Ken Beaton: Ask dad more questions
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I bought Dad a card for Father’s Day, June 15, 1997. I thought he would have lived longer. Nobody goes around saying, this is my last time to do this or that. You never know when something will be your last time, except psychics.
Twenty years ago I took Dad to his favorite place for breakfast, the Atrium room of the old Carson Station. Cancer had taken Mom 16 months earlier. They were married for 58 years. For dinner, I took Dad for Chinese food and gave him his last card. Unfortunately, neither of us knew it was his last Father’s Day.
In 1924 at 8 1/2 years, Dad’s childhood changed when he lost his mother. Once I was successful getting him to talk. He hated coming home to an empty house, no Mom. The Great Depression began in 1929. He quit school after the ninth grade to deliver a 35-pound block of ice up several flights of stairs to customers’ ice boxes, not many refrigerators in 1931. By 1935 he was accepted in the Civil Conservation Corp, CCC, constructing fire roads and fighting fires. On Sept. 10, 1936, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard as an Apprentice Seaman. Mom visited him in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They decided to exchange their vows on Dec. 11, 1937. A shipmate and his wife were witnesses. His first Father’s Day was June 15, 1941. I was 2 1/2 months old.
Fast forward to 1981, my parents moved to Carson City to live near my two children, wife and I. We celebrated a total of 14 Mother’s Days and 16 Father’s Days along with birthdays, holidays and my parents’ golden anniversary on Dec. 11, 1987 with relatives and friends.
I had spent many hours sending printed invitations, recording the names of attendees, making arrangements with Jo Ellen at the Nugget along with Father Jerry to renew their wedding vows at a Mass. My son, Paul, served his first time as an altar boy at their Mass.
A week before our plan to surprise my mom for their 50th, she had an emergency operation to repair internal bleeding. It was touch and go for awhile. When I visited her in the hospital after her operation, I said, “Mom, I have to tell you something. Dad and I have been planning a surprise 50th anniversary party for you. In order for this to work, I need both of you present.” My two sisters shopped for her dress. She attended in a wheelchair pushed by the love of her life. They danced a couple of steps to the Anniversary Waltz.
In the spring of 1998, Dad’s cardiologist discovered problems with two of his four heart valves. Dad was between a rock and a hard place. If he did nothing, his two valves would last about six more months or he could have an operation to replace them.
On May 5, 1998, his two valves were successfully replaced. Unfortunately, his recovery was one step forward and two steps back. Sixteen days after the operation, he had a stroke in the morning and passed away about 12 hours later.
I spent the next four months cleaning out his apartment, notifying Social Security, sending a death certificate to both insurance companies with countless other chores.
Fourteen months later I had a friend, Ed, who was experienced in swapping engines. I had spent five weeks in an empty engine compartment scraping 34 years of grease and yuck using a putty knife and a wire brush to prepare the engine compartment for the new engine. Ed helped me install a rebuilt big block Olds, 462 cubic inch, engine in my 1964 Olds Cutlass red convertible. On my third attempt, the big block fired up, without any mufflers. We ran the engine for 30 minutes to “break it in.” It was dark when I shut off the engine and closed the garage door. The next morning after all my blood, sweat and tears, I was excited. I picked up the phone and dialed Dad’s phone number to share my good news! In my excitement, I completely forgot Dad had passed away.
About 15 years ago I joined Ancestry.com and realized there were many questions I never asked Dad. If your dad is living, put down this newspaper and call or Skype him. Write down all your questions and make arrangements to videotape his answers. Quality time with your dad is the best gift you can give him. His answers will be your gift to future generations. One of my regrets is I didn’t ask Dad more questions. Don’t repeat my mistake!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.