Papa says I wonder all the time. He wonders about things he has done, things he wants to do, places we are going or how something is put together. Fortunately we can often fill in some of the blanks for him. We can show Papa photographs and offer gentle reminders of an occasion he may not remember. We can Google to see what a car looked like in 1945 or how old a building is. We can show him a map to remind him the distance to a city we are traveling to or which direction we are headed. We can look up a person he wants to remember, or a baseball player he wants to learn about or a phone number for him to call. We can use YouTube to see how something is put together or taken apart, or even how a jigsaw puzzle is cut. Papa’s wonders may be infinite, but because they are often missing memories we are able to fill in the blanks and find answers to his many questions.
Today’s post is not about Papa.
Sitting in church this morning I looked at the date on the bulletin and I began to think, then ponder, or as some people might say, to wonder… January 11 would have been my Dad’s birthday and today it brought with it a rush of wonders, things I was curious about. Unfortunately not all my questions can be answered as easily as Papas. You can’t Google everything.
My Dad passed away in 1977 from idiopathic cardiomyopathy at the age of 41. Even though he was very young, he left behind a legacy he could have never have imagined. I have no doubt that he would have been more than proud of my Mom, the beautiful and strong young wife he left behind to continue raising their family, and of the families that my brothers and I have built.
Memories are personal and I was just a kid when my Dad got sick so forgive me if some of my recollections are a bit skewed. Certain memories circa 1977 are remembered quite vividly while others recollections probably not so much. I wish I remembered more. My Mom was teaching fourth grade at Spring Bluff Elementary School in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois and she sported around in a canary yellow Ford Maverick. My adorable younger brother Hayden was only seven. “Hogi”, the nickname I gave him when he was born, has Downs Syndrome and had recently started living at the Waukegan Developmental Center weekdays but came home every weekend. I vividly recall the Friday afternoon drives with my Mom and Dad to pick him up, especially the time our car broke down. Steve was a senior in High School and Scott was both going to college and also helping to fill in for my dad at Will, Inc. the paper supply business that my Dad and Grandfather owned in Zion. Star Wars came out that summer and Elvis died. I recall my dad being sick for about 6 or 7 months, but maybe it was longer. My Grandma Nelson lived in Galesburg but stayed with us that spring, and when she drove me around town she not only drove very slow, she would only make right hand turns while driving. Sure she explained it was because she did not know the area but I knew she just did not like crossing traffic. My class went on a school trip to Washington DC in June just after school ended and my mom had to bribe me to go by promising that I could call home collect every evening to check on Dad, and I would be allowed to fly home by myself, if needed. While I did not have to fly home from that trip, I did experience my first flight a few short weeks later to visit my Great Aunt and Uncle in Florida after my Dad’s funeral. Scattered memories that are almost 40 years old; just short of the age my Dad lived to be.
I do not recall ever seeing my Dad’s obituary, would seeing it bring back any memories? Would it answer any of my questions? I made a quick call to my brother this afternoon and he sent a copy of the newspaper clipping to my inbox before we hung up the phone. It didn’t teach me anything new. Sure, my Dad was a former Trustee and Zoning Board member for our small town, he probably served with some of my friend’s dads and I never realized it. They probably never realized it either. He was a member of the Moose Lodge, the Masons and Medinah Temple in Chicago just like many of my classmate’s fathers may have been. These were just a few more simple facts that just needed a bit of prodding for me to remember.
I know my Dad would have been proud of me and my brothers. I know he would have been delighted to know Doug, along with my brothers spouses, and would have been ecstatic to watch me graduate or walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. I know he would have been amazed to see the choices I have made, the travels I have been on, and the life I have built. He would have been enamored as he held each one of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and smiled to be able to see himself in them, just like we do. I know he may not have approved of every choice that was made, but I believe he would have always stood behind me. However knowing these things does not stop my curiosity from wondering how my life would have been different had he not gotten sick. Would his influence or encouragements altered decisions I made? Would it have changed my life? But my biggest question, what I think about the most is I wonder what his thoughts were in 1977 as he knew he was leaving his family. I wonder what he wondered.