Bourbonnais - Memorial Day, 2017 - noon, a bright and sunny day. A glorious 77 degrees with little humidity, at least by Illinois standards, is the forecast. From my Man-Cave I can hear our kids and grand-munchkins splashing, shrieking, and laughing in the pool. I think they brought someone else's kids too - there were a couple I didn't recognize. Our mutt is running around the pool, yapping at the kids incessantly for some odd reason that irritates the holy bejesus out of me. He thinks it's his job to warn them to be careful. Every once in awhile he jumps, falls, or is pushed in the pool, which shuts him up for awhile. He can't bark and dog-paddle at the same time for fear of drowning. My mother will be here shortly with her mutt to help in the yapping.
Dawn is in her kitchen, where she spends half her life, preparing yet another sumptuous feast for our ever-expanding family. Our son-in-law will be put to grilling duties in a little while (although I'm beginning to suspect that the amount of meat he hauls out to the grill is not the equal to what he brings back). Sorry folks, I don't cook or grill. Dawn and I have a 37-year agreement in our house - she is in charge of the cooking department and I am in charge of the eating department. We are both pretty good at our respective jobs too.
All of this festive activity is in stark contrast to Memorial Day just last year. At the very moment that I am writing this blog, last year on this day, the family was packed into my mother and dad's small bedroom in the home they have lived for about 55 years, muddling through the shock that dad had just passed away. He departed this life at 11:34 AM on that Monday, May 30th, Memorial Day. I was standing at the foot of his bed, willing him to keep breathing, which had become sporadic all that morning. Finally, he turned his head left towards where my mother was sitting on the edge of the bed by his side, and he then exhaled, which was his last.
Even today, as I write this, the whole experience seems surreal. Not that there were any startling revelations of spirits or angels around us, but rather just an ending without even a good-bye. He was just...gone. The patriarch of our family, a man that, by sheer will, picked himself up by his own bootstraps and rose to be successful, just quietly expired. There were no parting instructions of what to do before he left, something that hadn't happened in my entire life.
I remember my mother threw a party for his 70th birthday and asked me to give a speech. As I took my place at the podium I scanned the crowd for a few moments and was astonished at the collection of people there in attendance. I commented on it when I began the homily. Here was a man from the "wrong side of the tracks" in the tiny town of Chebanse Illinois who was celebrating his 70th birthday. Among his Chebanse friends and relatives, also in attendance were doctors, lawyers, bankers, some of the most successful businessman in the county, and even retired Colonel, and American hero, Jim Kassler, all to see my old man.
Dad had no college education, and had to get his GED in the Army due to an incident his senior year of high school when school officials callously threw him out of school two weeks before graduation. And yet, here were all these people in this crowd come to celebrate his birthday and the success he had gained in his lifetime. To me, it was humbling.
When dad bought his father out in 1975, the total fleet consisted of 11 trucks. They were an odd collection of older trucks of various makes. The trailer fleet, about 20, was even older. He parked his "fleet" at an old gas station in Chebanse that he rented, and struggled to make the payments. He also sold gas and car tires. When he passed away, his business consisted of 200 new Peterbilt trucks, over 450 trailers, 400+ employees, 4 truck terminals throughout the country, 3 business properties, and a million square foot warehouse stuffed to the rafters. Not too bad of a legacy for a poor kid from the "sticks."
My mother and I were talking just yesterday that we cannot believe it has been a year already. It just doesn't seem possible. I could rattle off more cliché's, but you have all probably been there and done that with a lost loved one of your own. I lost my sister in 1978 and that rocked our world. We often comment about how long it has been upon the anniversary of her birth or death. As an adult, I lost all of my grandparents in a very short amount of time, one of which I was especially close to. And yet, as much as I miss them all, none of those passing's were quite the same. Dad was just so much a part of my life, day in and day out, for my entire life. He taught me most everything I know, I worked for him, and I ran his businesses. And then...he was gone.
And here, a year later, I still mentally check myself before making many business decisions and ask, "what would dad do?" He is still that much an influence. Perhaps he always will be.
Rest in peace, pop. Miss you.