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Dad & Sue’s Birthdays – 1970

My birthday comes right after New Year’s Day on January second. I celebrate it. Just after my birthday comes my father’s birthday on January fourth. I always remember it. This year, dad would have been ninety-six. He died suddenly in July 1977.

Dad was a fun-loving, hard-working Irishman from Heffron heritage who loved Eisenhour, both as a military general and an American President. The black Chevrolet was his choice of car for many years before he could think of owning any other car.

Born in upper Wisconsin, his boyhood bore both the harshness of the seasonal weather and the responsibilities of the oldest son, providing for his mother and younger sister after his woodsman father passed away while he,  Anthony Junior (Tony), was still young.

He attended teachers college for a certificate, and began trading “trades” to raise more money for his own keep and for his family. He was proud of teaching in a “one-room” schoolhouse like we heard of in the Little House on the Prairie tales.

He was a police officer on the Eau Claire Wisconsin police force in the late 1930s and early 1940s and really did catch “the bad guys” with his parnter, Scotty. He had a brown scrapbook, now in my brother’s possession, that contained medals, photos, and newspaper clips of many “take-downs” during his law and order career. More than a few photos displayed dad and his fellow law officers, standing with one leg hitched up upon the running board of that era’s car — their chase vechicle.

He met the first love of his life, my birth mother, when he experienced a stay in the hospital (I believe it was Luther, but it could have been Sacred Heart Hospital, I am not sure) to pass a kidney stone which was giving him great grief. While there, he was in the care of a beautiful Norweigian nurse named Doris, whom he began to court with his wild, Irish charm.

 You would have to look hard and long through their dating and early marriage black and white photos to find a “serious” pose among them. Together they were always “horsing around” with each other or making fun of whoever was behind the camera. Always, their bright white teeth flashing in wide smiles or outright belly-laughter.

Into this family I was born, after dad and Doris had adopted my older brother from a Catholic orphanage. Mom convinced dad that nobody could love this orphan baby boy the way they could together, and home they came with Dave.  Soon after his arrival, mom became pregnant with me. But it was a troubled pregnancy and she delivered me early with etopic poisoning, complicated by kidney failure. She died just a few days after my birth and dad’s birthday. 

Dad was only in his late twenties when this personal tradegy came upon him. He had a young son and daughter to care for in the aftermath, and I can only guess how he healed his grief, for it was a mysterious fact that this was never discussed in the family with us children, even when we reached adulthood. It is a conversation I wish I would have had the courage to start. I certainly practiced it often enough.

I do know he never had any doubts about providing for his two children as a widower single parent and he set forth with strong determination to do so, enlisting two grandmothers’ help along the way. Dad left the police department in search of more income to support his growing family, and managed a sports store, still in Eau Claire.  

By the time I was around two years old, another brunette Norweigian woman caught his eye and his heart and Marion would come into our home as his wife and our new mother. This love affair lasted forever — or to say correctly — to the time of his death in 1977 and long after that in Marion’s heart until she could no longer remember any of us due to the memory robbery visited upon her in Alzheimers disease.

Tony and Marion gave birth to my youngest brother, John and we were one complete family of five from the 1940s until the mid-sixties when we children started forging our own paths in life; Dave in the Coast Guard; Sue married and moved to Kentucky; and John finishing up high school.

Dad was in the propane gas business by that time, managing a plant in Lansing, Michigan when an opportunity arose around 1968 to transfer his talents and work to a tropical paradise, St. Thomas, Virgin Island and manage a plant there. They did that together, mom working for the company too. It was a magic “begin again” moment for both of them and they loved living and working there and building new friendships and awarenesses with island culture. 

They didn’t really take up sea fishing there in the tropics but when they lived in Wisconsin and Michigan, it was one of their favorite pastimes and their most ideal vacation.

They had a favorite spot in Chapleau, Ontario where they stayed in a rustic cabin at Moosehorn Lodge, became faithful friends of the owner-couple and traveled there yearly for a one week vacation on the crystal blue water lakes in a quiet little dinghy putt-putt motor boat. This would be accompanied by rest and relaxation in the cabin and great home-cooking of fresh lake fish, fried potatoes and veggies.

In 1977, now living in the VI, they had not been to Canada for quite some time. That year, they were looking into a cruise trip to their home countries of Ireland and Norway, but there was some holdup in aquiring their passports and dad decided to scrap the whole idea and come back to Lansing, borrow a car from Dave, and drive up to Moosehorn Lodge.

This change of plans was a blessing in disguise, although none of us in the family felt immediately blessed by what happened on the second day of their vacation. Dad felt tired so they relaxed in the cabin the first day of vacation. But on the first fishing trip the next day, dad suffered a fatal heart attack  in the boat and died instantly even though mom tried to help with CPR. After securing the boat in the obscure landing area, she got an ambulance through the help of the lodge owners. Thus began a quick trip ito the hospital in Chapleau, but a rescue of dad’s life was not possible.

Yet, Dave and John were able to be with mom soon after the distressing news which would not have been possible had mom and dad gone to Europe as planned.  The shock value of dad’s death couldn’t have been higher for mom or for us. One month earlier, my husband and I just moved and started a business in a town not far from Lansing, and I was awaiting dad and mom’s visit to us when they returned from Canada, in just one week.

It had been over a year since I had seen them, and so much had changed in our life since we acquired the business that I was truly counting the days until I would see them and talk to them again. That I would not talk to my dad ever again became a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.

 The complete opposites of “saying hello” and having to “say goodbye” was a battle I played out in my soul for a long time after. Eventually, I penned a poem on paper, and set it on the backdrop paper from which I have my Mystic Muse with the bell coming forward. The trees remind me of the Canadian country mom and dad loved so much. Today, dad, my spirit says “hello” to your spirit, just as it has done each year near your birthday.

Canadian Pines

                                         He left without
                                                   saying good-bye
                                         amidst Canadian pines
                                                    and placid blue lakes.
                                         I had meant to say hello
                                                     before he would go.
                                          But the chance
                                                     passed me by.

                                           He was not a continent away
                                                     as had been their plan
                                           to visit for the first time
                                                     each of their native homelands.
                                            They came instead
                                                      that hot week in July
                                             to his favorite place on earth.

                                              His tired and restless spirit
                                                       would feed
                                                on lake-fresh fish
                                                         he caught.
                                                 And the peace he found
                                                         in the northern breeze
                                                 always soothed his troubled heart.

                                                 He would rest and relax
                                                         and have fun with his mate
                                                 in the place which he
                                                          so loved.

                                                  And then —
                                                          he would visit me.

                                                  But he left instead
                                                         at the end of the day
                                                   before he got off the lake.
                                                   It broke my heart he had                                                             to go.
                                                   Because you see, I still had meant
                                                            to say
                                                                 hello.

 

 

                       

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