Today would have been my father, ” Pa’s”, 85th birthday.
Pa was a wonderful man who had a difficult childhood with a loving mother (who hailed from Germany), but an alcoholic father. He spent his first decade growing up during the Great Depression. Life was difficult, and he was forced to drop out of school before graduating…but he valued education, and so he completed his diploma and became the first and only person in his family of origin to earn a Bachelor’s degree. He was almost forty years old when he achieved that goal, but he never gave up.
At seventeen, he left home to serve his country honorably as a U.S. Marine, traveling the world and working on one of the Truce Commissions for the United Nations in Palestine, prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.
Ultimately, he met, fell in love with, and married my mother, raising a brood of seven daughters and relishing the family he had always wanted more than anything.
He was there for me through thick and thin, always available to talk over anything (even matters of boys and dating!), engaging my intellect and my philosophical, spiritual nature as well, with our discussions of existential topics, like where animals fit into the matter of eternity, whether it’s possible for human beings to comprehend “infinity,” quantum physics, the idea that everything in the universe might be connected, and even philosophers, like Spinoza, who had offered their thoughts on some of those issues in earlier centuries.
Even through all the years after I married and had children of my own, we’d have long talks when I’d go home to visit, sometimes staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning just enjoying the time and the conversation.
He was the kind of father every child dreams of having: loving, honorable, firm and even demanding when necessary, but also thoughtful, courageous, and kind. As much as he loved his bustling, lively family, he also enjoyed solitude and spent many happy hours in Nature, gardening, fishing, cutting trees, building the red shed, the entire upstairs of the homestead, the garage, the little camp out in the woods, and countless other buildings, furniture, and even clocks. He was a master at whatever he did, and he inspired all of his girls to develop focus, attentiveness, and a work ethic that would serve us all well in our lives.
He also loved music, and our house was filled with all kinds, from classical, to “Mashin’ The Classics”, to “pop” artists such as The Carpenter’s, Mary Hopkins, and Louis Armstrong. One of his favorite pieces of music was “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin. He told me of the first time he heard it, as a young Marine stationed in California. When I’d asked him to give me more details, he wrote me a letter to explain. That letter appears, by the way, along with a few other letters he wrote me over the years in my highly fictionalized, very loosely autobiographical novel Moose Tracks on the Road to Heaven.
It was the last song we listened to together in the weeks before he died, and I listened to the whole thing on the way into work this morning, in his honor. Happy Birthday, Pa! You are still loved and missed more I could ever express with the words you taught me to cherish – those notes in the music of language. ❤
Here’s a link to hear “Rhapsody in Blue” for yourself, if you’re so inclined!