The Day My Father Died

My dad warned me of his impending death as if he were gazing into a crystal ball.

Those who know me or have read some of my articles are keenly aware how much I revered my father. Like most father and son relationships, once I left my teen years and entered early adulthood, ours grew into a great friendship. In fact, my dad was my best friend.

My father’s aunt was in her mid 90’s when she finally let me in on her secret. It was a secret we had all known about, but never discussed. “You know I have a gift,” is how my Aunt LaLa first introduced me to her special world. “Yes, I know Aunt LaLa,” was my reply. She then went on to describe in detail the death of her nephew, my father’s brother, telling me when and how he died, even though he lived in Virginia and I was the first family member to inform her of the news. Dad’s aunt lived in rural Georgia and she owned a lot of farm land, a trailer park and the general store. However, her side business was one of awe and wonder to me as a boy. In the hot Georgia sun I witnessed people in line to the kitchen door of her home. “Oh, they’ll wait,” Aunt LaLa would say whenever we stopped for our out of state visits, never once explaining why these folks were in line. She played an eerily defining role in my life in many ways. Both my oldest daughter and myself share in some of this gift, although not to the extent of my great aunt.

My dad was a man’s man in so many ways, but especially when it came to sports. Whether it be hockey (his favorite), football, baseball, basketball, golf, lacrosse or bowling, he would watch it, listen to it, read it and he knew the statistics for all of them. I was mesmerized at how he remembered all of this information. Many nights, days and week-ends he would be at the coliseum, arena or football stadium to cheer on his team. When I think back on his past life experiences and the drudgery of his job, then it all becomes clear. After all, sporting events provide an outlet….an escape if you will….from the reality of everyday life.

On January 1, 1991 I relocated from Syracuse, New York to Binghamton, New York, a distance of about 80 miles. It was a tough decision to leave my family behind, yet I felt that professionally, financially and emotionally it was the right move for me at that time in my life. I spoke to my family on a daily basis and sometimes more than that. When a nationally televised sporting event would be on, my dad and I might speak a total of three times. We would talk before the game started, half time and then at the conclusion so we could do our own recap. It was a bonding time that was special between the two of us and I miss those moments dearly.

Syracuse, New York has the reputation as the snowiest metropolitan region in our country. For instance, the Tug Hill Plateau region, just north of the city, has had snowfall amounts of over 400 inches. Shoveling, snow blowing or plowing is simply a way of life in this area during the winter months. For some unknown reason it is the people in the 60 plus age group that feel the need to constantly be on guard to keep the snow knocked down. It becomes an obsession of sorts and my dad was no different at 66. Oh, we bought him a snow thrower, but “no” that was too modern. You can only tackle these type of jobs with brute force.

It was late Saturday, January 8, 1994 when I answered the phone. “Hi son, I’m so afraid I am going to die in this house and no one will find me for days,” was my father’s frantic call to me. “Oh dad, don’t be silly,” was my quick retort. “No, seriously son, you live so far away and I’m just so afraid I am going to die here and no one will find me.” Never, in my forty years had I heard my father sound so scared and panicky. He wasn’t himself. He wasn’t the poker player who always played his cards close to the vest, shielding his true hand. He was scared. I tried my best to reassure him that everything would be fine, but my words fell on deaf ears. My father “had a feeling,” a sixth sense, if you will, of what was about to happen.

Sunday, January 9th came and went and I said to myself I would call my father from the office. Monday was an exceptionally busy day at work. I couldn’t get my head above water and didn’t have a moment to spare. Then Monday evening arrived and I had forgotten an item at the grocery store. I had a house guest staying with me and on my return they informed me my dad was dead. The news was as if someone had unscrewed my Achilles heel and drained everything out of me. I was numb and limp. Sunday morning my dad went out to shovel the driveway and go the the store for his newspaper. On Monday evening the paper was under my dad’s body, in the kitchen where a neighbor had spotted him. Sadly my father had died alone in the house, wasn’t discovered for more than 24 hours and he apparently had seen his own death coming.

My telephone rang. “Hello son,” was my father’s greeting. “But, but,” I stammered, searching for the right words. “Yes son, I’m dead and you know what? It’s okay,” was dad’s response. When I awoke I was drenched in sweat. I walked into the living room with a cup of coffee, sat down and a half smile found its way to my face as a sense of peacefulness and serenity set in, realizing that my friend, my dad, had passed on.

Written by: Dennis L. PageIMG_0085

My Father’s Son

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Time has a way of healing old wounds and brings on selective memories of days long past. Life teaches us lessons. It is our responsibility whether we open our minds and hearts to learn and understand what has transpired in the past.

We travel through various stages in our lifetimes. As children, we are naturally drawn to the love and security of our parents. How many of us can relate to the terror and panic of abandonment when we got separated from mom or dad by only one aisle in a grocery or department store? In our pre-teen years, we start to become embarrassed in front of our friends when mom tries to kiss us or express how much they love us. We tolerate and even rebel against our parents when hitting those awkward teenage years. Finally, we become adults and miraculously our parents become great people again. It’s a life-cycle of sorts that plays out in households throughout the world and hopefully, any differences or conflicts with our parents are long resolved before they leave this earth.

My dad died 25 years ago and he wore many shoes throughout his life. His childhood shoes were lined with cardboard to help cover up the holes in the soles. As a young man, he wore combat boots while fighting in the jungles during WW II. Those boots were traded in for the spit and polish of the boots he donned as a member of the military police during the Korean War. Black work shoes were part of the daily uniform while spending his working life toiling away in the factory of Carrier Corporation. Wingtips and loafers became his standard dress when going out in the evening. Although I too have owned many of the same style footwear as my dad, I have never (metaphorically speaking) been able to fill his shoes.

As I reflect upon the relationship between father and son and especially when approaching Father’s Day, I honour my dad’s memory of being a kind, strong, loving, hard-working and all-around good guy. You see, his shoes were always just a little too big for me to fill.

Written By: Dennis L. Page

Dim the Lights and Roll the Film

Dim the Lights and Roll the Film

“School days, school days

Dear old Golden Rule days

Reading and writing and arithmetic

Taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”

Although I corrected the spelling errors from the original lyrics, the song, “School Days” was written in 1907 by Will Cobb and Gus Edwards. Chuck Berry put a modern spin on the song with these lyrics:

“Up in the morning and out to school

The teacher is teaching the Golden Rule

American history and practical math

You studying hard and hoping to pass

Working your fingers right down to the bone

And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone.

Ring, ring goes the bell

The cook in the lunch room’s ready to sell

You’re lucky if you can find a seat

You’re fortunate if you have time to eat

Back in the classroom, open your books

Gee but the teacher don’t know how mean she looks.”

When I was a child, elementary school went from kindergarten to 6th grade. Junior high grades were 7th and 8th. Finally, high school went from grade 9 through grade 12. Elementary, junior high and high school were all milestones in educational, physical and emotional development. All through school administrators carry out mandated drills. There are fire drills and school bus fire drills. However, a ridiculous exercise was the Civil Defense Drill.

After we used the atomic bomb in World War II and during the days of the Cold War, President Truman formed the Federal Civil Defense Administration. The program was an indoctrination and one of false hope, playing on the fears of the public. To launch the FCDA program, the government incorporated the use of newspapers, advertising firms, cartoon characters, actors and films distributed to schools. School children from my era are all too familiar with the “Duck and Cover” drills and brainwashing we were exposed to. From first to third grades we were instructed to climb under our desks and cover our heads and faces to protect us from flying objects due to a nuclear blast. Once in fourth grade, our teachers made us line up84_030220_duckandcover_bert.jpg.CROP.original-original at our lockers, tuck our heads into our chests and clasp our fingers behind our heads. Finally, by 1963, President John F. Kennedy realized this was an inane program and dismantled these silly drills.

In elementary school we heard the click clack and thud, thud, click clack of the upright piano being rolled down the hallway and into our classroom. It was the signal that music class was to begin, but then, the question lingered. What instrument would the teacher hand out to me? I only wanted the tambourine, maracas, or finger cymbals. I never wanted to be dealt the dreaded hand of the wooden blocks, wooden sticks, a tone block, or the wrist jingle bells. Those were make-believe instruments and I wanted the real thing. On rare occasions, the teacher would bring in a record player and spin a 45 rpm vinyl record. We would all try and mimic the song being spun. Our instructors must have died with laughter watching our antics.

Prior to the age of Smartboards, teachers used the always reliable blackboard. It was a badge of honor if you were one of the chosen few to be selected by the teacher to take the erasers outside and clap them together to try and rid them of chalk dust. The mere thought of going outside during school hours was a thrill, even if it only lasted for a few brief moments.

 

As we progressed in school our subject courses became more varied, as were extracurricular activities. Our minds and bodies were expanding by leaps and bounds. Technology, as we know it today, was woefully antiquated. Textbooks with plastic overlays were amazing. Flipping the pages over one at a time gave a student the ability to visualize the earth’s layers or see organs in the human body. Of course, being in possession of these marvelous books also meant we were charged with their care. For many of us, that meant we had to make our brown paper bag book jackets in order to protect the covers. State-of-the-art electronics consisted of overhead and slide projectors, and reel-to-reel movie projectors. I would visualize the teachers as  mad scientists or monsters when the bright, hot bulbs of the overhead projector reflected the shadows on their faces. It was inevitable that sooner or later the film in the movie projector would jam up and the frustrated instructor would put out the call for assistance to the Audio-Visual department.

For some strange reason, it seemed as though the students in Audio-Visual wore black pants, white shirts, donned black framed glasses with tape holding the stem in place, and of course, the pocket protector for their pens. Almost all of them had brush cut haircuts. I would guess that many of these young students went on to become the future IT people in a more modern world. Today, these are the individuals we envy for their computer prowess and technical knowledge.