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.