Dad (in straw hat), his sister (in front) a cousin & their Uncle
down on the farm in Southern Illinois ca. 1918
Yesterday would have been my father's 101st birthday. Hard to believe. He was born in 1910, very much a turn of the century time in this country. William Howard Taft was President. Neither the telephone, the refrigerator or the zipper had been invented. The Titanic would sink when Dad was two years old. The U.S. was changing from a predominantly agrarian society to a manufacturing one. People who could no longer subsist on farms were moving to the cities as were immigrants making their way to the "land of opportunity". My father grew up on a farm in southern Illinois on the banks of the Ohio River. He always remembered it with great fondness and longing. They were poor but not starving. His father was an anomaly in those days: he had a college degree in horticulture. His mother had been a milliner in the city of Chicago but his father moved her to the farm. She was, by all accounts, not happy about it.
Dad moved to Chicago to work for Florsheim Shoes in the advertising dept. He worked as a "paste up artist" which meant he cut and pasted drawings and words to sheets of paper in the form of a print ad. These were given to the newspaper to be typeset. It was 1929; he was 19 years old. He vividly recalled the stock market crash. His workspace in the Florsheim building was below street level, with those tiny grated windows looking onto the sidewalks at people's feet. He remembered a jumper landing outside. He watched his money carefully from then on.
Dad put himself through colleg,e taking night courses at Northwestern University. He never finished and it always bothered him. He eventually went to work in a new industry: radio. He was selling national advertising air time to big ad agencies for a company that represented radio stations across the U.S. and Canada. The business was in its infancy and he was there.
Dad smoking (he'd quit by the
time I was born) ca. WWII. When
I was little, I thought he re-
sembled Frankenstein's Monster!
The United States entered the First World War, "the war to end all wars" to which it was mistakenly referred, in 1917. Of course, the war reparations act led to a second world war. As a result, my father enlisted in the Army Air Corps for WWII. By then, he'd moved to Los Angeles to start his own rep firm. He walked away from the new business and beginnings of stability at the age of 31 to defend our country. It took him quite a few years to recover what he'd lost. By then, he'd been married and it had been annulled; a fact I didn't learn til my mother died. He kept it a secret but it explained much about him and his breaking his engagement to my mother and his melancholy. But, that's another story.
Dad and Mom were married in 1950 and together til her death in 1997. He lived another ten years without her, on his own, in the lovely quiet area of the Central Coast of California, where they retired.
He died during a lunch of take-out Chinese, sitting with his caregiver, a lovely lady named Isabel. He had a heart attack and could not be revived. I remember all the times we ordered Chinese take out or he'd take me to China Town in L.A.. It was his favorite food and I was happy he was enjoying it at the end.
Mother and Dad at Christmas time circa 1967
I flew to CA immediately and set to work on funeral arrangements, along with my brother, as well as the celebration I wanted to have at his home. The turnout to Dad's service was amazing. My brother and I thought maybe twenty five at the most. We probably had closer to 60 and a bunch of my friends made the trip up as well. That meant so much to me. My brother and I gave eulogies; mine was about how crotchety Dad was but how loving and kind too. He was a mixed bag as are most of us. We gave him the military funeral he'd planned for and it was so moving. He had full honors with an honor guard, the flag folding, taps and a 21 gun salute. I'll never forget it.
He and my mom left my brother and I, my two sons, his two daughters and, so far, a granddaughter. My brother and I think of him often. We can laugh now at things that were not so funny when we were young. I wish I could tell him that.
My sons, my nieces, me, my brother out on Dad's lawn 2007