Mon and Dad: a boxed set again
My father died last month on Dec. 7. It was sad, but expected, and mercifully quick. He was 81, not particularly old by today’s standards. And as a World War II veteran, perhaps it was fitting that he passed away on an anniversary of America’s entry into that war. His battles are over.
It was just like him to pick a famous (or infamous) day to die. Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001 are perhaps the only two dates in recent history that most Americans can identify, and both demarcate tragedies.
If you stretch it a little, my dad was born on an important day, too – Groundhog Day. Granted, this is not a date that stirs up the same level of emotion, but an important day, nonetheless. Especially if you have just suffered through a long, muddy, frozen winter and really want to know what Punxsutawney Phil has to say about the onset of milder weather.
Weather figured prominently in my dad’s early life. He grew up on a Depression-era farm in the Midwest. He escaped to a coat-and-tie desk job in the city as soon as he turned 18. He never said what he thought of me escaping FROM the coat-and-tie life at age 37 and heading for Clear Creek Ranch.
My dad didn’t talk much about stuff, with few exceptions. When, as a kid, I complained about not having enough money, he would remind me how he worked from sunrise to sunset during harvest season for 25 cents an hour. Every time he repeated the story, the hours got longer and the pay shrank. I don’t think it ever got to 24/7 and 25 cents a week. But had he lived longer, it might have.
My mother encouraged my dad to have a few hobbies. He liked to collect stamps, and he married into the perfect family for it. Both her brother and nephew were (and perhaps still are) career CIA agents (we think – don’t tell anyone!)
Many evenings, our kitchen sink would be filled with torn envelopes steeping in tepid water to loosen the glue on stamps from exotic locales. Over the years, I sent him additions to his collection whenever I came across them. Sent the last batch only a few months ago.
His other hobby was woodworking. He built decorative boxes and refinished furniture with considerably more skill than I have inherited. Maybe that’s because I just missed being born on a famous day myself – April 1.
One of the pieces I remember was a rosewood box that he kept on his desk. He was proud of that one. It was the size of a cigar box, and the top was inlaid with dozens of the more colorful stamps from his collection – duplicates, of course.
My mother keeps his ashes in that box now. That my dad is now ashes is ironic, given the number of ashes he generated over a lifetime of cigarette smoking. His distinctive “smoker’s hack” cough is something else I remember from childhood.
He didn’t stop five years ago when emphysema tethered him with a tube to the portable oxygen machine. It was the cigarette pack-size defibrillator they inserted in his chest only last year that did it. Time to take it serious. But not much time.
And now we “kids” (old enough to qualify for AARP memberships ourselves) are worried about Mom. Not her health so much, but she carries that box with Dad in it everywhere she goes.
After 55 years of marriage, I guess she needs a new hobby herself.
Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer . Write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at
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