Friday, November 9, 2007

flower-scented air and lemon trees (my father)

Some words and bits of memories about my father.

It was great to see so many friends there at Dad's memorial service.  (I even teased E, "So, I got you into a church, eh?" ).   I didn't like one aspect the pastor went on about, a guy she'd read about in that morning's newspaper (ah, this is about Dad's life, right?), and mentioning overcoming and staying trying day by day after a childhood trauma.  Childhood trauma?  What childhood trauma?  Oy.  That was rather embarrassing, in front of coworkers (yep, Boss came), and friends.  Eh, whatever.  I hadn't planned to say a daggone thing.  I couldn't get my mind to wrap around the words I wanted.  I still haven't. 

It didn't occur to me to get in touch with local family and colleagues, work colleagues and with his various clubs.  Other than three neighbors, two who are also church members and watched Doug and I grow up, his 3rd grade teacher and my piano teacher, no one was there for DAD, except me, really.  Somewhat Doug.  Somewhat M.  Someone gently pointed out to me that I'm the eldest, so it's up to me to lead on this.  Oh, right.  And Doug, well, he delineates our roles, and has me in charge of anything remotely emotionally or spiritually oriented.  I read Beth's beautiful words (I had to capture them in here, see my previous entry please).Then said a few words myself.  Something about dementia from his mini strokes stealing his memories, and stealing his ability to have M have memories of Dad's good times.  Or something.

At home, I took the flowers Beth, her husband and son / daughter-in-law, had sent.  Including Irish bells:)    Her husband quite ill, she couldn't come flying out thousands of miles, and she'd have been here for Dad, and for us.  Their scent perfumed the air in our home.  Our white cats walked about with orange and yellow pollen stains on their sides, which was rather amusing once I figured out what the heck that was!

I got word that a reader, one with a lovely soul, had remembered that Dad liked citrus fruits.  Ah, yes, he certainly did.  I ventured into Giant Foods again today, "his" store, and saw a lot of fruit on sale that he'd have enjoyed.  This journal reader had planned to plant and dedicate a lemon tree in memory of my father.  Someone who he'd never met, caring enough about DAD, to do this.  So, I wrote.  And, then M and I traveled down to Virginia Beach to a feis, where she dedicated her dancing to his memory, and in his legacy.  I got some closure.

This is still a rough first draft.  However, if I don't get it posted soon, I never will:)  In theory, I'll get some photos scanned to put up, also.

It's been just over a month, the paperwork is [insert a lot of foul language here], word of a suicide in another county (being it'd been discussed in M's class at school), had me thinking of my dearly loved cousin like a brother, Dougie, and his death, plus Dad's.  Mostly?  I am okay.


My father, Alan [middle name, last name], was born in Chicago, Illinois, in [early 1930's].  His mother, Elizabeth "Betty" [last name], was from the south, primarily Georgia and Tennessee, an aide to an Ohio Congressman on Capitol Hill at one time, daughter to a widowed, college-educated teacher mother, and a doctor father who traveled on horseback and died of rocky-mountain spotted fever (and knew it but the serum wouldn't arrive in time).   Dad's father, Daniel [middle name, last name], was an immigrant from Ireland via Venezuela and Ellis Island, New York, who became a U.S. citizen and an Army man and a man of many educational degrees.   They met at Antioch College, Ohio.

Dad was their third child, their first was Daniel [middle name, last name] III, and their second child, Patricia "Patsy" [last name].  He was given the middle name, Park, after an ancestor Civil War doctor on a train who saved many lives.  They moved about with their military father, including to Texas which my father disliked as he didn't fit in well with their accents and style of clothing, and eventually to Arlington, Virginia.  Along the way, 12 years after my father's birth, he was no long the baby of the family, but had a baby sister, Elizabeth (Beth).  [Side note -- no middle names for the girls, as my grandmother believed they'd use their maiden name as a middle name when they married.]

Dad graduated from Washington and Lee High School in [early 50's].  He told me he'd go with others to watch the "submarine races" along Hains Point.  This was actually just a hang out for high school students, and he was not a racy, dare-devil kind of guy like his older brother.  He did spend many days at Glen Echo,which wasan amusement park back then.  He loved telling me of riding the roller coaster again and again, just staying in his favorite car and handing the ticket collector another ticket for the next ride.  Once he covered the door to the Glen Echo pool for a friend, letting various people in.  Oops.  Dad had integrated the Glen Echo pool by allowing in, gasp, black people.  This was not yet allowed there; Glen Echo pool was segregated by race still at that time.  In retrospect, I think Dad rather liked that he had allowed those kids in.  While my dad was well aware of racial and religious differences, he grew up learning that all were created equal and he truly aimed to be inclusive in his own way.  The ancient carousel is being renovated now, and Dad would take his granddaughter, M, and I there.  He collected carousel horse Christmas decorations.

After high school, Dad entered the Army during the Korean War as he figured he'd be drafted, anyway.  He was stationed in Alaska, which he loved.  He loved the northern lights, the mountains, learning to ski, and the comaraderie (sp).  I know that he spent at least one tour of duty there, but it seems as if his military records were destroyed in a fire, so receiving his flag waits until the Army and I can recreate his records.

Dad entered George Washington University partially on the GI Bill, as an "older student," regalling me years later of the tower building he shared with his fraternity brothers, and the snake in their toilet.  He was an officer there at his fraternity.   He earned his accounting degree and later became a Certified Public Accountant in both Washington, D.C., and in Maryland.  I believe he also became a CPA in the Commonwealth of Virginia, however I didn't find that particular license.   My dad also started law school, however, I'm not positive if that was also at GW or not.  His father, my grandfather, eventually taught law at GW, yet I believe it was likely after my father had left.

At some point in there, Dad met Mom (Dorna [middle name, last name] in a choir for a church in D.C.  They married in June of [early 1960's], and their first child, Robin Elizabeth, was born in November of [early 1960's yep, I just had a birthday, I'm OLD lol but it beats the alternative, eh?].  By the time their second child, Douglas Alan, was born in [mid 1960's], they'd movedinto the suburbs of Maryland.  (Ourparents split and reunited, divorcing for good in 1976 or so.)

While Dad grew up in a home literally filled with blooks ceiling to floor, in many rooms of their home, only the girls were given piano lessons as children.  Dad loved music and art, and took piano lessons as an adult before us children were born,   I remember piano sounds filling our house every night while I lay in bed falling to sleep.  He loved Bach the most, also Scot Joplin, various others.  One of my cousins Michelle (I have two named Michelle), said that she remembers Dad playing piano with a glass of Scotch.  My brother Doug says that was in Dad's gregarious days.  Ah, yes.  As adults, he treated Beth and himself to a trip to Madeira, to enjoy an International Bach Festival, of which he held fond memories of.

Dad loved the stars, and put the constellations upon my ceiling in glow in the dark stars, and would show Doug and I other-worldly delights through Dad's telescope.  I put glow-in-the dark stars on M's ceiling and walls, also, albeit not in constellation patterns.

We once sat in the backyard, looking back at the field, and the silhouette of the big mulberry tree.  "Some people can't appreciate the beauty in a tree," he told me.  It was the soundbite to our conversation.  It still makes a lot of sense to me.

Dad loved the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, aka, the C&O Canal.  He loved the history, sure, but mostly being outside in it, hiking it and ice skating upon it more so near the city (DC).  He walked SO fast, I had to learn to keep up.  To this day, I prefer to walk FAST.  We'd camp along it, and one of his favorite spots was Harper's Ferry.  It's also full of Civil War history, which is a topic both Doug and he enjoyed.  Dad would take Doug, and sometimes me, to various Civil War sites, most memorably for me was Gettysburg.

One year, Dad had the two of us painting Christmas cards.  I don't know how many were sent out, and I know that two were saved somewhere.  Doug says that Dad was always creative and thoughtful with his Christmas gifts.  Sometimes, we'd go to the Sugarloaf Arts and Crafts Festival where Dad had his favorite artisans, and we'd buy our Christmas gifts.  In his grandfather years, Dad still looked forward to Christmas stockings on Christmas morning (or whenever M's visitation scheduled allowed, but usually itwas Christmas morning).  I was the one filling them during those later years and putting up his wreaths and tree, but stocking surprises, Christmas crackers to pull and pop open,  and a breakfast was how he enjoyed celebrating Christmas with family. 
Dad loved his breakfasts the most, as do I.  He did enjoy eggs (with ketchup), and sausage at times.  He mostly loved his fruit, and especially citrus fruits.  He'd have his iced tea with lemon, and his Diet Coke with lime, and enjoyed fresh fruit all by itself.  I believe it's the one thing he looked forward to the most about being out of the physical rehabilitation center (after his pneumonia this summer) and in a small place for himself again, was as much fresh fruit as he wanted with breakfast and throughout the day.  He'd have bananas all cut up when I'd stop by, or oranges.  He liked the tart tastes of citrus the best, even grapefruit.  Lemon candies and desserts were his favorites.  I'm not sure if Dad was ever in [state where lemon tree was planted], but I know he'd be touched and pleased to have a lemon tree planted in his honor. 

He'd likely want a photograph of it.  He liked visual arts, and was an amateur photographer.  Years before scrapbooks were popular, Dad made himself scrapbooks from the photos of his tour in Alaska, and of his trip with Beth to Portugal.  He also liked to paint, and he liked to draw; he collected stamps like his father had, and of course enjoyed reading.  Dad's favorite playwrights were William Shakespeare, and Gilbert and Sullivan.  He'd take me as his escort to quite a few G&S plays, and later, we'd take M along with us at times.  The last one, he just couldn't make and a friend of M's joined us instead.  Many of our events with Dad faded off in similar manners.

Dad helped with Boy Scouts as an adult, with Doug and with others who would come by for mentoring help on a badge.  I don't know if he was one as a youth, likely so but I don't know.

Dad was involved in many professional groups, and after being in a partnership for years, ventured out on his own as a self-employed CPA.  He told me many stories about his clients.  His favorites weren't always the big ones, such as [well known client name here], or the [important institute name here], but also the woman who had a horse farm andwas being audited.  It gave him great pleasure to prove to the IRS that this woman didn't have any hobby horses.  (For the non-accountant types out there, this is a play on words joke.)

He'd take Doug to the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club when he could get tickets.  He enjoyed golfing; his favorite golfer was Jack Nicklaus.   Dad was a member of the Canal Street Bums, which were CB radio users who commuted in similar paths to work in and near DC.  This became  a social group for him, along with his bowling league, Skirts and Flirts (until he couldn't keep up with it).

When his dementia began (due to a mini-stroke), and computer programs were thee way to go with accounting, he decided to retire.  Unfortunately, others he shared office space with offered him a pitiful buy out for his clients.  Dad ended up in retirement primarily surviving on only social security payments.  Granted, they were larger per month than the average person gets, but not by that much more.  While an accountant by profession and excellent with numbers, even to his dying day he'd remember numbers, he was laid-back and giving, and an alcoholic, and he was not so great at his own finances even previous to his mini-strokes and dementia.  Sometimes, he'd drink too much, and sometimes, he'd smoke too much, but he cared.  (His stroke rehabilitation doctor said that Dad's dementia, which improved greatly after more physical rehabiltation and other work this summer, and getting his blood sugars under control, was due to his strokes.)

Dad always liked to see me, whether or not I had M with me.  He thought her name a good [descriptive] name, and was pleased.  (snipping out info about M's name)  Dad would take M and I to a small circus when it came to town every year.  He preferred the intimacy of the smaller ones, I think reminding him of one he'd seen as a child.  We'd go to the Palisades community of DC annually for their Independence Day parades.  Megan was too little, and remembers the tall staircases but not so much her Grandad.  He tried to show her piano at times.  He was so proud of her taking piano lessons, he bought her a small keyboard for Christmas that year.  He was so proud of her dancing, anything she'd do, really, but as she enjoys her dancing so, Irish step dancing, he was especially proud of her carrying along his heritage, being a legacy for him, his father, his family.  Dementia robs people of a lot.

Dad survived the "beautiful, peaceful" drowning at 5 years old, making sure that both Doug and I knew how to swim; he survived colon cancer, and he survived his pneumonia this summer which even had him cease to breath at one point.  His blood sugars more even, new medicines, he grew stronger and stronger.  M was starting to maybe get to know HIM again.  He proved to everyone that he could do it, and was doing really great.  He was actually happy to have all of his nurses and therapists done with, I suppose a goal for himself that he succeeded with. 

A brain aneurysm was his final demise.  Dad refused to go to the hospital when I called 911.  He had a very minimal chance of survival, anyway.  He didn't wish to die in a nursing facility, or in a hospital.  Heck, he had preferred to live independently and I tried to help honor that wish of his and help him with that.  It was God's time for Alan [middle name, last name].  To join his mother, father, and older brother in Heaven.

Dad had a sense of humour, a sarcastic one not everyone always appreciated.  One time he was in the grocery line with a large bag of bird seed, as he always kept the birds fed and the birdbath full.  The woman behind him kept talking.  She got out of him that he was single, and had a cat, and apparently asked him if he was going to buy some cat food, also.  He responded, "Lady, this IS the cat food."  He was joking, of course, but she didn't quite realize that.  It took her a moment to realize he was saying that he'd attract the birds with the bird seed, and then the cat would eat the birds as the cat food.  She shut up (which was his goal).

One of dad's many books had humorous quotes inside.  I suspect he'd like this one, "Old accountants never die; they just lose their balance." 

An old Irish proverb may have hung in his kitchen, or perhaps only in mine, "May you get to Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead."

May God rest his soul.


What the heck, may as well add it ("in lieu of flowers" charity):

C&O Canal Trust

1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100

Hagerstown, MD  21740




  1. I'm so glad you posted this......even though I'm sure it was difficult.
    It was a very nice picture of your father's life.


  2. Dear Robin, thank you for sharing your remembrances of your father. They are beautifully written and so full of love; they are truly uplifting to the spirit. --Sheria

  3. Your father sounds like a fine man.  This was a beautiful tribute to him and his life.
    Thank you for sharing his story with us.

  4. Sounds like you have many wonderful memories of your father...and he sounded like a good that you can be very proud of. You mentioned Gettysburg...I live about 40 mins away from Gettysburg....every single year as a child that was our field trip....oh how boring....but it's funny when you get I can't get enough of the history there. What a wonderful tribute to your father...sad to father is still alive but I wouldn't have the stories and memories that you had to write fact at this time he isn't even talking to me because of a family dispute. It's so sad the time we waste in our lives over pride and being stubborn...I really enjoyed this read.....God Bless.....June:)