On the night my father died I was walking mom up the stairs and waiting for her to unlock the door, I saw a fox running down 167th street right in front of our house. I have never seen a fox in Hessville, Hammond, or any other street in America for that matter. Of course dad used to hunt all sorts of animals, including fox. That night driving home it was a little comforting remembering seeing that fox run down our street that night. Perhaps it was the animal world paying homage to an old worthy foe, or maybe even something more, or perhaps nothing significant at all, but it may be significant to some, so I thought I would share this morning.
Dad loved talking about his glory days of hunting when he was younger, hunting all day all over Northwest Indiana, running through the vast fields and forests, some of which are now long gone and replaced by shopping centers or subdivisions. He would come home to the farm for home cooked meals. Running in those fields all day got him very hungry, and he would work up an appetite. And, yes he could run too – he could “run like the wind” he would say. I’m sure he could, from working on a farm all day and hunting animals down, he must have been a great athlete as well as a great hunter, and I loved waking up early in the morning to go hunting, I could feel the excitement and I knew my dad knew what he was doing. He taught me that you could also hunt mushrooms. Hunt mushrooms? Apparently, you need to know what you’re doing, where to find them. Which ones to get. He’d come home with buckets and buckets of mushrooms. I didn’t like them back then, but they did smell good. He was a great outdoorsman. He knew how to work the land. He had a nice small garden which I have the fond memory of getting vegetables and bringing them for mom to cook for dinner. He also had the greenest lawn in the area. He was outside watering his lawn every night in the summer, just standing there with the hose. I never knew why then, but I know now that he took pride in his lawn. It was work after all, and there is honor in work. Even something as simple as taking care of your lawn. He knew and taught me that it increases the land value, not only for us, but for the whole neighborhood. He was a dedicated, hard working man, and he worked as long as he could physically do so.
As long as I can remember, I always beat him in arm wrestling. But, I know he let me win when I was younger. That’s what dad’s do. I always loved wrestling with my dad. Even when he was too old and arthritis was tearing through his bones, he still gave it a shot but it was too easy then. But I kept on him, even at the nursing home in his final months I tried riling him up for an old arm wrestling match, just for laughs and old times sake, I think I got a little smile out of him. He loved playing Checkers, electronic battleship, and ping pong. I don’t think he ever refused a challenge from me. Not even at the nursing home, when he could barely move the pieces on his own, he gave it a try. At one point he was beating me there, here he is barely able to talk and he had one more piece than me, and I was good at checkers! But he taught me everything I knew. We played hundreds upon hundreds of checkers games. I wasn’t taking it easy on him either, but we couldn’t finish because it was a bit too much for him, and I knew. I was just glad to be able to squeeze a few more moves in with him.
I don’t know how many times people thought dad was my grandfather, but I never had any problem of correcting them as long as I could remember. After all we were “buddies” and we’d go everywhere together. We often went out to eat, at Chuck and Irene’s for fish dinners on Fridays, or Ponderosa or Sizzler on the weekends. Some other old favorites were Pepe’s and House of Pizza. He’d take us shopping to Southlake Mall, Woodmar Mall and anywhere in between.
He always bought the top of the line stuff, he taught me that too because the stuff that was cheap often broke and ended up being more expensive in the long run. He taught me a lot of things, some things I still haven’t quite yet grasped, after all he has a good 50 years on me and I’m on my first, but somehow he always provided for his very large family. I think when he was my age he was running a house with, what, 6 kids already? I’m not sure exactly, but I know I couldn’t hold a candle up to him in that department. This man grew up during the end of the Great Depression, he must’ve learned a trick or too going through that. I couldn’t really imagine what that was like. At the time of writing this I am on my computer at home with my duo 2.0 GHZ computer processors with a 23” widescreen computer monitor. Yet my dad had to help his dad sell newspapers in Chicago so they had food on the table. I know my dad didn’t have it as easy as I did and I know that I wouldn’t want to walk in his shoes, I know he dad was loving in that he wanted me to live a better life than he did, as all good dads would want.
Growing up, we always had food on the table. He was a great cook alongside Mom. He could make some great dishes, and some not so great dishes also. Some of us might remember his Spanish Pork Chops, or the Tripe soup, or Cha-lin-A. (Czarnina). When my friends asked what we were having for supper and my dad said Walleye, they laughed as if we were “weird”. After all, what little kid in Hessville eats Walleye for dinner? Well I guess if you’re parents were 40-50 years older than you, you did. That was some of the benefits of having old fashioned parents, they didn’t have frozen foods growing up, they had to cook real meals. But, then again, I was always skinny. From looking at those old pictures of him when he was around my age, I think I definitely got some of that from him.
Many of us remember the many camping trips we went on. My dad took us camping so much I can’t remember everywhere we went. There are many memories from camping, fishing on Lake Michigan. I had the greatest Lake perch in my life from fish we caught off the lake in Cedar Falls Michigan. Dad knew how to gut them, something I never got the guts to do myself, and we’d cook them on the grill. He could do stuff like that, something I learned to admire. He did a lot of thing I was always a little squirmish about. Like tearing the skins off of squirrels we hunt and then eating them. I grew up in a different era, and some of my peers wouldn’t ever imagine eating squirrel, but you definitely learn a few tricks living with someone who passes for your Grandfather.
Dad took me all over the nation, I can’t remember every place we’ve been to, but the ones that stick out are Raccoon Lake, Turkey Run, Cooperstown, the air force museum, Washington DC, and the California trip….. which I’m told I was too young to remember, but I think I might have a few vague memories, like the old Station wagon overheating out there in the middle of the hot sun, and some freezing nights in the pop up in some unknown state out West. He showed me as much of the world as he could through traveling and I always appreciated it.
How he had the money to do it, I’ll never really know. I’ll never know how he supported so many children. He found a way – Just like I must now. Whenever I feel like not going to work at 5:30 in the morning, let me just think of my dad working all sorts of odd hours in the mill for 38 years straight. I don’t think that was an easy job either, being a millwright. But he must’ve been good at it. He was always fixing something around the house. He had so many tools that it would take me a lifetime to even get to know what they all did, let alone know how to use them. Many times I remember going to Lindys hardware to pick up something, because something was always broke. I think he could nearly fix anything, until he got older when his hands failed him. When that happens, him and the dad from “A Christmas Story” seem all too similar, however some of the curse words he came up with, were, well.. you know. And he had a voice on him, It was possibly the loudest voice I’ve ever heard in my life. He could scream at me from at least 4 blocks away and I would hear him and I knew he knew I heard him too, no matter how often I attempted to ignore it. When you get yelled at that loud, you have no choice but to come home.
Throughout my life, I learned that I should’ve listened to my dad more. I guess we all do this and end up going our own way, then coming back. The prodigal son isn’t famous for nothing. But there are many things this old man has taught and will teach me. There’s still a lot to learn, he left me with so many stories that they will resonate as long as I can remember, partly because he told me every story dozens if not hundreds of times.
I realized after growing up that dad had his own way of doing things which was much different than the rest of the worlds. There are many lessons I have learned and will still continue to learn from my dad. I know if I look hard enough, there are lessons about sacrifice in my dad. Lessons about honor , courage and strength. This is what a father is for and while we had our hard times, we wouldn’t know the good times from the bad if the hard times weren’t there. There’s many things I appreciate in my dad, he was unique in every way I could imagine. He left his imprints on me in many ways and if there’s any good qualities that may come from me at any given time, yes mom you could be most definitely be the reason, but some things only a father can teach a son, and with the passing of dad perhaps I hope all of you could continue to see the good qualities of my father here and there in me, if I’m capable of learning and executing them. And hopefully, I’ll be able to pass something on that may be a different for this day and age, just like dad did. He always gave everyone something to think about.