Ode, revisited

Everyone has a different way to grieve. I found it was cathartic to write about my brother LJ when he passed eleven years ago, so perhaps my jumbled thoughts will be best served by remembering my dad Joe here in this forum.

There are a number of personality (and other) traits I inherited from my father. I have my whole slew of dad-isms, such as “whadda ya think this is? Giveaway day?” He and I shared the same svelte figure (probably because he gave me his Pepsi habit), enjoyment of bowling and Polack food, and ambition to be a homebody. Dad was not one to take a whole week’s vacation, as he was ready to head home after four days max. I feel the same way: the only saving grace on the Florida trip was that we broke it into several stops, my mom and dad being second-to-last for 2 1/2 days.

Growing up, my mom and dad would be up at 5:30 in the morning so he could go to work fixing all that went wrong with the machinery at a concrete block plant. (Mom made breakfast for him, then after he left she had to help LJ and I get ready for the bus at 7:10, with Tom coming a little later until he got to middle school.) The next time we saw Dad, he was grubby and ready for dinner at 5:00. After dinner it was time to watch TV for a couple hours before he went to bed, although in the summer that was the time he would go out and cut the grass – all five acres of it, with a little lawn tractor. So this was a three or four evening a week chore, which my dad didn’t mind too much since he was alone with a good cigar to smoke.

(By the way: one thing I did NOT get from my dad was his mechanical aptitude. That stopped at my late brother LJ. Why do you think I work at my end of the building business?)

But the dad I grew up with wasn’t the dad I last saw back in October – dementia made sure of that. Once or twice in the couple days we spent there we got glimpses of what my dad was, like when he sat in for a game of cards and the memory of how to play that game came back to him, but much of the time he was a cantankerous old man trapped in his wheelchair, reduced to living out his days rolling between the house and his post out in the shade of the carport where he went out to get his “smoke.” He needed help to go to the bathroom, which I’m sure embarrassed him to no end. My dad was always a bit fussy but had an off-kilter sense of humor – imagine losing the humor part and that was my dad the last time I saw him. One of those bathroom trips was the one and only time I ever heard a cuss word from him in my life – and trust me, the three of us boys gave him a lot of opportunities.

So pardon me if I’d rather remember the family provider and role model for being the man I am. He was married to my mom for over 61 years, and she’s devastated by the loss, even though we knew it was coming. When we said goodbye to my dad in October, I knew it was really goodbye for us. But my mom was there until the bitter end, when home hospice care finally came in on his last day or so. And typical of my dad he wanted no fuss about his passing, as he requested to my mom that no service be held.

If there’s one blessing in my life (besides my wife) it’s the fact my parents lived to a ripe old age – ironically my paternal grandparents were both gone by the time I was seven, so longevity wasn’t on my dad’s side. He was the last of six Swartz children to survive, beating my Uncle Ronnie by about a year. (I know my Uncle Butch went first when I was a teenager, but I forget the order that my aunts Lucy, Rita, and Jane went in.) Making it to the age of 86 is pretty good for the family.

Despite the fact he never touched a computer, that’s where I’m going to remember my dad, Joseph Swartz. He lived a good life.