Friday, February 29, 2008

A Father's Tale

Shauna put up a wonderful tribute to her father and I thought I’d follow her lead and say a few things about my father, who died in 1972. His name was John Vandel and he was 58; I was thirteen. He was a wonderful man and a great father and I still miss him very much.

1. My father lived his life knowing he would likely die young. He was born with a congenital heart problem that kept him out of World War II. He had his first heart attack when I was about 8. No one told me how serious his attack was and I didn’t understand until later how close he came to dying then. I remember him often taking a little nitroglycerine pill, which he always carried with him in a little tin. Years later my mother spoke of how doctors had told her that daddy could die at any time, and how much she worried. Their bravery amazes me. They lived their lives, worked, and raised five children all the while knowing that dad might die at any moment. These pictures are of their wedding day, and of another day not long before he died.

2. My father was a farmer and that is all he ever wanted to do. We raised cattle and chickens, and cash crops such as maize or peas. We also bailed hay for the cattle and always planted at least two, and often three, gardens. Despite my father’s poor health, he worked hard every day.

3. One thing that embarrasses me now is how I sometimes got a bit angry with my father for planting three gardens when one would have provided for our family. He would give away the rest, and I hated having to pick stuff that was then just handed away to others. Now I realize what a generous man he was and how he brought joy, and food, to the lives of many of our neighbors who couldn’t grow gardens for themselves. And all it cost me was a little work.

4. My dad had blue eyes and to this day I remember how they sparkled when he laughed.

5. When dad died, his generosity came back to him. The church was literally full of flowers from those he had helped and who loved him.

6. My father did not care for rock music, which he called “Duck Quacking music.” I don’t think he was a big music fan in general. We had a radio in the house but as I remember it was always tuned to the weather report. He would watch Hee Haw and seemed to like some country music.

7. From the time I was very little, my mother worked at a chicken processing plant while my father farmed. We didn’t have kindergarten in Arkansas in those days, so my dad pretty much raised me until I went to first grade. The story is told that when mom first went back to work she selected a local lady as my babysitter, but my dad went one day and brought me home because he didn’t think she was doing a good enough job. From then on I went wherever he went, carrying my bottle in the pocket of my kid overalls.

8. My mother left for work around 5:00 in the morning, so once I started school my father always got me up and fixed me a good breakfast, usually bacon and eggs, or his own sausage recipe, before I caught the bus. On the day he died, he and I worked a bit in the garden just before the bus came and I told him that I loved him and hugged him before heading off to school. The next time I saw him was when he was in his coffin. I’m glad I got to tell him I loved him. A picture of his gravesite is below.

Our family website, maintained by my niece Stacey, is here.


Lana Gramlich said...

He sounds like he was a very caring, honest & hard-working man, Charles. I can see where you get it from. :)

Shauna Roberts said...

What a wonderful set of stories about your father. How cute you must have been following after your father in your little overalls with your bottle. He must have enjoyed that time with you very much.

I'm sorry that he died before you could know each other as adults.

FANCY said...

Thank you for sharing a peace of your history . I bow my head for you.

Miladysa said...

A very touching, interesting and inspiring post Charles.

What a remarkable man your father was, one of life's true heroes!

How happy your parents look on their wedding day :-D

the walking man said...

Fond memories of a good parent. The minds oasis.



RRN said...

Thank you for sharing that Charles. I was amazingly touched by this. It really went strait to the heart. Beautiful words and memories man.

Utter greatness.

Sidney said...

Great story. It makes me think of a song lyric Wayne passed on to me once: "Live like you were dyin'" The generosity and everything certainly sounds like he put the time he had to good use and since he liked country music maybe he would have enjoyed that tune.

WH said...

Beautiful story, Charles. My father died at 91 a few years back, but every year on his birthday I listen to "A Father Makes a Difference," by Randy Newman on his soundtrack of The Natural. (He's a great composer for orchstra, although not many know this.) I always bawl like a baby. It's cathartic because I still miss him. Your story reminds me of all the small things we recall about our dads.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, yes, he was.

Shauna, I think he did enjoy that time. He always took good care of me.

Fancy, I appreciate the thoughts.

Miladysa, mom and dad were very happy. My mom lived alone many years after that, but finally met and married another wonderful man who had lost his wife.

Mark, yes.

RRN, thanks.

Sidney, yes, exactly what my father did.

Billy, "a father makes a difference" is a fine song.

Travis Cody said...

I'm sorry you lost such a wonderful influence in your life at such a young age. But the lessons seem to have stuck and that's a good thing.

I enjoyed these stories. Thanks for sharing them.

Middle Ditch said...

That was very touching story Charles and I'm sure your father smiles at you from wherever he is now.

I realize you lost a very beautiful soul. I can't say the same. I feared my father and I envy you.

Rob Windstrel Watson said...

You felt his love and in his loss you feel pain.

My father knocked my mother out when I was seven years old then left for ever.

He isn't dead, but if he was, I don't think I would care. He has never ever given me anything, least of all himself.

Your dad gave you lots so you feel the pain of loss.

My dad gave me zip but at least I will feel no pain in his departure.

Perhaps it all evens out.

On the other hand, I have many wonderful memories of teaching my son to play tennis down at the local tennis club and many other memories of his growing up.

When I die, I think he will feel pain but I wouldn't have missed his upbringing for the world.

Donnetta said...

Hi, Charles. You are so lucky to have such fond memories. Some of us didn't get to have that. Still, I try to think of my dad as "on the other side" learning new lessons and healing. Makes it easier to forgive. What I wouldn't give for just one fond memory.

Jo said...

Oh, that is so beautiful. How lucky you were to be able to hug him and tell him you loved him on his last day on earth. I'm sure he took that memory with him.

He sounds like a wonderful man, and he would be so proud that his son has done such a loving tribute to him.

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis, I'm glad you enjoyed them.

Middle-Ditch, I'm so sorry that your relationship with your own father was not a good one.

Steve Malley, indeed.

Rob Hopcott, I'm very sorry for the lack of a good relationship with your own father, but am glad your son and you got along well. My son and I get along well too. I will add you to my links tomorrow.

Donnetta, I wish I could give you that memory.

Josie, that helped me so much after he died, the fact that I got to tell him I loved him just before.

Lisa said...

You father sounds like he was a truly loving and generous man. I'm so glad you have such wonderful memories, even though I know it's hard to remember very well when it's been such a long time. I noticed on your family tree that you are the youngest of the five and that there is a pretty big age difference from you to the oldest sibling. You probably had some extra special time in those years before school started for you. Sort of like you had him all to yourself for a while :)

Sphinx Ink said...

Thanks for the touching portrait of your father and your memories of him. I enjoyed the family website, too. It's cool that you have such a large extended family, although you rarely see them due to geographic distance. They are part of you and you are part of them.

Rob Windstrel Watson said...

Charles, thanks for adding me to your list. I'm honored!

I've added you to my list as a site I like to visit :-)

Perhaps fathers who have little or nothing to do with their children are the one's who lose most in the end.

Children are such a trial but are also such a comfort in old age.

Chris Eldin said...

Reading this gave me chills. What a beautiful childhood you had. Your story feels so completely in a different era, too. It's magical, you know. I love how he kept you and didn't get a babysitter. That's very hard.
Very poignant, Charles.

Bernita said...

He had no problems with his "real" heart.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, my closest brother is 6 years older than me so at times it was like being an only child at home, especially since we didn't have a kindergarten and kids just stayed home before first grade. I remember many incidents of being with him.

Sphinx Ink, I get home to see the family at least once a year, and occassionally some of them come here. My brother was here a month or so back but just for a day. They were all very helpful to us after Katrina.

Rob, I linked to your profile, which will let folks see all your blogs. Yes, my son was occassionally a handful but has brought me so much joy that he's well outweighed any trouble.

Christine Eldin, I do realize that I had a very magical childhood in many ways. Makes me think of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.

Bernita, :) Thanks, that was nice.

Travis Erwin said...

Nice tribute, and how great is it that you he didn't die with things left unsaid between you.

Erik Donald France said...

That was really sad but thanks for sharing.

Michelle's Spell said...

What a sweet loving tribute! My God, he sounds wonderful. There is no substitute for a good father -- many of my friends don't have one for a myriad of reasons and there's still a big hole in their lives. It's terrible that he died so early, but good that you got to spend time with him when you were young.

ivan said...

He will be with you.
He will have been so proud.
Even of this.

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Erwin, yes, one of my brothers was not getting along well with dad when dad died and that has always haunted my brother.

Michelle, he wasn't perfect, of course, but he was an extremely good father, a hard worker, and a loving husband.

Erik, not so sad for me anymore. I look back with fondness now, and good memories.

Ivan, I still talk to him in prayers even now. And visit his gravesite when I'm in Charleston.

cs harris said...

What an incredible man. It can't have been easy to have a toddler following him while he was trying to farm. But , that's where the closest bonds between parents and children come from--the many shared little everyday things.

I envy you for having had the chance to see him right before he died, and telling him you loved him. My father died when I was on the plane home to see him after having been overseas for years. I'll never get over that.

Sarai said...

This is really touching and something I might have to look into doing later on. My father passed away five years ago this December and I still get teary eyed thinking about him and the wonderful man he was.
You were very blessed to have him in your life he sounds like a great man and a wonderful role model.

SzélsőFa said...

This is as wonderful memento from a loving son towards his beloved father. I'm almost covering my eyes to intrude family intimacy here - your words were moving.

John Holland said...

Thanks for sharing. My Dad just died this summer and it still is hard to believe he's not going to be there when I pick up the phone to hear his voice.