Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Remembering Dad: Wild Blue and Yonder

38 years ago on August 10th, 2 weeks before my 14th birthday, my Dad died at age 44. Several months earlier, we all were living in Greece which was where my folks laid on the last straws and separated. It was a really unhappy time for everyone. My Mother's last words in person to him: "I hope if you ever lay eyes on me again, I'm laying in my coffin!!" Melodramatic, yes, but their marriage was breaking up.

I never got any great opportunities to bond with my Dad. Out of the nearly 14 years of my life, he had been gone probably for 5-6 years -- I'm talking about him being stationed somewhere without his family, and in some cases it was time preceding or following our time there. One of the places he did about 18 months to 2 years was up at the North Pole, a Cold War radar station built to watch for incoming Soviet missiles, a site now famous for the toxic waste it left behind.
Balance that out with Honolulu, Johnston Island, Germany, Athens, etc. and it's not so horrible. Well, alright, maybe it is...

Anyway, we were separated and I was with my Mother in Albuquerque again. I think they were planning to be reunited again when he got back, at least I never heard anything to the contrary. We were going to be stationed in Grand Forks, ND. Gah!!! Nobody was looking forward to that one!!

Our Greek friends had been sending letters full of worry over his health, especially his heavy drinking and generally letting himself go. He was always a heavy smoker and drinker of both booze and mass quantities of coffee. He always seemed to be in buff condition to me - never fat, always strong, but he had been through and survived plenty of things in his life. There had been a horrible car accident that had left him in a coma for nearly a month, and lots of cool scars on his face (I thought he was handsome, I never thought those scars made him look bad). Besides the scars, he seemed to be plagued with some incidents of narcolepsy after the accident -- falling asleep crossing the street, keeling over in his mashed potatoes -- stuff like that, but those had eventually stopped. Then there that little skirmish called WWII (the main reason he went in the service in 1941, it also gave him a break from his rural life with 8 siblings and gave him a career). The last big thing he survived was the Greek coup of 1967 where he was actually almost executed at the side of the road with a gun to the head until they decided not to do that to an American serviceman.

August 10th was a weird day. My mother was very emotional and neurotic (always), and that morning she was worked up into an agitated nervous state where she was weak and having heart palpitations so she had gotten checked into the base medical hospital. Her EKG was irregular. I was in the waiting room with my Aunt and Uncle. Pretty soon, a chaplain went in and visited her, and we were called in. She said to me "Honey, do you know why this man's here?" I said, "It's Daddy isn't it?". I knew it instantly, never even thought it was going to be her. I have scary flashes of intuition sometimes. He was dead of heart attack.

Ironically, he himself had an EKG that same morning, which turned out fine. The EKG was routine, part of the business of going through transfer. He was in the airport in Athens, waiting for the plane that would have brought him back when it happened. It must have been excessive stress, the anxiety of reuniting with a family where there was sure to be more conflict than anything else, they were still a long way from working out the problems. That's all I can figure, other than the poor diet, drinking and (I found out later) early signs of emphysema. His own father and an uncle had also died at age 44 (and one of his brothers died 5 years after he did, also way too young), the hearts in the family seem to be the main downfall.

I wish that I'd been able to get to know him better, I've wondered what it would be like to talk to him as one adult to another. Sometimes I do that in my dreams. It's no substitute for the real thing.

I grew up without any more "Dads" because my Mother never really formed any more relationships beyond an occasional disastrous date or longer-term cases of con-men trying to get our insurance money.

I can't really do him justice with these few paragraphs here, but I will say that I still miss him after all these years, and am sorry that there are not more people who will remember him. His brothers and sisters are all gone now, save one, and even if I'd had children they would never have met him. Young Jack Nicholson and Robert Duvall remind me of his looks and personality. The older versions will never be him. His final rank was Tech Sergeant, USAF, a.k.a "Sarge". That's a good enough way to remember him. I've put a few more details in the comments.

1 comment:

Blueberry said...

Just for the record, my Dad's name was T/Sgt William (Bill) Blessing. He was born and now rests in Makanda, IL. His real given name at birth was Junior Bill Blessing, even though his father's name was Fred, but he changed it officially when he went in the service.

He was a most excellent carpenter, specializing in cabinetry and furniture. he was also great with motors and machines and loved to tinker with those things. He made us a spin-painting machine out of a washing machine motor and misc. other parts. Not bad for someone who got his G.E.D. in the military.