My Own Personal Catcher in the Rye

Slightly over a month separates the anniversary of my dad’s death and the remembrance of his birthday. This week he would have turned 94, and I often find myself wondering what kind of “old man” he would have been. Continue reading “My Own Personal Catcher in the Rye”

Always at the Bottom of the Slide

Resting up after some pool time.
Resting up after some pool time.
(That’s me in the middle.)

Over time, the memories we have of people can almost become analogies for who they are to us—especially those who are no longer in our lives to make new memories. We hang on tightly to those vital reminders of what is no longer tangible to us.

My dad died just after I turned 21, and I am now well past the mark where I have lived longer without him than with him. Thankfully, even with my fuzzy brain these days, I still have many important memories of him, as I’ve shared here before. Continue reading “Always at the Bottom of the Slide”

The Lessons We Leave Behind

Dad and meWith the recent experience of my mom’s health challenges, I can’t help but reflect on my dad. Though he died when I had just turned 21, I find him with me in one way or another on most days. He left behind many lessons for me. Some were life-shaping and some merely enriching in a smaller way.

Many of his life-shaping lessons were work-oriented. As a product of the Depression, he knew how important education was—he worked hard and cut every corner he could (like eating “butter sandwiches”) to put himself through college—and he would put his kids through, too. I always knew I was going to be able to go to college. What a blessing. Interesting that I was a teacher for several years and my sister teaches, too. Go figure.

He wanted his kids to work hard but be happy with their choices, so he made sure from an early age we knew that we should love what we do. The way he saw it, you were guaranteed to be working for at least a third of your life, so it would follow that you should strive to find something you enjoy doing. I am grateful for being taught that the world was wide open to me–I know many people don’t have that same kind of encouragement.

And he instilled in us that all work was honorable. Whatever your choice, be the best at it. One of his phrases was, “If you’re going to be a ditch digger, be the best damn ditch digger you can be.” Anyone who worked hard had his respect. Slackers, losers, and users did not.

Beyond the work ethic he instilled in me, though, he also had lots of other, lighter lessons to impart merely by example. For instance, he taught me that it’s perfectly normal to sing at the top of my lungs when I’m in the car. Alone or not. There were several times that my mom, sister, and I would be traveling in our car running an errand and we would pass my dad’s car on his way home. He didn’t see us, but we would see him—mouth wide open, head moving around as he belted out a number.

Understand: the man was not one to carry a strong tune. It didn’t matter. Though the line “dance like no one is watching” is popular today, my dad was ahead of his time with the embracing of “sing like no one is watching (or listening).” There have been many times I’ve been singing and bopping around at a stoplight to turn and see someone looking at me like I’m nuts. I just smile and keep on keeping on…I feel bad for what they are missing out on!

He also loved to laugh—big, hardy laughter—the kind where he would typically end up coughing because he was laughing so hard. I so miss the sound of that laugh, but I think my sister and I are doing an amicable job at carrying the torch on this one.

Of course, he wasn’t perfect, as no one is. One painful lesson I learned from him was the very specific “don’t wear shorts to play in a softball game.” (This was before it was common for girls to have shorts as uniforms and apparently be taught how to slide without ripping up their legs…still don’t get that one. Back then, we played in our jeans. Yeah. We’ve come a long way, baby.) One 100 degree day when I was 12, I begged him to let me wear shorts to my game. He explained the risks, and I said, “Don’t worry—I won’t slide,” and he told me that if I did get hurt, he didn’t want to hear about it. Well, as my life would have it, I hit a lovely triple that night that I greedily wanted to stretch into a homerun. Not only was I tagged out on the slide, but I had to pick tiny pieces of gravel out of my shredded thigh. It was freakin’ AWesome. He was so mad at me (and himself for not holding to his rule, I think) that he didn’t talk to me for three days. Lesson learned.

One of his universal lessons was “when you play, you gotta pay.” This worked for so many things…goofing off on homework, staying out late, drinking…whatever the case may be, he didn’t want to hear any whining if I was suffering from a choice I made like that. I now hear myself uttering these very words to my kid for various reasons.

It makes me wonder what lessons I will leave behind for my son. Will he, too, have memories that he realizes were lessons on how to make the most out of life? Or will he be at a loss if someone asks him, “What is one important lesson you learned from your mom?”

I know I can’t simply wake up and think, “Today is the day I will teach my son to understand the value of (insert lesson).” If that were the case, the poor kid would be facing a curriculum every day of things I deem worth knowing.

No, I think it is much more a matter of living life by example and purpose and praying that some of the good sticks (and that the bad doesn’t stick but still teaches something). I know a lot did with me and my dad. I hope my son feels the same way someday.

Ask Dad. He Knows.

Two cents' worth of shoelaces?
Two cents’ worth of shoelaces?

I fell in love with the movie It’s a Wonderful Life when I was just a little girl. Back then, they showed it numerous times during the holiday season, and it’s a safe estimate to say I’ve seen it close to 100 times…so I’m a tad familiar with it. I think most people are familiar with it, too, as well as the main themes of the movie. The ideas of “Each man’s life touches so many other lives” and “No man is a failure who has friends” are the one-two punches of the movie and still so relevant today.

But there’s lots more to be learned in this lovely movie, too—like don’t ride your shovel onto thin ice…a turntable can make one helluva rotisserie…whispering into someone’s deaf ear is a great way to admit your love without having them know it…it’s best to periodically check the floor when dancing…and the valuable tip from Uncle Billy that has served me so well in life: when drunk and in doubt, choose the middle hat.

Think you might be on your way to deliver poison? Best ask Dad.
Think you might be on your way to deliver poison? Best ask Dad.

Indeed, the film is loaded with life lessons, but there’s one in particular that I want to take a moment with, and the title of this post probably already clued you in. Ask Dad. He knows. When George is presented with the problem of delivering what he knows to be deadly “medicine,” he barges into a meeting and attempts to ask his dad what to do. Of course, later in the film you can connect the dots to know that the dad he really needs to ask about his big problems is The Dad of All, but his earthly one is pretty damned important, too. In fact, when George’s dad dies, it ends up shaping the rest of his life.

When I began my love affair with IAWL as a child, I had no idea the parallels that George Bailey and I would have, with a key one being that my dad died just about the same time of life as Peter Bailey left George. His chances to ask his dad disappeared, as did mine.

And, oh, the things I would have loved to ask my dad…Of course, plenty of serious life issues, but lots of others, too. Like how was “Oh, I trust you, it’s just your date that I don’t trust…” supposed to ever even appear fair? And why didn’t you wear shorts except for swimming? And couldn’t you have used another comparison instead of “poodle” when I got that one perm in junior high?

For the years lived without him, lots of questions from my 20s would have begun, “Dad, why do guys…?” and there’d be the specific one that asked, “What do you think of this guy?” In my 30s, I know one question would have been, “How do you like your new grandson?” And now in my 40s, I still find myself wondering, “what would Dad have thought?” about any variety of things.

But all of these questions are no longer possible to ask. So, my friends, I want to encourage you: if you still can, ask Dad—and ask Mom, too. From the silly to the serious, if you don’t ask…you’ll never know. Don’t let them take too many answers with them. After all, it IS a wonderful life, and the more we learn about and love one another, the better.