My Dad at 97. What he saw. What he would have seen.

My Dad would have been 97 years old tomorrow. Quite often I wonder what he would have thought of events and developments had he lived beyond what I see as a premature death, just a month after I graduated from college in 1984.

The nearly 70 years Pop lived certainly provided quite an odyssey full of monumental persons, places and things, as is the simple version I learned of the word “noun.” From Pop I likewise picked up quite a menagerie of nouns, not to mention pronouns, adjectives and exclamations, such as his famous line: “A whole flock of bird dogs flew over!”

I could no doubt write a book on my Dad, his wit, and all his complexities. But I will limit myself here to a few events through time that my Dad witnessed and those he missed after his passing.

My father was born John — and died as well — as his father before him. Pop described his birthplace in the East Texas sawmill town of Pollok as a rail car in which his family was living at the time. The great virgin pine forests of the time were being leveled by big-city tycoons about as fast as their impoverished minions could do so with a crosscut saw and teams of oxen. At the time, “The War to End All Wars” was underway across the Atlantic, a land which must have seemed as distant as the moon to the East Texans who barely scraped by on the sweat and aching muscles from a long day’s toil in the Pineywoods. Our country would not send its young to what became known as World War I until a couple of years later, with that entrance providing the impetus for the armistice. That wouldn’t happen until 35 million civilians and soldiers were dead or wounded. More than 116,000 Americans died. Another 205,000 suffered wounds including the horrific effects of nerve gas.

The automobile began to take off in my Dad’s infant days. Commercial flight was still some years to come. He did his long-distance travel by train and ship. He probably hopped more freight trains than rode on fare. Growing up in the days of the Depression, he would use his thumb as a means of travel probably most of all. Pop got to drive, or ride in, some of the fastest cars of the time in his youngest of adult years, as an ambulance attendant as part of his duties at a Lufkin funeral home. I was certified though worked very little as an EMT in the 70s and 80s. In those days we spoke of “patient management.” I will always remember the Old Man talking of a patient they picked up in the boonies who had tried to do herself in by swallowing lye. He said the woman “acted crazy as hell” until he finally found a thermos bottle and controlled her by a whack to the head. There you have his patient management. Oh well, whatever works.

Then came World War II. Pop had served in one of Mr. F.D. Roosevelt’s Depression-Era make work programs called the Civilian Military Training Corps. During summers in his late teens he would hop a freight from East Texas and make his way to San Antonio for training. Upon completion of the camp he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Texas Guard and worked for awhile as a National Guard recruiter. When the war broke out he found his fate would be that of a dogface infantry officer. In what to me seems a very wise choice he resigned his commission and joined the Merchant Marine, becoming a steward, or a cook’s helper.

Pop got to see a little bit of the world: both coasts, Cuba, Aruba, Alaska, Russia. He didn’t get to see Vladivostok until his ship fought off a Japanese — he called them “Japs” — air attack. Of course, we all know how the war ended, with the atomic bomb used two and — so far — only two times.

When he was young, Pop built “crystal” radios and made himself a broadcaster. He would eventually see large radio sets with tubes give way to tiny transistor ones. He was likewise there for the beginning of broadcast TV. I can remember when an aunt and uncle brought us our first television. He remembered Jack Benny and all the other funny men of those days when he listened to them on the radio. We shared a lot, my Mom, Dad and I, on television. Mother was working and Pop was at home when he heard John Kennedy was shot. It was raining that day and I usually walked the couple of blocks home. I don’t know how he knew to pick me up at school early, other than having watched TV, but he was there.

My Dad and I would go on to watch “Green Acres” as well as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

He grew up without air conditioning. So did I. My parents never had A/C until late in life, when a brother and his wife bought them one.

My Dad talked when I was a kid about Halley’s comet. It was visible where he lived only months after he died. A friend sat up a telescope in the field surrounding the farm house I rented back then. Halley’s turned out to be a bust. But I bet Pop would have loved Hale-Bopp. I think he would have equally loved the young lady I was seeing around that time.

After Pop died came the computer and telecommunication explosion. I was probably in puberty when we got our first camera. It was a Polaroid Swinger, instant black and white. Later would come a Kodak Instamatic. I don’t know what he would say about cell phones, much less ones that take a picture you can send instantly almost anywhere in the world. I have no idea what he’d say about the Internet. I think I know what he’d say about modern customer service by phone and elsewhere. That utterance would be peppered with one of the colorful phrases he could use.

How 9/11 would phase Pop and the following wars, I think I know how he would feel. He would support those fighting the wars no matter what. Some of my brothers said my Dad probably would not have taken kindly to the first black president. He came from a different time and place, even though I think my father was a little more tolerant than my brothers give him credit. Like me, he respected the office even if he didn’t respect the man. I think he would have cheered that Osama bin Laden got it, no matter which president was in office. And as my friend, Bruce points out, we know for a fact Osama is dead: ” … he turned up on the voter rolls in Chicago this spring. Voted in the democratic primary,”

A snippet of other developments Bruce mentioned that Pop missed: Robot vacuum cleaners, texting, sexting, social media, widespread e-mail, LED television. Plus, from me: “Reality” television shows, 24-hour cable news, celebrity worship, the diversity of food and beverage, and its availability, $4-gas, $10-hamburgers, “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” the AFLAC Duck, the GEICO gecko … And on and on.

You’d have marveled at it Pop, if you were here. And yeah, a lot of it would piss you off as it does me. I miss you.


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