Today marks the 100th anniversary of my Dad’s birth. He’s been gone a little over 10 years now and I still miss him. Occasionally I see a little old man with a baseball cap and a memory floods over me and a big lump forms in my throat. Let me tell you a little about him.
Dad’s early years were not easy ones. He was born in Pennsylvania to parents who were immigrants from Romania. By the time he was eight, death had claimed his father, his mother, a younger sister, and a grandpa who lived with them. After the loss of his mother, he was sent to Romania to live with his dad’s relatives. Upon arrival he was separated from his two sisters who were sent to other relatives. At age 11, death again impacted his young life when he lost his grandpa–the only person that he felt really loved him. He was left in the care of an abusive uncle, but ran away when he was 14. Somehow he managed to travel half way across Romania to find his maternal grandmother and his sister, Anna.
When he was 16, he received notice that he was being drafted into the Romanian army. An uncle told him that since he was born in America, maybe he could go back and agreed to check it out. Through his uncle’s help, he was able to get the necessary papers and the needed funds to enable him and Anna to return to the US. He jumped at the chance, indicating he had wanted to come back to America since the day he left. He loved America and was proud to be an American. One of his most prized possessions was the passport that brought him back to America, and today I cherish that memento of him.
He returned to the US in 1929 just as the world was dropping into a deep financial depression. Jobs were scarce and he worked at any thing he could find, traveling from job to job by hopping freight trains. His job searches led him to Washington State in 1932 and then to Brewster where finally he found home and much of what he had wanted for so many years.
He found his career—he arrived in Brewster and started working in the apple orchards. He was always a hard worker and never had difficulty finding work once people got to know him. He began by working for others and later purchased an orchard for himself. Although he had only a 4th grade Romanian education, he learned how to raise good apples and his strong work ethic helped him to make it profitable.
In Brewster, he also found a lovely young girl who became his bride, and although the next 67 years had some ups and downs, most of their years were happy and filled with love. He loved Mom deeply and toward the end of his life, he became her constant shadow.
He also found a family. Mom had a huge family and they all took Dad in and loved him too. Even her many sisters who some referred to as the “Sisters Mafia” appreciated and liked Dad. My grandparents became the parents he had lost and he loved them deeply.
Our Dad was a loving, caring father. He wasn’t the perfect father, but he was a good dad. Like most fathers, there were times he got frustrated with us, but typically he was fair and we deserved any grumpiness we got from him. For me, I remember him being safe. One of my earliest memories is that of being held, and rocked, and sung to by my daddy. If I got scared in the middle of the night, I would head for Mom and Dad’s bedroom and Dad’s side of the bed. He’d pull me into bed with him and wrap his arms around me and I would fall asleep, feeling utterly protected. I never doubted his love.
He was a loving Grandpa and Great-Grandpa, with a lap that was always inviting. One day he came to my home, and had been there about 5 minutes when Mom nudged me and said, “Look at that.” I looked into my living room and there sat Dad in the big rocking chair, with not one, not two, but three great-grandchildren in his lap. He loved kids, and they knew it and loved him back.
He loved to laugh and tease and had a fun sense of humor. Some of his stories we wouldn’t repeat in polite company. If his stories got a laugh, he’d always repeat the punch line. Mom says that his favorite song was “Amazing Grace”, but the song I most remember him singing was, “Way down south in the land of cotton; my feet stink, but yours are rotten.”
He loved his dogs and took good care of them. One day he and Mom were putting out pollenizing bouquets and Mom was in the back of the pick-up so she could easily put out the bouquets. A neighbor saw them and word went around town, “George had that dog in the front seat and Grace was riding in the back of the truck.” How he enjoyed that!
He loved to play Pinochle and had been known to cheat on occasion. I remember Mom’s telling about playing Pinochle with our aunt and uncle. The boys were winning every game, but the girls hadn’t been counting the trump. The boys were pulling the aces and trump back out of the tricks they had taken and were replaying them. He loved playing with his buddies at the Senior Center, and their weekly Pinochle games turned into a contest to see who could out-insult the other. Mom said she was sure they would lie awake at night trying to figure out nasty things to say to each other. We weren’t sure if the object was to win at Pinochle or to win at insulting, but we thought it was probably the latter. However, it was all done in fun and they loved it and they enjoyed each other. After all his Pinochle buddies had passed away, he continued to play Pinochle with Mom, even after he had forgotten all the rules. He loved to play and Mom often accused him of cheating because he was making up his own rules as he went, but he would just smile his big smile. It was fun for him and it helped to pass the long days.
Dad will be remembered for being happy, smiling, and loving. Even after his disease had robbed him of so much memory and ability to think, he was still happy, smiling, and for the most part, exceptionally sweet. When he no longer remembered our names, he still knew our faces. The excitement in his eyes and the big smile when we visited assured us he recognized us and was exceptionally happy we had come. The disease had taken his ability to carry on a meaningful conversation, but he never forgot how to say, “I love you” and he said it often.
As his life drew to a close Dad loved being home, and we were blessed that he could be home to the end. Mom did an incredible job of taking care of Dad and I will be forever grateful. How fortunate we were to have not just one, but two loving parents! We were blessed to have him as long as we did, to be able to keep him at home, and we were blessed that God took him peacefully in his sleep six months shy of his 90th birthday.
I thank God for my Dad. Although, he wasn’t much of churchgoer until his later years, he had always expressed a faith in God. Because of Dad’s love for me, it was easy for me to see and accept God as a kind and loving father. I never struggled with a mental picture of God as being distant or angry or uncaring. Dad’s love enabled me to easily accept God’s love and for that I will be eternally grateful. Thank you, God, for giving me a loving, caring, safe Daddy.