The older I get, the more I find myself acting like my mother or father – especially my father. This is good because even though he’s been gone for almost five years this month, I still have parts of him with me. You see, some memories have begun to dim a little and I cling to those I remember with crystal clarity.
My pops was a baseball player, umpire and minor league manager. He was with the Yankees, Braves and Brewers in various capacities over a 14 year career, yet never made it on the field in the majors. (Thank you Lou Gehrig.) I bring this up because when I was five, pops and I were in the backyard and he was teaching me how to throw and catch a ball. Apparently my aim at a young age was spot on and his catching sucked because I felled him like a giant Redwood. We didn’t play any more games after that, but I learned the inadvertent power of an accidental curve ball at an early age.
Thought: Dad’s favorite movie was “Pride of the Yankees.” He loved “Hogan’s Heroes” and couldn’t stand watching anything bloody or gory in movies or TV.
At thirteen, when I was nearing the peak of teen angst, my father morphed into a big, bad knight in shining armor. Now, he was an actual knight – bestowed on him by King Peter the Second of Yugoslavia. But this day was awesome. I had a teacher who believed yanking my hair when I got an answer wrong, spoke up/out or under my breath or even silently wished her dead was a good idea. As a result I cut my hair ridiculously short and punky (as it was the 80’s) to mitigate the damage. She actually pulled my hair out this one day and when I told pops, he marched on the fortress of that school and threatened to throw her out of her 3rd floor, un-air conditioned classroom window. She never yanked my hair again. My hero.
Thought: Pops did this one other time at his agency located near the top floor of a bank building. This led to an early “note to self” – don’t lie, cheat or try to steal your way to success.
Sixteen brought an accident on Halloween night. I BADLY burned my hands at work and the man that couldn’t deal with medical stuff sat in the room as the doctors helped heal my hands. The night he brought me home, he set a green glo-light next to the bed so I could see so as to not bang my useless appendages against anything and sat in his office outside my door for hours. He helped with a lot of things I had taken for granted.
Thought: Pops HATED purple with a passion – especially lavender. Mom and I occasionally wore it to tick him off. Purple became my favorite color.
The man that drove more than 2.5 million miles before his first accident taught me to drive. He was not a patient man and I STILL hear his voice in my head while parallel parking, breaking or backing up.
Thought: He loved Obsession cologne and I can’t ever smell it again without his face coming to my mind.
He walked me down the aisle when I was 23 and held my first daughter the following year. Eldest was soon followed by Youngest and he loved the girls in a way I couldn’t imagine until five days ago when I held my grandson for the first time. I just wanted to scream to Heaven, “Hey Pop! I get it now!”
I saw my pop slowing down, his back stooping over and his gray hair turning silver then white as time trudged on. His once big frame leaned out as he couldn’t really eat much any longer. He lived on milkshakes from Malcolm’s. I remember the day my dad became like my child and I loved him even more. I no longer took the knight for granted. It was my turn to care for and save him. But you can’t save someone from the grave.
When it came time to say goodbye, we had his friends come by hospice. My mother came. My sister Chris and her husband came. But…My oldest sister came and together we stayed with him at the hospital. We told him stories and sang to him for a couple of days. The night the nurse brought in a roll-away bed was the first night I slept in days. Dad waited until Ker and I were asleep to whisper his last breath.
I have hundreds of memories and moments throughout any given day when I suddenly do or say something that is “him.” God knows he wasn’t a perfect man nor a perfect father. He tried though and I think that’s what counts. But I wanted to share these with you because memories are better when shared.
If you love baseball as much as dad and my family do, here’s an interesting article on him from 2007 – two years before he left us. It’s about the changing of the game. Lance did a great job on it and I hope he doesn’t mind me borrowing the above picture of Dad and Gehrig’s signed Yankee photo. Baseball Changes from One Who Knows