“The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create something that will.”
My father was a great teacher. He taught me how to tie my shoes and how to climb a tree. He taught me the words to some of his favorite songs, and how to savor the last bite of ice cream in bottom of the bowl.
And while I am grateful for the lessons, what I cherish most, are the stories he left behind.
My dad died Sept. 6, 2008, and donated his body to the University of Iowa Hospitals, his way of paying them back for saving his life after a car accident in 1967.
He went peacefully, but unexpected, and we all grieved in our own way. I kept busy, helping my mom go through his things and decide what to give to Goodwill.
As I was cleaning the storage room out one day, I opened a box full of computer paper. As I started reading it, I realize it was his life story. He started writing it when he had his knee replaced in 1991 and became obsessed with it.
“I think it was really good therapy for him,” my mom told me later. “Unfortunately, he never finished it.”
I thumbed through the pages, stopping on a memory from his childhood.
“Another sound recorded on my relatively unblemished memory was the old Jewish junk man who made frequent trips down our alley with his horse and wagon in the summertime. His horse wore an old hat with holes cut out for its ears.
Long before I could hear the creak of groaning wheels and soft clomp-clump of hooves in soft alley ashes, the warm summer air carried to me Mr. Golad’s sad, low litany of monotony: ‘Rags? Old rags,’ Old Golad intoned. ‘Rags…old rags…’ And I waited for the magnificent parade to lurch slowly past our place.
Sometimes the trio paused-horse, wagon, and Mr. Golad-and I could see both horse and human were in state of semi-siesta. The junk man comfortable in the shade of the umbrella, horse content to occasionally startle a fly with that fantastic control of its skin muscles, until the old man clucked gently and the wagon creaked along down the alley toward 16th Street, until the warm summer air covered up his unforgettable song:
‘Rags. Rags? Old raaa-a-a-a-ags.’
I would listen for a long time before it would evaporate into silence. Or perhaps it would simply blend with the burr of a bee and my attention would turn to this busy bug invading some unsuspecting blossom.”
As I read the words, I envisioned myself there with him, experiencing the sounds and smell of the glorious summer day. I read the next page, and the next, and before I knew it, an hour had passed.
His story was too good to just leave in a box. It needed to be shared, if only with his family. I gathered up all the pages I could find and took them upstairs.
My mother told me my brother had more of Dad’s story, and once he brought them over, I began the task of transcribing them onto my computer, so it would be easier to share with my family.
As I typed, I read his story, and I soon realized I was experiencing my father’s life as he lived it, from his point of view; his innermost thoughts, his dreams and aspirations, and even his darkest fears. Some of the stories were familiar, but many I was reading about for the first time.
My father made a few mistakes during his lifetime, but he was honest, sincere, and genuine. And when he said he was going to do something, you could be certain he’d do it. He was a true friend to anyone who needed one. He did his best to be a good person, and taught his children good values.
Like most children, I didn’t always appreciate my father, and suddenly it was too late. But I have been given a great gift. I was able to know my father as a man, and to appreciate him for who he was.