I once was given a mental picture of my fathers funeral. Not long after my father recovered from heart surgery he wanted to go hunting. He got all his gear together and found a place and announced to my mother he was going hunting. My mother strongly opposed this hunting idea. After much debate she ended and won the argument by saying, “Fine. If you go the woods by yourself and die out there, I will have you buried in a dress”.
My father was perfect. I had no idea he was perfect until I was an adult. I assumed all other fathers were just as kind and gentle and funny, full of knowledge and patient as ours. I was in the company of a hero and I didn’t even know it until I grew older and met the world.
My father was a photographer, historian, basket weaver, reenacter, fisherman, depression glass collector, animal sound mimicker and translator, bird watcher, singer, musician, gun maker, dulcimer maker and player, guitarist, lover of music and travel. He loved his wife and family.
Most of all he was a teacher.
“Hey girls! Look at the leaves turned inside out it’s gonna rain soon. Hey girls! Look at that ridge, a train track used to run through there. Hey girls! You see that plant right there, it’s Jewell weed. If you ever get poison ivy just rub some of that on you. Hey girls! If you cut a snapping turtle’s head off it can still bite you two weeks later. If you ever get lost remember that odd-numbered roads run north and south and even numbered roads run east and west. Always use a pocket knife with the blade away from you. Hey girls! Come look at this dead possum in the trunk….. well I think it’s dead. Hey girls! You see that tree? A big buck has been rubbing his antlers on it making those marks. Hey girls! Come listen, I got our dog to say ‘I want my mommy’.” He would make her growl and then move her mouth and I believed anything he said.
“Hey girls it rained really hard. Get in the car and we will go to Rinks and run through some puddles. Don’t tell your mother. Hey girls! Look up that’s the Big Dipper. Hey girls! I hear a steam train get in the car will go out route 8 about 80 mph and catch it in Silver Grove. We can put pennies on the track…….don’t tell your mother. ”
“Hey girls! Let’s go look for arrowheads.” My father would take us to the to freshly plowed fields on the river bottoms and we would follow behind him picking up every single rock and piece of flint that we found. Is this one? Is this one? Patiently he turned around and look at the rock in the palm of our hand “no that’s not one keep looking”. Is this one? His patience paid off when he turned around and there my sister stood with a perfect point in her hand.
I thought everyone’s dad threw a tomahawk in the back yard and made necklaces out of chicken bones. I spent the first eight years of my life sitting in his lap, brushing his hair, or just following him around. He rarely raised his voice to me even though I deserve his wrath most of the time. After I would spent my allowance foolishly he would always slip me an extra dollar or two.
“Don’t tell your mother”.
My father was a force to be reckoned with. He had a presence. Wherever he was there would be thunderous laughter. He was an amazing storyteller. Most of the stories were about adventures from the past and his childhood. He told real stories and tall tales to entertain us. He convinced grandchildren that an alligator lived in a shirt pocket.
Over the years I bought my dad ties razors and cologne, typical dad gifts. When I was in the seventh grade and I was walking to school up Taylor Avenue underneath the train trestle, I found a coin slug. I showed him when he got home from work he told me it was a quarter that must’ve fallen off of one of the train cars. It was probably headed to the mint to be stamped. He asked if he could have it and I gave it to him. He carried it in his pocket until last week. I think it may have been his favorite gift I ever gave him.
My father died in his sleep in late August 2015. His body died may have finally give. Out but his family watched him die with my mother in 2010. His death was not stretched out by cancer or some other horrible terminal illness. He died of a broken heart. He was lost. When he took his last breath, he was found. My father is happy again and with his love. I am sure of this.
Although I will miss him, I have joy that he is with my mother and his father who he never stopped missing. I am certain where he is and I am certain that I will see him again. Because of my dad, I have never struggled with knowing God as a loving, merciful and gentle father.