Friday, September 17, 2004

Fourteen Years

I found a picture of you
Those were the happiest days of my life
Like a break in the battle, was your part
In the wretched life of a lonely heart

~Back On The Chain Gang
- The Pretenders

September 30th, 1930, my stepfather was born in Mount Pleasant, PA. By the time he was three, his parents had died & he & his sister were orphans. The only family they had lived in England, so they were shipped off to live with them. Dad lived what I always pictured as a very Charles Dickensian life growing up. An abusive uncle. Went to work in the coal mines at twelve years old. Dirt poor. All during World War II to boot.

He & his sister were taken in by a couple of women, who I'm not sure if they were blood relatives or not. He did call them Aunt Stella & Lois. They treated Dad well & I remember him speaking of them often while I was growing up.

When he was old enough, he joined the Royal Air Force. A short time after that, he learned that he & his sister were American citizens (he had always thought he was a British subject) & was allowed to leave the RAF & return to the States if he agreed to sign up for the draft. He came back here, along with his sister & her husband.

And then the Korean War broke out & he was drafted & sent back to Germany.

Fortunately, Dad liked the Service.

Years later, he married his first wife & they had a son. They settled in the little town of Colton, CA, & Dad got a job with the state Department of Transportation, where he stayed for twenty-six years, painting the stripes on the highways all over San Bernardino County.

At some point, he & his first wife divorced. Then, some time later, he met my mom & they married. They & my little sister & I became a family. He took us & made us feel like his own children, never making us feel second rate. He taught me how to do things. How to work on & repair things. He taught me to eat everything on my plate, because waste was a bad thing. He taught me how to treat others. He taught me how to treat my wife & children.

He always made me feel special. He showed interest in my schooling. He'd sit as I showed him the comic books I'd won at the local shop. He bought me my first comic book. He'd look at the models I'd built & my Lego cars. We spent about a month working on my Millenium Falcon model, even through a blackout. He'd play Track & Field on the Nintendo with me. He showed me how to garden & cultivate. He taught me about the different parts of an engine. Even when he was really sick, just before he passed away, he came out to help me work on my car.

He would discipline us, but I know, without a doubt, that it was done in a loving way, to correct us, not to inflict pain or to frighten us. Once in sixth grade, I had gotten into a fight, over nothing really. The kid I fought with was a good friend. It was a misunderstanding. The principal said that I could take a suspension or a swat. Dad told them, in no uncertain terms, that no one touched his child. His child. Not his stepchild. Not his wife's child.

His child.

He was so proud of me when I joined the Air Force. I actually had the chance to get out before I went to Basic Training, but I didn't want to disappoint him, as much as I wanted to get out. Even though I didn't like being in the Service, I knew he was proud of me. It made it a lot easier for me.

He passed away fourteen years ago this week. He's been gone from us, physically, longer than he'd been with us. I know that he'll always be with me in my heart & in who I am as a father, husband & a man in general, but, oh, what I'd give to be able to talk to him. To go fishing or play cards or work on the car or anything. I wish he was here to see The Boy & to meet T. I know they'd both love him.

I wish all of you, Loyal Readers, could've met him.