Tag Archives: Dad

Not the Day I Expected…Part 3

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Wednesday, I’d gone to town for coffee, banking and garbage drop-off. I arrived back home just before noon, and was pleased to see that the power was back on. I reset the clocks, made a pot of coffee, and started in on the kitchen.

The next three hours was a flurry of dusting and scrubbing, moving and arranging. Some things were almost done, and just needed finishing touches; others were jobs that had to be started at the very beginning. Files were moved to the dining room. Kitchen shelves were reconfigured and every dust-free book, basket and jar was replaced nicely on them.

The refrigerator was completely cleared: magnets, posters and photos from the metal doors; baskets, bins and boxes from the top; foodstuffs, shelves and bins from inside. I scoured it, then, outside and in. I washed each shelf and all three bins. I stood them on the rug, leaned against the cupboards to drip dry.

I poured a cup of coffee, sat down at the computer and turned it on. A warning window popped up on the screen; the controls didn’t work. “Your computer has been compromised,” the message said, “Call Microsoft for assistance in repairing this problem.” A toll-free number followed. “Damn it! I should have paid attention to all those other messages telling me to upgrade my system,” I thought, as I dialed the number.

What followed was a lengthy interaction between me and a technician. He had me open an internet sharing window that allowed him access. He showed me lines and lines of the many harmful things that were in my system. “It’s pretty serious,” he told me. he asked about the age of the computer, what virus protection it has, and whether the warranty was still valid. He quoted a price ($299.99), then explained that there would be an additional charge of $99.99 because my warranty was no longer good.

I wailed; I whined; I told him I was just starting to make progress on getting my credit cards paid down. He said, “Look, lady, you called me!” Finally, I agreed to the amount, and gave him my credit card information. He told me to leave my computer on, that the other technician would be working on it for about an hour, to remove the viruses, scrub the system and set up protection. I would get a call when they were finished.

I went back to my housekeeping while waiting for the call, grumbling about how impossible it is to get ahead. The second call came in; I sat back down at the computer. The technician – a young woman, this time – used lines and arrows to show me the security features she had added. She showed me the location of their toll-free number, should I need further assistance. She said, “Your credit card will be charged four hundred dollars.”

“No way,” I said, and seem to recall that caused her to gasp, “what I agreed to was two charges that would total three hundred ninety-nine dollars and ninety-eight cents.”

“Of course, you’re right,” she said, “I was just rounding up.”

I was feeling pretty bleak…and considerably poorer…though still proud of myself for catching that two-cent error…by the time I got back to the kitchen. The phone rang again. This time, it was a woman from the electric company. I thought, at first, that she was calling to apologize for the recent electrical outage. No, she was collecting data for a survey. She didn’t ask if I had time, or would care to participate, but just started firing off questions. I was balancing the telephone between my ear and my shoulder, while trying to reassemble the refrigerator. Juggling shelves and bins while trying to keep the phone from sliding away, my answers were peppered with curses and protests.

“How much longer??” I demanded at one point. “If you quit complaining and just answer the questions, about two minutes,” was her sharp rebuke. Such was my state of mind that day, that I meekly followed orders: I quit complaining, and answered the questions.

Hours later, discouraged, dejected and depressed…but with a sparkling clean kitchen…I sat down to dinner. The telephone rang. I almost didn’t answer it. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone; the phone had not been my friend that day. I picked it up, just before the answering machine kicked in.

My friend Linda! A friendly voice, at the end of a rough day. I started to tell her about the rotten day I’d had, from the power outage and lack of coffee to the old man’s toenail clippings to the awful telephone calls. When I got to the part about the pop-up warning with the number to call and the high cost of repair, she immediately said, “Oh, Cindy, that’s a scam!”

As soon as she said it, I knew that she was right. How would Microsoft know I had a virus? Why would I consider paying nearly four hundred dollars to fix it, when I could practically get a whole new computer for that price? How very stupid I had been! Then, I started thinking about the consequences: they had my credit card numbers! What had they been doing in my computer…and what did they actually download onto it?

“I gotta go,” I said, near tears, “I’ve got to figure this out.”

In the days since that happened, I’ve had several conversations with my credit card company. I’ve cut up my card, and will be issued a new one. I’ve been struggling to remove everything that was added to my system that day, and have been very cautious about using the computer at all. I’ve changed passwords and security measures. I have cried in utter humiliation. I have chastised myself constantly for my foolishness.

Today is my Dad’s birthday. Because of that, I’ve spent some time imagining how this whole episode would have gone over with him, if he were still alive. Dad was often unpredictable in his response. It’s hard to guess if he would be angry for me…or angry at me. I can guarantee, there would be a lot of “goddamn”s involved.

I can picture Dad going on a rant about the “goddamn scammers” who would take advantage of my ignorance. He might rail on about the “goddamn computers” which have made such things possible, and completely changed the world as he knew it. He might have even gone after the “goddamn telephone,” which he never was comfortable with.

I like to think, though – because Dad could be light-hearted, too – that he’d be impressed with my ability to tell the story, and that he’d see a bit of humor along with the tragedy of it. I can picture him wagging his head from side to side, with a look of both sympathy and understanding. I can clearly see his mischievous grin as he speaks: “Cindy…how the hell did you get to be so goddamned STUPID??”

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Ninety

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Most of my childhood memories of my Dad involve a little bit of fear. He intimidated by his size, his temper and his quickly changing moods. He was never mean, and  was judicious and fair when he was in a position to decide punishment, but we saw little of that. Mom did most of the rule-making, enforcement and discipline in our home. When she was overwhelmed, Dad was her weapon. “Wait until your father gets home,” she’d say, or, “If you keep it up I’ll have to talk to your father,” and we would fall into line. We never wanted to have to answer to Dad!

Dad had a big voice, and a volatile disposition. He had a long stride, broad shoulders and a wide grin. He’d toss a child over his shoulder, or dangle them upside-down by the ankles. He’d rub a child’s scalp with his knuckles, or grab them by the knees to hear them squeal. He could go from chuckling at a child’s antics to a stern and loud, “Now cut it out! That’s enough,” in the blink of an eye, without warning. He was a big tease, but he did not like to be teased himself. He always seemed unpredictable, and that kept me on edge.

The trepidation I felt in his presence stayed with me right into adulthood. It lasted all of Dad’s life. Though I always loved him, we had a cautious relationship. If I sensed irritation in his tone or his manner, I’d be quick to change the subject, get my children under control or alter whatever it was that seemed to be irritating him. It wasn’t fair to  him, probably, that I walked on eggshells around him, but I rarely had the stamina to stand up to him. It was easier to just avoid conflict, or upsetting him in any way.

Dad had a quiet side, too, though, and that’s where I most relate to him. Driving, he kept his eyes on the road; he leaned against the door, and rarely spoke a word. Getting home from work at midnight, he’d fix himself a simple snack – sometimes bread, torn into a bowl and covered with milk – and read all the way through The Flint Journal, the newspaper that Mom had left on the kitchen table for him. Mornings, after tackling his gardening jobs, he could be found at that same table playing solitaire.

Dad’s mother died when he was thirteen years old. I used to marvel at how he’d never seemed to stop grieving the loss. I’d wonder at how his life would have been different, if she’d lived another twenty years. It’s not such a wonder to me anymore. My Dad died in 1998, when I was forty-six years old. I have never stopped feeling the loss, never stopped missing him. Today would be my Dad’s ninetieth birthday…I wish he was here.

Walking with Dad

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I was about half way to Hannigan Road yesterday, walking my dog down the Fox Lake Road, when I heard the low rumble of the County road truck. Darla does not chase cars, or even seem to notice them, most of the time. She barely gives them a glance as they go by. If I don’t grab her and pull her away, she won’t even yield her walkway, which is right down the middle of the road. We’re working on it.

However, all of my dogs have always hated the road trucks. Perhaps it’s the sound they make when scraping gravel or snow from the roads, or just the noise of the diesel engines. It might be because they pass by slowly, sometimes stop nearby, and often turn around in front of my house. I don’t know.

Maggie looked at cars as a means of meeting folks, and would run right up to them and jump on the door to greet the driver. She’d always want to attack the road truck, though. Clover was afraid of cars, and generally gave them a wide berth. Except for Randy’s car, which she would lay in wait for, and ambush as he drove by. And the road truck, her mortal enemy. She taught Rosa Parks everything she knew, so the little dog grew up hating the road trucks, too. Now Rosa has taught Darla, and my quiet household erupts in wild leaping and barking whenever one of them drives by.

Not knowing how Darla would react when encountering the truck on the road, I hurried to grab her collar and lead her to the side of the road. We waited together until it passed by, then continued on our way. The truck was grading the road yesterday. With the big blade down but at a slight angle, it was scraping and leveling the gravel road, one half at a time. As it went down one side of the road, it pushed a mound of dirt and leaves into the center. It would do the same thing coming back down the other side of the road. A final pass would “crown” the road, smoothing the dirt mounded in the center.

As we continued our walk, my Dad had joined us. It was the smell that brought him to mind. In the same way that freshly cut grass transports me back to my childhood summer Sundays, when Dad would mow the lawn, worked earth brings thoughts of the spring of the year, and Dad in the garden. Dragging the plow behind his small tractor, he worked the clay soil every year, trying to soften and enrich it with additions of grass clippings, manure and mounds of seaweed.

I think Dad always had a garden. When we were tiny, he worked up a small plot of ground, and taught us to space the seeds by measuring the distance with our hands. He was always thrilled to see things grow. He would compete with any of his gardening friends for the earliest radishes, hottest peppers, tallest corn or largest squash. He was proud to carry in a harvest of peas or beans or tomatoes.

Though Dad was a smart man with good stories and many abilities, the garden is what I associate most closely with him. When I leaned close to give him a hug, for most of his life Dad smelled a little of smoke and tobacco; there was usually a hint of beer or something stronger; always, Dad smelled like the earth. It makes me happy that – as the old woman I am and almost twenty years after my Dad has left this earth – something as simple as the smell of freshly turned soil can bring him right back.

Happy Heavenly Anniversary

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Mom and Dad

I love this photograph of my parents, on the dock of the Beaver Island ferry. It was taken when they were newly in love, not yet married, not yet parents. I didn’t know them, then.

I knew them as busy young parents, fussing and rushing to do the right things and raise good children. I remember Mom, circling the table to oversee projects from her “Rainy Day Cupboard” or, later, homework…with a baby on her hip, and supper on the stove. I remember Dad, on hands and knees, showing us how to put seeds in the furrow he’d made, and how to tamp down the earth around them. As he left for work, Dad always bent down to give Mom a kiss goodbye.

I knew them later, when keeping up with many more children was exhausting for Mom, and work at the factory frustrated Dad, and kept him away from home for long hours. In addition to their own family, there were neighborhood kids and cousins and friends filling the house; Mom mothered all of them. Dad’s little farm had grown to a half-acre of garden, plus pigs and chickens. It seemed like they didn’t have time for each other, but just kept going on.

I knew them when, with children grown and many years of tension and resentment gathered over the years, they barely spoke to each other. They each had plenty of complaints, though. Dad was sure Mom was too easy on David; he didn’t like her having a job, and felt it was an insult to his ability to support the family; he was sure, sometimes, that the only reason she read so many murder mysteries was to find a good way to do him in. Mom knew that Dad was too hard on David; he drank too much and against the doctor’s orders; he was always grouchy.

When Dad died, Mom’s last gesture was a loving pat on his hand and a kiss on his forehead. They had shared a long life. When Mom was dying, more than a decade later, she told me she’d been putting a letter together for Dad, letting him know that their troubles were not his fault alone, and that it was all water under the bridge anyway. How wonderful, I thought, to be so sure of heaven and the people that will be waiting there, that she wants to make amends beforehand!

Today, on their anniversary, I hope Mom and Dad have put all their troubles behind them, and are enjoying each other’s company.

Saturday, Almost Father’s Day

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I looked – once again – at a special DVD created from old home movies taken in the early fifties. My Grandpa Ted bought the movie camera because he had new grandchildren: my sister Brenda, me, my brother Teddy. Grandpa shot most of the movies himself, but sometimes Grandma Thelma had the camera, and sometimes my Mom did.

My Dad did not take pictures, and he didn’t much like being in them. Yet, there he is, grinning widely as he hoists a child to his shoulders, or bends to rub a dog’s ears. There he is, striding purposefully across the lawn carrying boxes that soon reveal a new swing set…and there is Dad, assembling it as we smile from the sidelines. He’s there in the summer, giving us rides in the wagon he built to pull behind the riding mower; in the winter he’s pulling us on a sled. At parties, he laughs as he fills glasses from a pitcher. In other scenes he talks to adults or tickles children, and often puts up an arm to hide his face from the camera.

My heart swells to see my father so young and vital, so involved with his family, and with so much life still ahead. Being one of the oldest, I remember that man. I also remember the man he became: frustrated, saddened  and disappointed – often – with how his life had turned out, sometimes a little bit bitter.

It’s hard to know, because all change is gradual, what happened, and when, to make the difference. Age alone, I’ve come to realize, alters the world. There comes a point where some dreams have to be set aside; no longer is there time or energy or ability enough to continue to believe that anything is possible. Aches and pains can be frustrating. Everything that could once be done without a second thought, but that now is a struggle, becomes a discouragement. Losses build.

If I could spend a day with my Dad, I’d choose a time when hard work was possible, and hope was still alive. Let it be in the years when he always leaned over to give Mom a long kiss before he left the house, and when they’d snuggle together on the couch to watch cowboy shows.Let him be old enough to have his many children all around him, young enough so that we were still at home. I’d like to give each of us children enough foresight…or insight…so that we’d  appreciate Dad more than we did at that time.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the value in a person or a thing until it’s long past. If I could spend a day with my Dad, I’d offer him fresh strawberries with cream. I’d tell him everything that’s happened in our family; I’d talk to him about Aunt Katie’s health, Bob’s sheep and chickens and the new pond. I’d do my best to let him know I love him, and appreciate all that he was, and all that he taught me. I know his value, now.

…And How It Went

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So, our first winter on Beaver Island was the winter of 1978-79. It was “the year of the blizzard” in Michigan. All over the state, records were being broken, cars were buried and folks were snowed in. I had no idea. I thought it was just Beaver Island…and I didn’t know it was unusual. Dad had warned me that winters on Beaver Island were hard!

We were at the Stone House that winter, four and a half miles from town, one mile from our nearest neighbors. Bonnie and Denny Wagner lived about a mile south of us, in a big farmhouse that they were in the process of remodeling. Their son, Craig, started the first grade with my daughter, Jen. They also had a daughter, Missy, just a bit younger than Katey, and a toddler, Johnny. We all became good friends, and often shared dinners together.

My husband played poker once a week with a group of islanders. He played pool at the Shamrock. I played in a pool tournament that winter, too. Though I am awful at the game, I managed somehow to take third place! Now and then, Terry and I would hire a babysitter, and go to the Shamrock for the evening. Sometimes we played backgammon.

Did you count, as we were going through the rooms of the Stone House? There were four wood stoves! The only one that sat idle was the old cook stove in the kitchen. We had to keep the garage warm enough to keep the water pipes from freezing. We tried to keep the house heated with the other two. Fuel oil was expensive; we didn’t want to use that furnace more than we had to. We quickly used up the wood that had been in the garage when we moved in. Then, our main focus became finding more.

We got slabs from the lumber mill, free for hauling away. They were dirty, and didn’t give out much heat, so we used them only in the garage. We bought wood from people that had extra; we cut and hauled wood when we could. We gathered windfall and dead wood. We used the furnace more than we’d planned. It was a constant struggle to keep warm.

In the middle of February, a massive storm came through. It dumped several inches of snow, took out electricity for long hours and blew down the chimney on the Zanella’s house down the road. It blew a big tree down, right over our driveway. My husband and I looked in awe out the dining room window, where the top branches now reached, and were rubbing against the glass. The tree had fallen right across our car, crushing it. We stared. We turned and looked at each other. We grinned.

“Firewood!!” we said, in unison.

It wasn’t all good. My husband and I separated that winter. He was drinking heavily; we were fighting too much; he was homesick. Work on the island had slowed with the cold weather. He had jobs to do downstate. We decided it would be best to take a break, and see if we could figure things out.

It made for a long, lonely winter. Hours at work were minimal during that slow season. Keeping the fires going was my main occupation. My daughters were now four and seven years old. They were  almost my only company, and they went to bed early. Don and Florence Burke stopped in once. Topper McDonough visited two or three times. He’d bring a six-pack of beer. I’d drink one while he had the rest, while he told me stories of when I was a toddler, when he visited my Dad in Lapeer. “You were a little monkey,” he’d tell me, “You could run full out along the back of the sofa! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” It was nice to hear tales of when I was young. For much of that winter, I felt very old.

In the springtime, my Dad came to the island with my sister, Brenda and her son, Alan, with the intent of helping me move back to the farmhouse. The suckers were running in the streams, and Dad taught the kids how to catch them in nets or with their bare hands. They’d keep going back to the creek for more, while Brenda and I stood in the wood shed at the farmhouse, cleaning the fish. The ones set aside for smoking didn’t need to be scaled, but plenty enough of them did. We started with heavy spoons. At one point, Jewell Gillespie stopped in with an electric scaler. It was certainly fast, but sent the scales flying everywhere. I got back to the Stone House at about three in the morning…stood under the shower trying to get the fish scales off my skin and out of my hair…then collapsed into bed. What a nightmare!

And yet, in hindsight, it became a good memory. The kids all certainly enjoyed it! It quickly became a tradition, among myself, my sisters and our children, to come to the island with Dad in the springtime, for a cold, wet and fish-smelling splashing good time!

By the first of May, we were back in the farmhouse for the summer.

 

Continuing…

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Cindy and Brenda, Christmas morning, in front of the partition to the unfinished new kitchen.

My father had built a sweet little house, which his ever-growing family had outgrown in no time.

Before I was three years old, Dad had started the first addition, which was a large, flat-roofed kitchen, off the left side of the house. I remember being allowed in there when he working. As long as we behaved, Brenda and I could slide across the big expanse of floor, smell the fresh-cut wood, stand ready to hand tools or nails to Dad when he needed them.

Eventually, it was finished. A wide archway led from the living room to the kitchen, where the dining space presented itself first. A picture window in the front gave a perfect view of Lake Nepessing on the other side of the road, and created an ideal spot to show off our Christmas tree at holiday time. Windows on the far side offered a view of the garden and field beside our house, the black shed, two little cottages (one of which my mother was born in), the parking lot and – across from that – the Lake Inn, with its sign in cursive pink neon letters.

The refrigerator was framed in, with enough space on top to house Mom’s radio, on the far wall just past the side windows. Cabinets went all the way to the ceiling. The counters were all downsized to suit my mother’s “four foot, seven and a half inch” height. The sink – very modern looking in stainless steel with chrome faucets – was placed on the diagonal, with windows on either wall meeting in the corner, creating a little nook where Mom kept plants and religious statues. Around the corner on the back wall, a shiny electric range top had a strong fan above it to pull out smoke and kitchen odors. Cupboards underneath held stacks of pans. More drawers below and cupboards above continued across the back. Finally, a built in oven with a giant drawer below it and a huge cupboard above finished off the kitchen space.

Every cupboard and drawer were made by hand, painted palest gray, set off by shiny red trim, and finished with bright chrome handles. The counter top was deep red linoleum. The floor was a checkered pattern in red, black and white. The light fixtures were modern circular fluorescent bulbs. There was a slight pause, before the light came on. When we flipped the switch, we’d look with bright eyes at each other and say, “wait for it…” just as our mother had when she first showed them to us.

A doorway led to what was the old kitchen. Now, it was a hallway to the back door, a utility room with the furnace and many shelves for canned goods, and a stairway leading up. The bedrooms, though, will have to wait…