January 3, 2018
On this day, especially, I remember my father, who passed away when I was eight and a half years old. That was 55 years ago, on January 3rd. He was only in his forties, and he died of a stroke. Just a month or so before, he’d had a heart attack, and was not long home from the hospital when he left us. My memories of him aren’t many, as I didn’t have him in my life for very long, and I imagine the trauma of losing him had an affect on my memories as well. Mostly, looking back, I see freeze-framed moments, mere snapshots of the life I lived in those few years when I had two parents.
In 1963, children of 8 years old weren’t as sophisticated as they are today—at least, I sure wasn’t. We had school, and we had some television. Not much beyond Saturday morning cartoons and whatever was on before eight p.m. on a week night. I watched whatever it was my parents watched, and there for sure wasn’t much objectionable on the airwaves in those relatively early days of television.
I don’t think that life, in general, was necessarily more innocent in that day and age than it is today. But for a kid living in a rural community, with no community resources near-by, no “outside influences” beyond my little three-room school, no Internet, no social media, no cell phones—well, life sure was a lot more sheltered compared to today.
I sometimes wonder how I would have grown up differently, if I hadn’t lost my father at so young an age. Certainly, between my parents, he was the more affectionate of the two. He would read to me at night, and tuck me into my bed. As a matter of fact, one of my earliest, most vivid memories of him was his doing exactly that, tucking me into my bed. In the winter, my dad would put me in that crib, then take my sheet and blankets out to the living room where, one at a time he would warm them on the oil space heater, and then tuck them close around me.
I would have been three or four at the time. And yes, I was still sleeping in a crib at that age—ours was a small house and my parents, my sister, and I shared a bedroom in those days, so there was no room for an extra bed. My paternal grandmother had the second bedroom, and the vestibule by our front door was converted into a sleeping area for my brother.
As I said, I sometimes wonder how I, and my life, would be different if only…but of course, you can’t change what was, and to covet to do so would be to wish, in a way, to surrender all the good of your “what is”. Things happen in life to all of us, and for better or worse we are shaped by those experiences.
I do know that my father, when he was a young man, was a writer. I recall a family friend, a man who grew up with my dad, once told me “wherever Jack went, he always had a note book and pencil with him”. I have some of his work, all that survived that long-ago time when the young man who eventually became my father would craft stories and poems. He stopped writing after his own father died when he was seventeen or eighteen, and he had to leave high school to go to work to support his mother.
It truly was a different world back then. Not better, or worse, necessarily. Just different. How my father’s life changed by the passing of his own dad had a direct affect on how my mother responded when toward my brother, when our father died. My brother was eighteen at the time and in his second to last year of High School. And while it was still common for young men of that age, in those days, to leave school and work to help support the family under such circumstances, my mother refused to consider that option. My brother was to stay in school and go on to college—it was what my father had wanted for him, and what my mother insisted upon.
My brother is now seventy-three, a retired elementary school teacher who attained a masters degree in education. I’ve never asked him if he ever thinks about the sacrifice our mother made for him, because he and I, though we love each other, are different people with different perspectives and different world views.
I do my best to appreciate each new day I’m given. Family history has shown me that life is short and uncertain. So I do the best I can, and treat people as kindly as I can.
I live with an attitude of gratitude and know, for me, that is the way I was meant to be.