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
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.