My dad Jerry died in February of 1975, the year before I graduated college. He and I had just begun the best relationship possible between a parent and child–that of becoming friends as adults. He missed my graduation, missed meeting the man I eventually married, missed seeing the births of our two fantastic sons, missed hearing them both play violin and flute, respectively. He missed so much of life that, to this day, it breaks my heart and brings me sorrow and regret.
But at the same time, I fervently and firmly believe that Jerry is somewhere watching, smiling, and quite possibly adding a nudge here or a hug there. I think just probably he did catch a few of those music recitals, and that he kept my children safe when neither I nor my husband could not be present.
On March 21, back in 1918, Jerry was born. He was one of four children (3 boys and 1 girl) born to two immigrants from Italy. He never went to high school, but he managed to get a job with Grumman Aerospace–yes the folks that made the Lunar Landing Module. More on that later.
Eventually Jerry married a girl he knew named Eleanor, also a child of other Italian immigrants. Together, Jerry and Eleanor adopted two very young daughters, both born in Italy themselves.
Being a musician himself (played accordion and base cello), Jerry taught his daughters the piano, and instilled a joy in and love of music. I grew up not only playing classical pieces, but also listening to Mozart, Beethoven, great Opera Arias, and a lot of 1940’s Big Band sound. I wonder what Dad might have made of some of the music of the last 20 years.
Jerry would fondly joke how his house was filled with girls; even our pet puppy was female. But Jerry loved it. He was a generous, warm-hearted man who, though shy (he would blush if his daughters hugged him), loved talking with all sorts of people. He loved to travel, which was difficult because Eleanor could not easily do so. But my Dad and I did take a trip with my aunt and cousin down to Florida one year, when I was a kid. The only memory I have of that enjoyable trip was entering a “Name that Tune” contest, with my Dad looking on. I lost when I blanked out on the tune “Pennies from Heaven.” We both laughed later because I had heard that song so often in our house.
I mentioned the Lunar Landing Module. Much of my earliest reading (and I started reading very early) consisted of science fiction–Andre Norton, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov–I was going to be a space colonist when I grew up. One time my Dad took me to his office. I got to climb into a full-scale model of the Lunar Landing Module. I remember thinking that it seemed way too small for the astronauts to fit in–and I was a fairly small girl myself.
A couple of years ago, our parish church had its 50th anniversary celebration. My mother Eleanor still attends Mass there, while I am no longer Catholic. Years ago, when I did attend as a teenager, Jerry, my sister and I were part of the Folk Mass musical choir and ensemble. My Dad conducted, I played guitar and sang in the chorus, my sister played a special kind of recorder. Being involved in that kind of service to the church and church community was deeply and profoundly important to my Dad. When he had his first heart attack, the June before he died, he took a lot of time off work to rest. By Christmas High Mass he was back to conduct Folk Mass. Our pastor then asked him why he did not just continue taking the rest, God would understand. My Dad’s answer was that if he was to leave life, what better place could he be, than in church serving God and the people of the church. Barely two months later, in the middle of Mass, my Dad had his last fatal heart attack.
But back to the church 50th anniversary. Members of the church were invited to write up something about some of the now deceased, who had been active. My aunt, my mother, and some other folks wrote up their memories of Jerry, my Dad. It was printed on a very nice card. My mom, Eleanor, sent me a copy. Each of my sons read it. My younger son, 22, called his grandmother with tears in his eyes and said he really now felt like he knew his other grandfather (my husband’s parents both still live and we see them at least a couple of times each year.)
I miss my Dad, especially today, the day of his birth. I miss him when I think of all the things I would want to especially share with him. I miss him when I look at his grandsons. Although they are not his biological grandsons, I know he would have adored them just as he adored his two adopted daughters.
And as I said earlier, I know that my Dad Jerry is somewhere watching. He is probably blushing fiercely at my writing this Memory of him.
I love you Daddy.