When I was quite small, I found that the best time to catch my dad was in the morning. He had a fascinating get-ready-for-work ritual and I was welcome to watch. Starting with a fresh white undershirt and a pair of boxer shorts, he would start up the electric razor and shave his freshly-showered face before putting on clean clothes. I just loved the white shirts with starchy collars held up by cardboard, expertly folded and sealed with a blue strip of paper. After shaving, he would crack open one of these, fold up the double cuffs and secure them with cufflinks. Of course there was some humming and hawing about the suit and how well the tie matched. Tying of the tie was a precise matter and required close attention. Then came the final touches – just the right tie pin and at last the neatly folded hankie tucked into his breast pocket. After breakfast, when it was time to head out the door, he would carefully smooth back his hair and put on that beautiful fedora. He looked so sharp and ready for the day.
He was certainly a snappy dresser, but that didn’t explain why he looked like a million dollars. It was those dancing, sparkly eyes. He liked his work, liked people in general, loved his family and he enjoyed good fun, games, and laughter. It seemed to me that he was the life of the party. Looking back, I think that making people happy was his sole intent. He was always finding ways to express his generous heart. In conversation with shopkeepers, neighbors, friends and family, he would let everyone know that he was glad to see them. “How are ya now?” he would say, and, as he listened attentively, I often heard him exclaim, “Is that Right?”
One time he told me about the little school house across the street from the farm where he grew up. It was quite tiny, with children of all ages learning in the same room from the same cranky old geezer. So dad cast his memory back to the day that the teacher was writing on the board, deeply engrossed in his work. Young George successfully managed to toss burrs and get them stuck all over the back of the man’s jacket. I imagined the changing expressions as the man turned and sat in his chair. The pain, the realization, the mystery and then the accusing glare……..Geooooooorge!! “How did he know?”, I am sure I would have asked. But remembering Dad’s smiling face now, I know, it was those twinkling, sparkly eyes.
His mother told him he was born at dawn. That makes him a double Leo. The list of Leo qualities describes him very well: generous, magnanimous, courageous, loyal, proud, a gambler, sunny disposition, popular, a leader, charming, a big heart, optimistic.
His life wasn’t always fun and games. He suffered many losses and hardships. Sometimes he had to hide that bright light under a bushel basket. But he was a big man, and I’m not talking about his height. He took his lumps and moved on. “No whining”, he would say. He lived such a long life that it was a gift and a pleasure to see that he emerged from a long stretch of hard times and enjoyed many happy years later in life. I just don’t want to dwell on the dark years, because when I think of him now, I see his light shining brightly. I feel his joy and sense of freedom and relief.
My dad was a great example to me of what is right and decent, lasting, worthwhile and solid in life. No matter where I went or what I did, even if it wasn’t nice or honest toward him, I knew that he would always love me and always be there for me if I needed him. When I called him, when he wrote to me, when I visited, every time, he always reminded me that he missed me and he wished that I could be closer to him. We had disagreements — he would call them disappointments. I’m grateful that nothing was left hanging between us. We shared many moments of forgiveness and understanding. What stands out now and what really counts is that he brought sunshine into our lives. He loved to serve, to be thoughtful and generous, to make us laugh and feel better. He was an enjoyer of life and sharing was the best part.
I want to thank him for being so considerate and gentle in his passing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, he faded away so slowly. His end came with the least possible pain or shock or even grief. For myself anyway, I rejoice in his freedom and celebrate a life well lived and well loved.