20 Years ago today my Dad passed away. He was 81, in what we thought was reasonable health. It was one week after he had a triple bypass. It was a Friday, and it was a beautiful late October day, not a cloud in the sky. He seemed to be getting better as the week had gone on, but it was only temporary.
After I became an adult he always impressed me with his energy, sometimes he was not real wise using the energy but he had it. It turned out that he had been having chest pains for 10 to 15 years. He couldn’t remember really how long it had been. If he had pains, he would just sit down until they went away. I used to try to do most of the physical stuff around the house but he was retired and had the time and an unbelievable desire to get things done. Never still, hated being bored, I inherited that.
My dad was born in rural NH, and moved to the “big city” of Nashua when he was 5. The family moved to Fremont, NH when he was about 8 due to the Flu epidemic in 1918. His mother moved from Fremont to Medford, MA which is where he did most of his growing up. Nothing exceptional, played football in High School, graduated in 1928, and went to work. Never went to College, although he wanted to become an Architect. His family could not afford it. First car was a Ford Model A, very used. He used to tell of going down to the Fire house and watching the 8 O’Clock hitch. That’s hitching up the horses!
He was quite a guy. He was quiet, generally. He could keep a conversation going but rarely started one.
His friends were few, but very loyal. He loved playing cribbage, which he taught me at age 7. He loved making things. He had an extensive wood shop in the cellar and made things for the Church Bazaar, made birdhouses by the dozen for friends, relatives, as gifts, cribbage boards. He made a model of the USS Portsmouth (a 19th Century Sloop of War) on which a 4-great uncle had served during the Civil War. No reason to, he just wanted to. It took him years of off again-on again creativity, but when it was done it museum worthy. It still sits in a museum to this day. It was made from scratch, not from a kit. When I showed my daughter this creation in the museum last year, in the presence of the curator, and described the details and what had gone into it they were both amazed. He had the patience of a saint as they say. It certainly showed in the USS Portsmouth and have you ever tried to measure the holes in a cribbage board to make one? Think about it. He made dozens of them, all different sizes. I still have some of his tools. I can handle them, but not like he could. I often say, “He taught me all I know, but not all he knew”.
He was humble. In the 1930’s he worked at Filenes in Boston, where he met my mother in 1936, and joined the National Guard. The First Corps of Cadets to be exact. He was a member of the Governor’s Honor Guard during this time. Some of the fancy uniforms they wore were incredible with plumes and decorations all over. As a member of the Guard he was one of the first mustered into the army after Pearl Harbor. Incredibly he was discharged on October 31, 1941, gotten married on November 13, and was contacted the week after Pearl Harbor to report back to active duty by the end of December 1941. Nice honeymoon. He went to train artillerymen in Texas and was part of Patton’s II Corp invasion in North Africa in late 1942. He went through the whole North African campaign, Sicily, and Italy, until the end of the war. Next time he was home was mid-1946.
He stayed the same rank (Sergeant Major) for the whole War because he did not want to be transferred from his men. At the battle of Monte Casino in Italy he was awarded the Legion of Merit for “Exceptional Meritorious Conduct”. He never received the physical medal because at the beginning of the ceremony when he was to be awarded, the Germans started shelling his position and the General who was to do the honors left. He wrote to the Defense department in the 1980’s to get one sent to him and they said they had no record of it being awarded. He sent them the paperwork he had kept all those years and sent him the medal. One of his men in the war was a long-time friend and until the day he died in 2009 referred to my dad as “Sarge”.
He began a career after the War as a Credit Manager (today it would be called CFO) and was good enough at it that he was twice elected as President of the Boston Credit Managers Assn. He rarely discussed this stuff with me, but he seemed to be something of a trouble shooter in the industry. He told me one time a company called him to come to work for them because they were in real trouble financially. He got there tried to turn them around but found the owners were cheating on their taxes. He tried to warn them to stop, and he was fired. Less than a year later they were in jail.
In pre-Internet days he prepared a Genealogy of our family that went back to 1637 when our first ancestor arrived in the Colonies. 13 generations. I am the 14th. He could not go back further because the town that Gregory Cook came from in England was annexed by London later in the 17th century and shortly after the town records burned. He really wanted to see how far back he could go.
When I was a kid, he would go down the park and pitch to me and my friends by the hour. He was a lefty and he had a mean curve.
He hated it when I wrote him something sentimental. He was like a big baby for that. He wrote me a letter that my mother gave me after his death. The envelope was addressed to me –To be opened after my Demise- It told of some of his joys that he had while I was growing up, things he hoped for, for me, some of his own successes and failures in life, and more. He died 10 months before my first child was born. He would have been the ultimate grandpa spoiling her and later two others rotten.
One of the bizarre things about the month he died was that I remember practically everything. Where I was, what I was doing, who I was with, etc. Ever since then, when there has been a beautiful warm fall day, it brings back pleasant memories of my Dad.