remember trying to hold my breath and hold back my tears, as I had been told by a friend that if you were not breathing or crying the punishment would not hurt. And, praise the Lord, it was true! I could hear sobs coming from someone else, but not me. The only thing I had felt was a feather-like substance hit my bottom. Oh, what a rat I was not to let my sisters in on this miracle. If I had only told them to hold their breath and not cry they too would not be having this pain. I uncovered my eyes and looked to my left and right to see which sister was crying. I was surprised to see that it was neither of them. What in the world was going on? So, I did my best impression of Reagan in “The Exorcist” and spun my head around to the back of my body to see if I could figure out who was sobbing. It was my Dad crying at having to discipline us. Bless his heart. He scooped us all up in his arms and told us he was sorry and that he loved us. To me my Dad was the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in his face, kindness in his eyes, and kindness in his smile. He taught me to never love anything that cannot love you back. He was always making sure he said “I love you” and showing that he was not too big to admit he was wrong and ask forgiveness.
Your Aunt Bev shares her memories of the motorcycle rides. We could hear him coming home and would race to the top of the hill to stand in line for our turn at a motorcycle ride. All of us, except your Aunt Margaret, would sit behind him, holding him tightly around his waist as we roared down the hill towards our home. Margaret only one that would stand up on the seat behind Dad. I am thinking that it must be the Rivers side of our family genes coming out in that girl. Our Uncle Jonny Rivers had a family business were they toured around the country with their diving mules and the children would perform tricks on horses. I remember their daughter, Nancy, would stand bareback with each of her feet on a different horse. Holding on to the reins she would race the horses in tandem around the arena. Her brother Tim would do the same thing, but once he circled the arena he would end his ride by jumping the horses over Uncle Jonny’s convertible. If Dad drove his car to work we were able to take turns “driving” the car home. By “driving” we mean that we would sit on his lap with our hands on the steering wheel, while he maneuvered the gas and brake pedals.
Aunt Bev also shares that our Dad worked hard, manual labor either for the local utility company or at his gasoline station. When he got home all he wanted to do was to sit down in his recliner, take off his boots, and watch television for just a bit. One way he had to spend one-on-one time with us way to pay us a quarter to take off his boots. Your Aunt Bev was not too fond of the smell of his feet, but she did want that quarter. So, she learned how to quickly remove his boots.
Growing up is very hard and not only would our siblings pick on each other, but there was always teasing at school. As children do, we would find the thing that was the most different with someone and use that difference as the tool of ridicule. By the 9th grade she was tired of being called names because of red hair, so she died it brown. Your Aunt Bev was blessed (or cursed in her opinion) with beautiful, red wavy hair and white, creamy Irish skin. Dark brown hair and really fair skin do not look well together, as a matter of fact it made her look sickly and anemic. Dad gave her $20 to get red back. Aunt Bev had a nickname for our Dad. She called him “Daddy Dumplings” and even had that name put onto a t-shirt for him to wear. He was always so proud of anything we did or gave to him.
Aunt Charlotte, also, remembers his discipline. He would say it hurt him more to hit us, then it did for us to be on the receiving end. Charlotte never understood what he was talking about, until she became a mother. Now that she is a parent she fully understands what he meant and how true his statement was. Another memory of her’s is when ever we fought with each other, Dad would make us sit on the couch and hold hands. That was all it took to stop us from fighting with each other. Who wants to sit and hold hands with their brother or sister!
She will always remember how much he loved all of his children, always wanted us around and how very important family was to him. He loved all of us with such joy and pride that it lit up his face every time we were together. “Your friends will come and go but you will always have your family” was one of his sayings that he was forever telling us. As a teen-ager it was hard to believe that, but as we are all getting older we do see the wisdom he was sharing with us by telling this to us.
Aunt Teri, being the baby of the family has memories that are a bit different than the rest of us. By the time she was born we were all about ten years older, so we saw things through our “adult” filter. The one family vacation she remembers is our trip to Colorado when she was about seven or eight. She remembers the terror she felt coming down Pikes Peak, with Dad hitting foot on the floor board saying he didn’t have any brakes. In her sweet, little mind she could see her whole family driving off the side of the mountain to their death. Me? As a snotty teen-ager all I can remember is have ten people and luggage all crammed into one station wagon that was pulling our pop-up camper. How our parents were able to scrimp together money to take us on trips will forever be a mystery to me. Our Dad was a man that was kind and generous and a man that made sure that his family was taken care of even if it meant he had to sacrifice something important to him.
One time, she remembers, he stayed home from work and made Indian bread. This was her first taste of that delicacy and no other Indian bread has been able to match that time. Then there was the time that Dad and Uncle Bill were pouring a new sidewalk outside our home on 26th Street. They used a 2×4 to slide over the wet cement to make it level. To their frustration they kept getting lines down the wet cement. Aunt Teri claims that she was just standing there watching, but I know that she was just waiting for them to leave so she would have her chance to write her name in the cement. She could do that and not get in trouble, because she was the “spoiled, little baby who could get away with murder” and we were all jealous of her! As she was standing there she could see and hear their frustration and could see that there was a nail sticking through the board, but could not tell them. She just watched until they finally figured out what was the problem
Mother Teresa said “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” Our Dad had that down pat. I cannot think of any time that we never left him without feeling better and happier. That is a trait/quality that we all should work on to improve our lives.
Dearest Sisters, thank you so much for your willingness to share your memories with Boo. My hope is that through our memories she will get a chance to know our Dad.
I found this poem several years ago on the internet and I searched to find out who is the author. It is a beautiful poem and I wanted to be sure they were given credit for their work, but I found various authors that the credit is given. So, I thank either Norma Cornett Marek, or George Michale Grossman or Unknown………your words very much echo my Father’s sentiments. My lesson from this great man.
If I Knew~
If I knew it would be the last time that I’d see you fall asleep, I would tuck you in more tightly and pray the Lord your soul to keep.
If I knew it would be the last time that I see you walk out the door, I would give you a hug and kiss and call you back for one more.
If I knew it would be the last time I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise, I would video tape each action and word, so I could play them back day after day.
If I knew it would be the last time I could spare an extra minute I would stop and say “I love you”, instead of assuming you would KNOW I do.
If I knew it would be the last time I would be there to share your day, but I knew you’d have so many more, so I let this one slip away.
For surely there’s always tomorrow to make up for an oversight. And we always got a second chance t make everything just right.
There will always be another day to say, “I love you”, and certainly there’s another chance to say, “Anything I can do?”
But just in case I might be wrong and today is all I get, I’d like to say how much I love you and I hope we never forget.
Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike. And today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved one tight.
So, if you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today? For if tomorrow never comes, you’ll surely regret the day.
That you didn’t take that extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss. And you were too busy to grant someone, what turned out, to be their last wish.
So, hold your loved ones close today and whisper in their ear. Tell them how much you love them and that you’ll always hold them dear.
Take time to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me”; “thank you”; or “it’s okay”. And if tomorrow never comes, you’ll have no regrets about today.
Thanks, Norma, George, or Unknown. Your inspiring thoughts causes in me Joy Rising.