For the past sixty-six years, I've wished that my dad hadn't passed away so soon. I was only three, and my brother, Dan, five when Dad died on May 19, 1948, at the age of 38. He was inspecting a steel furnace door, when it suddenly became unhinged and fell, crushing him from the waist down. His accident happened on the seventeenth of May and he died two days later.
I documented this horrible tragedy in my first chapter book, Playing Hooky (When We Were Kids, Book 1) so that my children and grandchildren will know who he was, a talented and funny person who loved his wife, son and daughter to no end, and enjoyed every moment of his short life to the fullest.
On every death anniversary, I think about what my life would have been like had he lived. I know I would have been a "daddy's girl" because we had a special bond even before I was born. Dad told my mom that if their second child was a girl, he wanted her name to be Florence Frances. Florence because it meant "flowers" and Frances because his mentally-impaired younger sister's name was Frances and since she would never have the chance to have her own children, he wanted his daughter to carry her name. He had a heart of gold, my dad.
I have only a few pictures of him and just one of him, my brother, and I all holding hands, taken in Baba's backyard. But the images in my mind are many. I see Dad coming home from the mill, picking me up and swinging me around the room, him smiling from ear to ear, and me giggling excitedly. I hear him telling mom about his day as he lovingly embraces her. He asks what's for dinner and promises ice cream if we eat all our vegetables. Afterwards Dad reads the daily paper from cover to cover. When he gets to the comic strips, he howls out loud. My brother and I can't imagine what he finds so funny, but we join him nonetheless. He sings every nursery rhyme he can think of and then graces us with "Danny Boy" the Irish ditty he became famous for in our hometown. Although his given name was Frank, everybody called him Dan because whenever he had the opportunity, he sang that song. I see Dad helping me get ready for bed and telling me stories of his own childhood. He kisses my forehead, lets me know how much he loves me, and wishes me sweet dreams.
One morning just like every other one, Dad fixes me a bowl of cereal, picks up his lunch box and heads to work. When I hear the four o'clock mill whistle, since we live directly across from the gate, I run out on the front porch to meet him. But on this particular day, he doesn't come home. He's in the hospital fighting for his life, a battle he eventually loses.
Yet I still see him proudly watching me make my First Communion, graduate high school, secure my first teaching job, get married, have three beautiful children, become a successful educator, be blessed with seven energetic grandchildren, start a second career as an author at the ripe old age of sixty-eight, and live every moment of my life to the fullest exactly like he did.
My Dad has always been here with me though I didn't realize that until just a few years ago. However, having come to that conclusion no matter how late in life, I now have a beautiful sense of peace that was missing for so long. And every time I read the comic strips in our local paper, I hear him howling.
Love you, Dad, always and forever.