In Remembrance of Dad

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens: A time to be born, and a time to die . . . ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1–2

Autumn is my favorite time of the year and always has been. I love the crisp autumn air, the bright colors of the trees, all the activities that come in autumn, including visiting apple orchards, harvesting the last of the garden veggies and herbs, and when I was young, the feeling of the first day of school for the year. There is always a tinge of sadness in autumn… for the summer that has now passed and for the darkness of winter to come. Ever since 2004, when my father died in the beginning of autumn, and then my mother in October 2005, there is personal sadness for me in autumn. But, as I learned from the Amish way of life, sadness is part of life, just as death is part of life. There are moments, especially in autumn, when sadness and joy seem to mingle for me. That is what it’s like for me in remembering my father, who loved trees and being close to the earth. 

When my father died, I traveled back to the community of my origins for his funeral. I was pleasantly surprised at the warm reception I received from the members of the community, which made it much less dreadful and stressful than I had expected. However, one of the things my sister and I talked about was how we missed any kind of eulogy. The Amish do not believe in that, because they want to give all praise to God. The preacher may say he has “Hoffnung” (Hope) for the person we died, but there isn’t any account of the difference that person may have made for others during his journey here on earth. So my sister and I decided to write what we would have said about Dad, if we had the chance to do so and send it to Mom. As it turned out, all five of us sisters ended up writing something to Mom. The following are excerpts of what I wrote.

Simon S. Miller
August 28, 1918 — September 30, 2004

In remembering Dad, it is tempting for me to ask the question of what is the meaning of a life as filled with sorrow as his was. He carried his burden of sorrow wherever he went. Most of us want to think that we are put on this earth for a purpose, and some of us spend our lives trying to understand and accomplish that purpose. When I heard that Dad was really ill, I started contemplating what the purpose of his life was, and whether he had accomplished it. Then one day I realized, this is not for me to understand. Only our Maker knows the answers to these questions, and all I can do as a mortal is to accept Dad’s life for exactly what it was. I don’t need to judge it, nor do I need to glorify it by trying to make him into someone he wasn’t. When I accept Dad’s life for what it was, I am able to sift through the memories I have of growing up with him as my father and remember and cherish the good memories, while letting go of the ones that weren’t so happy.

One morning, a few days before he died, I awoke and it was raining. I was sleeping right next to an open window. I peeked at my clock and muttered to myself, “Rain before seven, it’ll stop before eleven.” I was about to fall asleep, and my eyes flew open when I remembered Dad saying that so vividly, it was as if I heard him say it then and there. Here I was, in my bed that overlooks Smith College Campus, far from Dad and my childhood. However, I realized no matter where I go in the world, there are certain fundamental ways of thinking that I have internalized from being Dad’s daughter that will never change. I am happy to accept this. There are aspects of Dad that will live on in us children.

I remember the day Dad got his first orchard job. He came in the driveway, hopping, skipping and jumping, clapping his arms far above his head and yelling in a sing-song, “Ich hap en cha-ap! Ich hap en cha-ap!” (I have a jo-ob! I have a jo-ob!) He must have gotten from one end of the driveway to the other in about ten leaps. Mom was looking out the window, and saw him coming. She got a funny smile on her face and said something to the affect of, “Vass iss letz mit ihn?” (What is wrong with him?) Dad’s toothless smile was wider that day than I think I’ve ever seen it, as he told us about his new job. The jobs he had at the orchard were the best thing that could have happened to him. It fit right in with his passion for trees.

Another moment is really strong in my memory. Mom and Dad were walking in the driveway together after Communion Service the Sunday that Dan Wengerd had been ordained bishop. The two of them were deep in conversation. Mom had her shawl folded over her arms, and Dad was walking by her side with his head bent low, matching her pace instead of his usual faster one. In any other family, this would have been an ordinary moment, but in ours, it was extraordinary. Here was a moment when the two of them were a couple, walking home from a church service together, and they seemed to be enjoying one another’s company. It occurred to me that there was possibly more to their relationship than the strife I saw most of the time.

Yet another memory about Dad is the time when Otto Herring had paid Mom and Dad for number one maple syrup when it was clearly fancy syrup. They were both upset, but neither of them wanted to confront Otto. I offered to do that, and Dad drove me up to the Log Cabin in Burton in the horse and buggy, and then he let me go in and talk to Otto. As soon as I stepped inside to talk with Otto, he conceded that the syrup was indeed fancy, and he said he would pay the difference. When I came out, Dad was standing expectantly by the buggy. He asked, “What did he say?” When I told him, his face broke into a wide grin and he thanked me more than he had ever thanked me for anything else.

Some people would become righteous about such a thing and say why couldn’t Dad have argued for himself. But if Dad didn’t know anything else, he knew his own limits. He was no match for Otto, and he knew it. Not only was Otto shrewder than Dad, but he had the upper hand as the buyer of Dad’s syrup. The other thing that is interesting about this incident is that Otto intimidated Dad, but Dad never once doubted the syrup was fancy. He knew his stuff when it came to sugaring.

Dodde (Grandfather) and Dad used to have a friendly competition about who made the lightest syrup. I remember them holding those samples up to the window, next to one another. Dad would say, “Des is leichta, (This is lighter)” pointing at his own, in a definite voice. Then Dodde would peer at the samples as he held it up to window, while he chewed slowly on his tobacco. He’d say, “Nah, ich vess net veich sell. (Nah, I don’t know about that.)” Dad would get real quiet, and let Dodde draw his own conclusion. I can’t remember if Dodde would give Dad credit for having the lightest in the end, or whether he would insist his own was, or whether that varied from one time to another.

Another fond memory I have is when a couple used to come over on Sunday afternoons. Dad and this other man would play one game of checkers after another. I remember Dad’s Sunday shirt at the time was green. He would rock back in his rocking chair at the end of the game, after he had won it once again, and laugh gleefully. In the meantime, Mom and the other woman would be in the kitchen making a meal and visiting. I remember Mom used to take her good dishes out of the china cabinet for these occasions.

I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed these Sunday afternoons until they didn’t happen anymore. I remember one afternoon when I was supposed to be sleeping in Mom and Dad’s upstairs bedroom, I pulled the checker board and checkers out of the sideboard. Mom came upstairs and caught me in the act. As she was gathering up the checkers and scolding me about getting out something of Dad’s and not taking my nap, I had such a longing for one of those Sunday afternoons to happen again. I asked Mom why those people don’t come anymore, so Dad could play checkers with the man. She told me the man had died. I think this was at the time that I was just beginning to understand what dying was all about. I was thinking about the finality of it as I lay down for my nap. Forty some years later, I am still contemplating this same thing.

So, I remember the little things about Dad’s life that brought him happiness, and I leave the bigger questions to our Maker. He was, after all, the only One who could grant the grace of a peaceful end to Dad. This peace was like a rainbow; a ray of hope from the heavens. For this we can be forever thankful.

Photo taken in northern Vermont, August 2009

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8 thoughts on “In Remembrance of Dad”

  1. A beautiful remembrance and photo, Saloma. Such a thoughtful tribute to your father. Isn’t it amazing to hear his voice in your head still? It always surprises me when a thought in my head is countered by something my parents said years ago, and even in their voice.
    Oh, and that episode about you going to deal with Otto on your father’s behalf? How very Amish of your dad to send you in his place. That was a well described subtle-nuance of your former culture.

  2. What a touching tribute to a very real human. I enjoyed it very much, especially the description of your realization that it’s not our job to judge if one of God’s own created beings fulfilled his earthly role. I will long remember that observation. Thank you and may God bless you.

  3. What a nice way to remember your dad. My mother passed away this week and I am already thinking I would like to write down what I remember about her when I was growing up and the stories she told me from her childhood. I think this would be nice gift for my children when they are grown.

  4. Thank you all, for your comments. Tiff, thank you for your encouraging words.

    Monica, funny how you noticed the subtle nuance of my former culture… you gleaned an insight from this that I hadn’t realized myself.

    Carol, that was a startling moment for me, when I realized that I can contemplate the question of the meaning of my father’s sad life as much as I wanted, but the answer would remain forever out of my reach.

    Becky, I am sorry to hear of your loss… my heart goes out to you in this time of grieving. I hope you do write down your memories for your children… you will be giving them such a priceless gift. And may it give you peace to honor and cherish the memories you have of your mother. Blessings to you.


  5. Saloma, My parents are both gone too, and I miss them and think of them often. Like you, when I awaken early and find rain, I tell my hubby that dad said, “Rain before seven, quit before eleven.” (I’m in the Dominican Republic!!) That is one of this saying that I remember most. I know he used to talk about a cold moon at times, and years ago had to plant potatoes on Good Friday. I’m not sure if that too stems from his background. Our name was Zook, so maybe that tells you something! BUT–I have never heard of Squaw Winter as mentioned in your next post.
    I don’t get in here often, but really enjoy your posting!~~mm

  6. What a lovely rememberance of your Dad! Both of my parents passed in October, 10 years apart. They loved fall and though it was bittersweet, I remember the day my mom died was the most beautful day of October. I love to walk through the leaves, smell the air and remember how much they loved me.

  7. Anonymous, I’m glad to know others also knew of the rain before seven saying. I never heard about the cold moon, nor about planting potatoes on Good Friday.

    Peggy, thank you for sharing your thoughts about your parents. How touching, that the smell of the autumn air reminds you of how you were loved. Funny how people can trigger one another’s memories. You just triggered one of mine from a specific fall of my childhood, which I will share on a future post.

    Thank you, all for your wonderful comments.

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