Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day -- It Isn't Only One Day I Remember My Dad

My Dad, Lawrence Verplanke, next to his Toyota
in front of his condo in Skokie, IL.
When my dad died, we brought him back to Chicago to be buried next to my mom as was his wishes.  He and she had had their graves for as long as I could remember. My brother surprised and touched me by wanting to make sure that their gravestones matched in a way that looked like an umbrella of love surrounding both of them.

The cantor who gave the eulogy interviewed us as to our favorite memories of our Dad and these became the basis of the beautiful eulogy he spoke of the 'Everyday hero' my Dad had been.

I wish I had brought a recorder with me because the cantor had spoken from the heart based on his notes, with no written speech I could wangle out of him.  Today we use the word 'hero' for every time any one does anything good out of the normal and selfless, and my shy, unassuming, ordinary, selfless father never did anything that would give him 15 minutes of fame on any news media, except for answering his country's call to go to war when necessary.

The cantor called my Dad an Everyday Hero precisely because he lived each day to take care of his family.  He didn't go out drinking or gambling or stepping out on my mother.  He went to work and came home to spend the rest of his time with us.  When we finally got a TV, we watched it as a family.

My Dad never graduated high school and my Mom only graduated high school.  Consequently we lived a blue collar life where my Dad worked for a time in factories with the motto, "last hired, first fired" meaning it was seasonal work where hiring and layoffs depended on need.  Until he went to work at the U.S. Post Office where my dad stayed the rest of his life.

Whatever ambitions he may have had for himself, he kept to himself. He always was grateful he had a job to feed, house, and clothe us.  And despite being poor, we never went without food or clothes, even if that meant the my mom had to sew all the garments herself. There just weren't many extras.

I remember my Dad walking the streets with us on Christmas Eve when we were very little to find that $5 tree that was a bargain right before the tree lot closed its doors for the holidays, so we children could have Christmas like everybody else. Even though our gifts were crayons and scissors we needed for school, not toys. As soon as we were old enough to understand, we got told there was no Santa -- that Santa was Mom and Dad when there was more money. 

Nowadays, we have so many charities making sure that needy children have not only toys and clothes but those specific items they want. Where and when I grew up, there were no charities like that, we got the truth about Santa not being real. As a child, it was probably the biggest factor steering me towards my Jewish heritage.  Nothing gets a little kid out of the 'what did you get for Christmas?' question faster than being Jewish.

My Dad at my former in-law's house
But we never saw ourselves as needy.  My dad worked hard and I did have dolls, just not the Barbie ones with all their outfit changes.  We had a wardrobe of clothes, just not many store-bought ones. My best memory of my toys is my dad taking us to a place where my mom, me, and my doll were all photographed wearing the same red lace dresses which my mother had made for us all. As Dolly Parton sang in her song Coat of Many Colors, "love sewn into every stitch".

It's hard to separate memories of my Dad and Mom because they loved and supported each other till the day each died.  But I do remember a day that my Dad instructed my Mom to give each of us $10 as a present to do what we wanted. I don't remember what my brother did with his but I bought a gold sweater with mine. I still can recall the look of pride my dad had when I modeled it for him.  I'll bet that look has meant more to me over the years than most of the gifts other kids have gotten in their lives.

My everyday hero also did things for us uncomplainingly.  My most cherished memory of him and one I think of every time I think of him involves our kite.  Like every other kid of our time, we wanted one but the only way we could get one was through Raleigh coupons or S&H green stamps. My parents did save them but the kite they got was huge and too big for us. However, whenever we'd want, my dad would carry it the several blocks to the park and 'help' us fly it. In reality it was too big for us so he had to fly it. Consequently, we'd quickly get bored and want to explore the park.  He would have to trail behind us, carrying the kite.  He never complained, never said no -- never refused to take us on these kite outings, even though he ended traipsing around carrying the heavy thing.  That's the dad I remember.  The one who was all about us -- his family.

My most treasured possession is my Dad's Lionel Train, which I begged him to leave me even though he thought it should more rightly go to my brother, as a 'boy's' thing. That is because we had no place to set it up permanently, so whenever we wanted to play with it, my dad had to set it up for us on the living room floor -- after work.  By the time all the tracks would get set up, we'd get to run it around only a few times before my mother would announce bed time, and the train would have to be picked up and packed away again.  My dad did this for us whenever we wanted -- never complained, never said no, never said he was too tired from work, or wanted to read the paper, or watch the Cubs or White Sox on TV.  It has always been more than a train to me.  It has always been a symbol of my father's love and what he was willing to do for us. That is why the Cantor called him an Everyday Hero... and why he is and shall ever be, my Everyday Hero.

As all young people have experienced sometime in their lives, I remember a time when the police caught my then boyfriend and me in a parked car.  I suspect that the police were looking for a handout (hey anybody who grew up in Chicago under Mayor Richard J. Daley's regime knows how honest the city and its minions were back then) because their version of what was going on in the car differed greatly from mine.  I remember the policeman asking me who I thought my dad would believe -- him or me.  I remember answering with absolute conviction that my dad would believe me.

Because my dad loved me.  There was absolutely no question for me about my dad's love nor any question for me about whom he would believe or support. 

Hence, I've always felt sorry for adults I've met out here who may have grown up with a lot more money than we did, but don't have the memories of a love like that warming their hearts and souls.  Till the day he died, my dad stood by me even if he didn't always understand my decisions (college is money wasted on girls when they are just going to get married or can you make a living writing/acting?).  He loved me and my brother and never wished his life to have been different.  That is why the Cantor insisted he was an everyday hero who knew the only important thing in life was to take care of family. 

You are my hero, Daddy. I love you always and will always miss you. Happy Father's Day.



Blogger Chanteuse said...

I loved him too

8:23 PM


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