First off, he was incredibly handsome. The pictures of him when he was 29 and Mom was 16 —- wow, no wonder she jumped at the chance to marry him. He had muscles in his upper arms that were built by actual work, not hours in a gym. He didn’t even know what a gym was at that time.
He was one of the smartest, most intelligent people I have ever known. He could get my math homework in a flash, where I would spend hours scratching my head. He was people smart too and he never met anyone who didn’t like him at first sight.
He teased his family, all the time, mercilessly. There were days when I wanted to shove my fist in his mouth just to shut him up. We were a family of girls. He came from a family of boys.
He was opinionated. Honestly, he used to say “I know a little bit about everything and what I don’t know, ain’t worth knowing.” Really, he said that. He also said that a book was only one person’s opinion and that in order to gain real knowledge you had to do more than read books. You had to live, according to him.
He also said that drinking water would put weight on you and that you shouldn’t drink too much. Since I was always trying to lose weight and was told to drink lots of water, this was infuriating.
He made things with his hands. He wanted to be a cabinet-maker but pre-fabricated cabinets made that moot. He made furniture. He made gorgeous tables out of old doors he got from work. Government issue, he called it. He remodeled houses as a moonlighting career. He and his partner, John, worked from 5 to 9:30 every night and on the weekends. I ran into people who knew him as a carpenter and just saw my name on my name tag and wanted to know if I were Russ’s daughter. I proudly said yes.
He purchased an old red 1953 Ford pickup truck and somehow got it working. He drove that truck back and forth to work every day. He threatened to put “Russ and Daughter” on the side.
He liked chicken livers. When Mom was in the hospital one time, we had chicken livers in the refrigerator. He made me cook them. Let me tell you, I don’t do bloody meat very well at all. I scream when I have to touch it. It makes me sick. I cooked the damn chicken livers so he would shut up.
He was political. I am political. I love politics so much, I wish I’d done that for a career. I could slit throats with my words. So could he. After I turned 39, we weren’t on the same side anymore. I became a “damn” Republican, akin to Herbert Hoover, while he was still a rabid Democrat rabbiting on about FDR. Whatever. We fought like harridans. He tried to yell louder than I, fat chance.
After Mom died, I had Dad all to myself. He was 79 and really took her death hard. I couldn’t quite get it as he once remarked that she didn’t have the milk of human kindness in her soul. So true. But he missed the mean old lady anyway. She could flay you open with ten words in ten seconds, flat. Maybe he loved that, but he sure loved her.
He came to live with us when he was 82, tired of being on his own, needing to be near people. I’m not sure how great it worked out for him. We were vegetarians, he a meat and potatoes man. I cooked him meat and potatoes. He moved with us to Canada and helped build the deck on our home. He was 83 and still building. We argued as much as we could, whenever he had the time.
He got sick that year, in fact it had been coming on for a while. He’d been in the hospital twice in Michigan and in August of 2000 he started failing. He died on Christmas Eve in the year 2000. A carpenter, going home on Christmas Eve. It was poignant but I will never forgive him for dying on me.
See, I always had my Dad, even when Mom wouldn’t speak to me for some obscure reason or the other, I always had my Dad. When I needed something, he was there. He gave me advice, some I thought stupid, but now all I see was wisdom. He played with me, he taught me how to debate any subject you can think of and he loved me. I adored him. I have a family picture with all of us. When I would show it to visitors, I would say, “There’s me and my dad,” like my mom and sister weren’t even there. Nope. Just me and my Dad.
Happy Father’s Day Poppa. Miss you.