Thursday, July 08, 2010

Remembering Dad

Mom & Dad on their wedding day, June 2, 1937

Dad was a slight "little guy," as his friends often said. He barely weighed more than 120# and stood about 5'7" - a wiry, energetic fellow with an incredible knack with making broken down machines get back to work. Not cars or furnaces - his little brother (our very tall slender Uncle Bill) took care of those for us. But Dad was gifted at fixing any sort of printing press, book binder, type setter and the like, plus lawn mowers, and various other types of mechanical equipment. He set us a good example for making sure our tools/supplies stayed in the best possible condition. He took extremely good care of all his tools, cleaning and oiling them after each use. He also made sure we never marked a single book with pencil or anything else. He knew how much work and time went into the making of books, therefore we were taught to revere them.

He grew up in a German speaking household and only learned English after he entered grade school. He was offered a full scholarship to Cretin HS but Social Services said he had to go to work to help support his mother and 3 younger siblings. His dad had abandoned the family when Dad was quite young. He doted on his two little brothers and his little sister and often took them on his "dates" with mom before and after they were married.

Dad became a "self-made man," as was more common in those days. He went to night school to obtain his diploma and her read voraciously. He was opinionated, but he at least he educated himself before forming his opinions. He also listened to other points of view. Some folks could even encourage him to change his mind once in awhile! He knew his trade well and was always in demand, sometimes being sent to northern MN and the Dakotas to fix expensive bindery equipment.

In the 1960's

Like his two brothers, Dad had a knack for wood carving, although we have precious few of his carving left in the family. I have a small gavel that he made when I was a very young child. One of my sisters has a larger judge-sized one. My older sis recalls Daddy carving her a small boat, which she used in the street puddles. Unfortunately, the little boat went down the drain never to be seen again. Worse, Dad refused to make her another since she didn't take care of the one she had. Mind you, she was probably in pre-school or the very early grades at the time.

Dad loved kids, told us his own bedtime stories and even wrote stories for us when he was away. We have a few of them left in his handwriting which, by the way, was exquisite penmanship. I remember him taking off our little socks and running them between our toes both tickling us and "cleaning" our feet. He loved to toss us up in the air and catch us - as did Uncle Bill. All the cousins remember both men doing that to all little ones in the clan.

Dad built this memory box for me in 1981, shortly after he was diagnosed with ALS. In it is Mom's baby quilt, my wedding veil, my maternal grandmother's childhood eyelet dress, a clipping of my hair at age 3, and other memorabilia.

Dad and Mom were quite a pair. He was a stubborn German fighting an alcohol addiction until finally sticking to the AA program (he had 32 years of sobriety at the time of his death). She was a prim, proper little Irish woman who was just as stubborn as he was. It made for exciting times in our house. The two of them could ballroom dance like no one else I know - complete with dips and bends and twirls and more. They were so connected on the dance floor they appears as one in their smooth maneuvers.

One of our favorite photos of Dad, taken in the 1970s

Both Mom & Dad made a big deal of Christmas - Dad built a white fenced platform on which to place the Christmas tree along with an entire little village of cardboard & glitter houses, complete with ice rink and ski mountain. It was the envy of all children who saw it and it holds a special place in our memories. Dad also built a log cabin for the Nativity set of small sticks, nails, and bark. A single light bulb lit the scene from the inside peak of the cabin.
The Christmas Village - 1982

By mid-life, Daddy was wearing "choppers," his word for dentures. He hated them and more than once lost them while leaning over to catch a fish in the net from the row boat while on vacation. He used to love to tease little ones with his collapsing choppers - sometimes letting a surprised toddler get his/her finger stuck lightly between the then-unattached dentures.

Dad on a San Francisco trolley car in 1964

Dad had an amazing talent for music - he could play music by ear and had a small Austrian-made accordian/concertina that he played on many family occasions. It had both keys and buttons and made different sounds going in our going out - something I never managed to figure out. He often played old German songs he learned in his childhood.
Dad playing for all the Gangl cousins in 1953

My parents loved vacations and loved traveling, something my sisters and I have inherited. We usually went up north to a lake near Park Rapids, MN where we'd spend a week relaxing, fishing, reading, drawing, playing cards, rowing around, playing in the water, watching fire flies and what our parents called "heat lightening." Often storms were far enough away that one couldn't hear any thunder, but one could see the lightning lighting up the night skies. We battled giant MN mosquitoes, of course, but that was to be expected.

Dad was diagnosed with ALS about 5 years after he retired. He lived with the disease for 5 or so years, and was totally bed-ridden for the last year or more. Mom was his care-taker and she matured greatly during those final years. Things that formerly bothered her no longer mattered. Dad mattered. She dedicated herself to making his life as pleasant as possible. His bed was in the dining room with the bird feeder he built for mom years earlier attached to the window near his bed. Both Mom & Dad thoroughly enjoyed the daily comings and goings of the birds and the antics of the crazy squirrels made for high entertainment.

The summer of 1984
Dad died 25 years ago today, 8 days after Mom's unexpected death. He was 74 and had been physically quite active until the ALS began to rob him of muscle strength. During our last family visit, Dad told us all to gather around his bed as he had something important to tell us. What he said was this:
"Don't spend your life trying to figure out what God wants you to do. He planted the desire in your heart to do what you love doing. And that is what God wants of you - to be happy doing what you love."

He was an exemplar patient. It was amazing how many who came to cheer him up and ended up being cheered up by him. Dad taught us how to live... and how to die.

And I miss him, as I expect I always will.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Happy Holiday!

Photos from the 2010 Central Pennsylvania Volunteer Fireworks Celebration in State College. May they brighten your day as they brightened the skies for all attendees last night.