Last Happy Times with Father

It's not so much any souvenirs we want to take,

it's our hearts we need to carry." 

Attributed to C.S. Lewis.



Happy New Year 2021, TAC’ers

Out with the old; in with the new!  Like me, each of you could report on the sad and bad of 2020.  Living mostly isolated; trying to avoid COVID-19; hearing the growing numbers weekly of the sick and the dying.  Hard times for so many for many reasons!

Each of us has to find ways, however tiny (maybe equal to a mustard seed), to find and share joy and hope.  Let’s put our hearts together!



I visited the website of Olney Memorial Post 4226 earlier this month.  I listened to the New Year’s message, and I clicked on various pages, seeing, for example, the monthly list of events.  I was very impressed with the spirited message and the good work I saw on the website.

Somehow, that New Year’s message triggered my memory of the nights in the mid-1990s when my father and I visited the Olney post.  You see, those nights were among my last happy ones with my father.

Father was alone in Olney, and I was often alone in Springfield.  While, at the time, Barb and I lived in Springfield, Illinois, and were not totally aware of it, we were in a slow transition to living in Houston, Texas -- leading to my retirement and her new hospital position.  In the beginning of the transition, Barb was often in her Chicago office in the State of Illinois building.  And son Erik was married and not living at home.  So I was free to make the 130-miles drive down to Olney for one or two week-end visits to my aging father, monthly.

Age had isolated my father.  My mother, his wife, had died several years earlier.   He rarely had visitors (his children lived too far away); he rarely drove; didn’t attend church anymore, and had few living friends.   He could, however, make it to the close-by post.

Usually, I would arrive at his cottage late Friday afternoons.  I’d pull up the drive-way close to the dining room windows.  Even before I could get out of the car, I could hear the program on the Discovery Channel; he kept the volume high.  If the sun were still up, I’d see the peeling paint as I walked up the ramp, built several years into his widowhood.  It was his only way in and out of the house when he began to need a walker.  The front door was always unlocked -- and often stuck.  I’d lean into it and push hard for it to open. 

Inside, I’d see him sitting in the recliner where he’d sat for many years.  Often, he had been sleeping in his recliner; the screeching door had awakened him.  And rather often he woke with the feeling I had been with him earlier in the day.  I know, as he’d say “My coffee’s cold.”  Of course, I’d get him a fresh cup.  Just as often he was still in his pajamas. If it were super time, he’d go into his bedroom and change into the outfit he always wore to the post -- never the new boots, clothes, and coat that Barbara and I had given him on birthdays, father’s days, and Christmas’ past. 

Ready to head to the post, he pushed his walker out to my car.  I followed.  I drove the few blocks to the post.



As I write above, I don’t remember many details about our time at the post, but I remember a feeling of warmth and good cheer.  When I think back, I remember walking in the post to the sounds of happy people – laughter, music and other sounds created by active people.  That would include greetings to us.  Many cheered father by name: “Hello Ray!”, ”Evening Ray!”, “Welcome Back, Ray.”  Included in those greeting him were those of the bartenders; they gave him special attention.  With them, he enjoyed pleasant evenings

The food was always good, tasty.  But what I remember were the sounds of people enjoying time together  --  a “Glad-Heart” feeling.  Also way in the background party-type machines sounding:  the “Ting-Ting” of pinball machines and the “Bong-Bong” of one-armed bandits.  I don’t mean loud; just a comfortable, background atmosphere!  After eating we’d stay and drink beer, and, I think, at times playing some game at our table.  Checkers?  Not sure.  I do remember we were okay just sitting together watching and listening to the actions around us: father was never a talker.  I had learned to be quiet.

I do remember the first night I saw my father drinking his beer out of a sippy cup.  I had visited father at Olney post for several years.  One winter visit, I got to Olney late and went to the post after stopping by the empty house.  Across the room, I saw him drinking beer -- out of a sippy cup!  I knew his hands had begun to shake but had never seen him use a sippy cup.  I learned later the staff had got a cup with handles, put his name on it, and served his beer in it.  No one made a fuss about it.  I was impressed. 



Those nights with my father sitting in the post were my last pleasant visits with my father.    During my last year in Illinois, I continued my monthly visits with my father.   Then it happened: my family moved him after a caregiver found him one winter afternoon sitting in a very cold house with a failed furnace.  We moved him to a room in a small, private home licensed to accommodate a few seniors. Those memories are mostly sad ones.  In late May, 1997, I retired and moved to Houston, Texas, joining Barbara who had moved there in October, 1996.  Father lived another nineteen months, dying in December after his 88th birthday.  I flew home for his funeral where I sat with my sister and brother and a few others.  None of the pallbearers had known him.

I choose to remember the happy evenings with father, thankful for our evenings at the Olney VFW post. 

I choose also to remember the times I’ve shared with the TAC community these past years.  I’ve enjoyed sharing via the website with many of you, some becoming good friends over the years.  I’m thankful for that.  I’m thankful for the good deeds of you who have made it possible by your support, including donations, for us to help so many students over the past ten years. 

So, thanks for the memories!  And here’s to our new year, 2021!  May we enjoy continued good will!  May we find joy in 2021!  I hope it is a good year for us all.  Let’s put our heart into it!

Happy New Year, TAC’ers.