Most everyone who knew my dad had a story about him. The past few weeks, I've heard a ton of them. In his passing, in his memory, I would like to share a few of my own.
He fed the birds and shot the cats and squirrels—with a pellet gun, just to scare them—except mama squirrel. She ate peanut butter sandwiches out of his hand.
He loved pretty girls—look at my mom--and never missed an opportunity to steal a kiss from one. He loved fabulosity and used to say, “If you like it, buy it; don’t look at the price tag.” Good thing my mom tempered his extravagance with some common sense and frugality, but not before I lived that belief right into Chapter 13.
He had stories galore from standing next to Woody Hayes on the sidelines at a Buckeyes game, to teaching Jackie O to ride a horse. He applied makeup to some Hollywood movie stars, and once he told me that lip balm icon Bonnie Belle’s father had offered him a boat to marry her. Some of these stories we shrugged off as his overactive imagination, but most of them were true in some fashion. I half expected, like the movie, Big Fish, that some of those people would show up at his funeral.
He made up crazy songs and sang them LOUD and off-key, Ho hum Hilario, Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Clo-bird, the snowbird. Clo-Bird the snowbird, was also his doctor and high-kick partner.
He pushed my sister, brothers and me to be the best and never accepted anything less than our best efforts and often not even those. If you didn’t catch the football, chances were good you were gonna take it off the head. But as a result, we were all pretty good athletes. My sister, he said, could hit a ball farther and throw a football more accurately than most boys he knew. I haven't played football with her, but I have witnessed her blasting a baseball, and it's true. Whether it was because he spent time working with us, or we were just afraid to be anything less, he got what he wanted.
I spent part of my childhood being scared of his loud voice, but found a buddy in him when I was a teenager and he was retired. He would record my soaps for me when I was at school, then we’d watch them together. Even after I’d outgrown watching soap operas, he continued and would occasionally update me on the characters.
He cried watching movies and once told me he couldn’t read books because he found himself so wrapped up in the characters’ tribulations that he couldn’t sleep at night. Empathy. He used that word all the time. I didn’t realize until much later how much he embodied it.
He never said I love you, until my brother Chris died. Then he never missed an opportunity to say it. Really. It got to be embarrassing. He would tell telemarketers he loved them. But he evened it out. And by the time he passed, I think everybody who loved him knew that he loved them back.
He showed my sister and me what true love looks like in the way he loved my mom for 53 years. He gave our husbands big shoes to fill, but he loved them and seemed pleased with the job they have done loving us.
He was proud of his boys; I listened to him brag alternately about each of my brothers even though they may never have gotten to hear that. My brother, Jonny, said it best, “Later in life he became the dad that I had always wanted him to be.” But that we could all live long enough to accomplish that.
My dad was larger than life. Talking about him in the past tense remains almost too much for me to bear. He taught us how to live and how to love. He had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. He didn’t make to 106, but he sure had a hell of a life.
Peach wouldn’t want us to be sad, but I’m sure he was pleased to see how many people turned out to celebrate his life. So here’s to my dad, lover of all, slayer of hallucinated tigers, killer of bees, and destroyer of training wheels. If he were here right now, he would chuckle, shrug his shoulders, and say, “You know what happens, don’t you?” Yeah. Shit.