memoriam: 5307 dayshistorydad

(10 comments)
April 23, 2003

An odd milestone today: I'm exactly twice as old as I was when my dad died, I've now lived for as long without him as I did with him. (I figured that out with my javascript date toy last summer, and then noted it on my palmpilot.)

(For me the calculation is a little weirder than that, since I have this odd theory that I wasn't fundamentally who I am now until sometime during middle school. It's a self-serving rule of thumb, makes me feel less close to "middle aged" than I am.)

With Santa...
My dad was amazing in a lot of ways. Minister, Counted-Cross-Stitcher (at a national competition level), Baker (when we lived in a small town, he'd announce he was baking bread, people would place their order and leave the money on the kitchen table, and on a related note, he never did reveal his double chocolate cookie recipe, or its source, which was a book in the town public library), Furniture Refurbisher, Registered Nurse (when he realized the ministry wasn't for him forever, he started attending a local college to get his degree), Art Collector (prints mostly; a few pieces from his collection were added to the Cleveland Museum of Art's permanent collection), Historian/Collector (especially Salvation Army memorabilia). He'd find a new interest, like circus memorabilia, or folk art rugs, or cigar store indians, get some books, and become a bit of an expert on all those topics. He gained an amazing amount of sophisticated culture for a guy from his background, salt of the earth folk in the farm country of Ohio. (It took him a while though, one time on a school trip to the Cleveland Art Museum, he told the teacher "Teacher, you can see her...her things.") He was the epitome of champagne on a beer budget (and knew some accounting tricks to pull that off from studying finance in college). I really think that my appreciation for the finer things suffers tremendously in comparison to his, especially when you compare our backgrounds, all the cultural advantages I've had.

He was sick for 14 months before his death (though, tellingly, I first estimated it at 2-3 years)...Spinal Meningitis that knocked his nervous system, made him half blind and left him with extremely poor coordination and difficult speech. (It also took out his sense of smell...and having been trained as a nurse, his first professional diagnosis was "huh, when you get spinal meningitis, your farts don't smell!") He had been on a road of slow recovery, regaining the ability to walk, relearning how to read, when treatment for a tumor on his left gave him a setback from which he couldn't recover. The saddest moment I know of, my own personal "what to think about if I need quick tears for a stage role", came a few weeks before his death. Word of my grandmother Eva's death had arrived that morning (and, historically, they had not always been on super friendly terms, ever since he managed to polish the anniversary numbers off of her silver--) and I had just gotten up and walked by his bedroom (he was bedridden again) and he was there weeping and weeping. Weeping for Eva, and with a likely foreknowledge of his own passing. Trying to put myself in his place there gives me a sense of horror and foreboding that's hard to comprehend.

He was generous too. He thought it was important for a guy to have a little "scratch" money on him, and would often slip a little something into letters to some of his nephews. Another sad and horrific yet somehow beautiful thing I remember is when he had first gotten ill, had suffered these grand mal seizures, was in the hospital bed, he urged my mom to give me a little money, a five or something. Because of his slurred speech it took a while to understand what he was saying, about how what's supposed to happen is a son goes up to his father, says he needs a little money, and the father takes it out of his wallet and gives it to him. And it took me even longer to get a deeper understanding of what he meant by it.

Favorite Photo Pose
People who knew him then, and me later, say I inherited his sense of humor, and his walk. One time Judy Hill, who knew him back from Coshocton, OH, walked up behind me as I was searching through some sheet music in my church's band room, and she said something in my stance really reminded her of Jim. That really touched me.

I guess some of my biggest regrets are not being able to interact with him after I grew out of my graceless adolescent phases. So much of what I'm proud of in life (getting my act together in school, going to a good college, pulling off neat technological tricks, things I've written and websites I've started, finding and wooing Mo, stumbling into a decent career, settling into my sense of humor, such as it is) have happened since early freshman year in high school... (this ties into that "life begins at 13" theory of mine.) And who knows, maybe if he had been around, I might've been a bit more culturally attuned, not quite the barbarian I am now.

Sigh. More than sigh.

James Edward Israel, 9/9/1949 - 10/10/1988.