Z is for Zaengle

Recently I found this photograph from 1982 of three of my sisters-in-law standing in front of my parents’ house.

Judging by their attire, the girls must have stopped by the house after a soccer game. Bud and I were in Syracuse, so they stopped by to see my family. My family and the Zaengle family are intertwined in so many ways.

A few years later, Mary, the one in the middle, lived with my parents for a while. I can remember my father telling me how much he liked to see the wild outfits that Mary wore. She was (and is) much more fashion-forward than I will ever be.

I asked Mary if she had any stories to tell about my father from when she lived there. She said,

The picture of a gentleman. Steady and calm.

I always appreciated being able to live with your family. I loved that DP was always still awake when I got home from work, even if I worked later than normal. He said that he liked to see what crazy outfit I was wearing but it felt to me like he wanted to be sure I was safe and sound. I never felt like an inconvenience but more an instant part of the family.

Whenever we were just talking, about nothing in particular, he was always attentive. He had time to talk and never made you feel like he had to get going. Little things like that stuck out to me.

Classy, cool dude.

My parents were role-models for hospitality. They welcomed so many people into their home.

Monti, my brother Peter’s friend, also stayed with my parents for a few years. He sent this to us before my father’s birthday party.

When I  was attending graduate school at SUNY Oneonta, Don and Elinor invited me to live at their home. They provided me with a welcoming home, and a second family while I went to school. I  feel like I became their fourth son. I attended family events, church, art show openings, Hall of Fame dinners, ran in two triathlons, and paddled the General Clinton  canoe regatta with Jimmy. I took Natalie (the sheep dog) for walks, and watched her chase chickens and steal corn off our roadside stand. …

Monti’s wife Jennie added this:

I remember how much I loved coming to visit, and how welcome Dr. and Mrs. P always made me feel. There were so many fun things to do, like taking Natalie for walks, helping in the kitchen, listening to the Kingston Trio on the reel-to-reel, and double dating with Dr. & Mrs. P to get ice cream at the brand-new Stewart’s…

When we had our first baby, we stopped to visit on the way home from the hospital, so they were the first to see Alyson. Monti and Alyson stayed with Dr. and Mrs. P when Justin was born, as well.

As I’ve worked this month to write stories about my father, I’ve been struck again and again by how very blessed I’ve been by my parents. My father was a mentor to many, generous with his time, kind, and compassionate. He served his country and his community well.

He is very loved by so many people.

Plus, he’s a cool dude.

from 2012

Y is for Young

In March 2011, I wrote the following post.  It’s a sweet story — and a reminder. I took it out of storage and dusted it off for today.

A number of years ago, I was able to accompany my father on his trip to his hometown.  He was meeting with his siblings and their spouses to inter my grandparents’ remains.  My mother was planning to go with him, but got sick just before they were supposed to leave.  I filled in for her.

I had no idea what a special trip that would turn out to be.  We went to the cemetery and sat on a little knoll while my father and his brother and sister reminisced about their parents.  They each shared memories of how their parents had made their house a home.  They talked about my grandmother making elaborate Halloween costumes for them, her competitive side coming out, so that they could win the town’s contest.  They talked about their cousins and their pets and their school and their growing up years.  Then my uncle said something which I will never forget.

He said, “They were young once.  They fell in love.  They had dreams and passions just like we do.”

I don’t know why that was so profound, but it hit me squarely in the heart.

My grandparents were old the whole time I knew them.  My grandmother had Alzheimer’s.  She smoked and drank martinis.  I have seen her wedding picture and she was once beautiful.

My grandfather had Guillain-Barre syndrome in the late 70’s or early 80’s, I think. (Perhaps one of my siblings has a better memory for these details.)  It transformed him from the robust, fun Grampa that I loved to go see, to a weak man confined to a wheelchair.  I have wonderful earlier memories of him throwing the Hollywood brick (it was made of foam) at us, and tricking us every time with it.  In fact, I think we all (the grandchildren) wanted that brick when they were emptying out the apartment, but no one seems to know where it went.

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t always go back to happy memories.  I remember my grandfather weeping in a wheelchair when I came to visit when I was pregnant with Philip.  I remember my grandmother smoking and sniping.

“They were young once.  They fell in love…”  I chose, then and there, to replace my memories with happier ones.

Yesterday, I caught a little glimpse of that with my mother.  We were sitting at the table, with a full plate of marmalade sandwiches.  She had made ten or so before I got there — for the others.  She looked up at a window ledge, and asked my father, “What’s in that vase?”

Now, you need to know that my mother has always a way with plants.  Her home was filled with them.  She had the most beautiful Christmas cactus I have ever seen.  She would take little pieces of the Christmas cactus, stick them in a cup of water, wait for them to send out little roots and then move them to pots.  She started so many plants that way.  And the house is still littered with pieces of Christmas cactus stuck in water.  That’s what was in the vase.

My father looked up at the milk-glass vase with the sad little piece of Christmas cactus drooping over the edge. “Well, that’s a genie in a bottle,” he said.  “If you rub it, he’ll come out and grant your wish.”

My mother giggled like a schoolgirl.  She looked at him and smiled.

When he left the room, she said, “I’m so lucky I found him.”

Oh, Mom, you have no idea.

“They were young once.  They fell in love…”  She was back to that point in her life.  I want to remember her that way.

X is for Xerox (and other copying methods)

I always blamed my mother for the abundance of paper in our house.

She saved articles from the newspaper, newsletters, and magazines that interested her. Booklets, pamphlets, stapled-together packets of paper from church meetings, Cooperative Extension, the Red Cross and various volunteer activities filled her desk.

She saved recipes by the hundreds. Six boxes of recipes on index cards sit on the bottom shelf of her recipe cupboard.The two upper shelves overflow with cookbooks and recipes pulled from magazines.

The other day, I found a booklet from 1983 called “When Parents Grow Old: A Training Design for use with Adult Children Caring for Aging Parents” by John I. Rhea. My mother had neatly written her name across the top, and saved it — for me. Little did she know.

I’m beginning to realize that my father probably saved just as many papers. He catalogued his and filed them neatly in folders. Or put them in scrapbooks.

My mother’s storage method was more like a silo — just shovel everything in, using paper clips, staples, and tape liberally.

My father is most definitely a filing cabinet man.

I take after my mother.

A few years ago we cleaned out his home office to make space for a full bathroom downstairs. I found a 2 inch 3-ring binder full of “fwd: fwd: fwd:” email messages that he had printed out.

Here’s my way of dealing with those types of emails:

This little email went fwd:
This little email went fwd: fwd:
And this little email went re: re: re: re:
All the way to the trash.

I looked at the jam-packed binder full of warm-fuzzy stories and mildly off-color jokes, and shook my head. He didn’t understand about saving them electronically. He printed them all out. And punched holes in them. And stuck them in a binder.

I confess – I threw them all away. More than one fwd: earns that fate.

My intention for this post was to give you a brief history of modern-ish duplication processes — like carbon paper, mimeos, dittos, and xeroxes (a.k.a. photocopies). I’m sure I have examples of each in the massive volumes of papers in this house. But I have no energy for that today, and I’m already a day behind.

The truth is, in the early days, my father wrote things out long-hand, and then typed them. So early papers of his that I have in duplicate, like his college application essay, are done using this method.

However, many of his mechanically copied papers, even from the 1940s, fall into that fwd-fwd-fwd realm like this one, from “Moving Up Day” in high school:

I struggle to throw it away, though.

I’ll just put it back in the silo (plastic tote).

W is for Work

“Compulsive” — That’s the word my father used to describe himself when I asked him about the detailed lists he kept of his expenses and his earnings.

“My parents didn’t have much money, you know, but it was important to them that I go to college. I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted them to know that they weren’t wasting their money,” he told me.

I see proof that he worked very hard, even from a young age.

One year for his birthday, my sister gave him this framed picture:

My father and his brother had both worked at the Brookside Store — which was also a gas station — and was also the post office. And may still be a post office.

When my father went to college, he carefully calculated out all his finances.

Expenses for College Year

Earnings for College Year

He also, week by week, noted all his expenses and all his earnings. Here’s one page from that packet:

I asked my father about the names in the right-hand column. Many he didn’t remember, but Mr. Johnston’s name elicited a very warm response — “Oh, I remember Mr. Johnston! He was such a gentleman. He was always very kind to me.”

“When you wrote ‘working for Mr. Johnston’ or ‘working for Mr. Bennett,’ what did you do?” I asked him.

“Yard work or whatever they needed help with,” he replied.

“And ‘waiting at fraternity,'” I asked, “is that waiting table?”

“Yes, I did a lot of that,” he said.

The detailed pages bore witness to it.

“I was so compulsive about keeping track,” he said again, laughing.

I see all the work.

 

V is for Vague and Vivid

Ethiopia

Last night at dinner I asked my father to tell me the turtle story again. I had been a little surprised that my sister had never heard the story and wanted to make sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

“Do you remember the story of the turtle eggs when you were a little boy?” I asked.

“What? Oh… I think my father told me to go check the bag in the pantry and there were turtles in it,” he said. Ah — the detail of the pantry. I had forgotten that.

“But,” I persisted, “didn’t some bigger boys give nuts to you and tell you they were turtle eggs?”

“Maybe,” he said vaguely.

“But when we came down that winding road to the Red Sea, I can still see the man’s face,” he said, as if this was a continuation of the turtle story. “You know that road had so many switchbacks — back and forth,” and he drew a zig-zag in the air to show me, “and when we got there, the man had this big smile on face because he was so happy I had arrived and he could go home.”

Switchbacks

This memory crops up quite frequently these days. He remembers vividly the expression on one man’s face at a very specific point in time.

“Where is Mom buried?” he asked, as if something about that memory had reminded him of her. It was the first time he has ever asked me that.

“At the columbarium at the church,” I replied.

Last year for Mother’s Day, I had tried to interest him in bringing flowers to the columbarium. I bought a plant and had Bud drop us off at the cemetery before church so we could pause for a moment with Mom. My father, however, didn’t pause. He just hurried toward the church. I placed the pansies there by myself, feeling a double sadness, and hurried after him.

“I met Elinor when I had that job picking up IV bottles from the nurses’ stations. We got to talking and hit it right off,” he said, continuing last night’s dinner conversation.

I started to ask him to elaborate on it. I wanted to know if he remembered what they talked about (which was hiking).

Arial view of the switchbacks

“But you should have seen that guy’s face,” my father said, changing gears again without notice. “He had the biggest smile because I was there and he could go home.”

I’m never quite sure what I should take from the story.

Is it the switchbacks? My father certainly incorporates switchbacks into many conversation now — not necessarily the story of the switchbacks, but actually switchbacks, where he changes direction so often and so quickly that I can’t always follow.

Or, is it the arrival at a new place and the beginning of a great new adventure?

Or, is it the idea of going home and the great joy that brings?

U is for Untold Stories

I found this picture yesterday and showed it to my father.

“Do you remember this man?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he replied.

“On the back it says, ‘Successful defibrillation and external massage’ — Does that help?” I asked.

He studied the photograph for a few more minutes. “No, I don’t remember any of that,” he finally said.

I imagine that in the life of a physician there are thousands of untold stories. Lives, limbs, trajectories changed in the course of a single decision or moment.

In January 1964, Everett Barrett didn’t die from a heart attack in Ethiopia. CPR and defibrillation saved him. I think my father had something to do with it.

Everett Barrett died two years later stateside. But during 1964-65, he worked for the fire department at the army base in Ethiopia. I can’t help but wonder if he saved any lives, too, during those years.

You know — lives saved because his life was saved.

The gift of life bestowed is a like a pebble thrown in a pond, sometimes with far-reaching ripples.

We never know how far those ripple reach.

 

 

T is for Turtle Eggs

When my father was a little boy, some bigger boys gave him a bag of turtle eggs. They looked remarkably like chestnuts that grew on some of the trees in their town.

“Take these home and keep them in a warm place. Turtles will hatch,” they told him, probably guffawing to themselves at the naiveté and gullibility of this little boy.

He brought them home and showed them to his father.

“You take good care of those,” his father said.

For days, he checked the bag. Nothing seemed to be happening.

Eventually, he forgot about them, caught up in other little boy activities, like baseball and playing with his dog, Mugsy.

A couple of weeks later, his father said, “Have you checked those turtle eggs lately? I thought I heard something in there.”

He ran to where he had stashed the brown paper bag holding the chestnuts. The bag was moving! Scratchy sounds were coming from it!

Cautiously, he opened the bag to see what was inside.

In the bag were some little turtles, their shells about the size of a silver dollar.

How did his father know they were in there?