Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Dad and I (The Greatest Man I've Know)

I wrote this blog a couple of weeks ago as part of my healing.  My summer was spent dealing with my Dad's health issues working on my parents paper work to straighten out mistakes made by others.  We also had problems at the house with our water and are trying to get some remodeling done (mostly flooring and bathroom).  I wanted to include some pictures, but they are buried in all stuff we removed from the attic.  So here is my healing blog.

A little over 62 years ago I first met the greatest man of my life.  About a week ago I lost this man, but he will always have an influence on me until the day I also die and am with him again.  My Dad, Melvin Amos Smith, was always a person I could look up to in times of good and in times of bad.
I learned early in life that he loved his family and did everything he could to provide for us. He planted a large garden, which we traditionally did while listening to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio.  His interests in gardening went beyond providing vegetables for us.  He also grew grapes, rhubarb, strawberries and had several fruit trees.  Our house was surrounded by flower beds where he planted roses, moss roses, lily of the valley, passion flowers and lots of perennials that mostly provided green ground cover.  While he enjoyed all the plants and working with them he made sure his family also participated and learned all about gardening.
Harvesting was usually a family affair.  This sometimes was good and other times not so good.  I learned how to choose the ripe fruits and vegetables and leave the young items to mature.  I also learned to not step on the end of vines that may be crawling along the ground, because that would prevent the plant to continue growing and provide more fruit.  The one thing we did was to harvest the horseradish.  It wasn't so bad digging the horseradish, but then it had to be sorted, cleaned and ground.  Now I love horseradish, but that stuff is not easy to clean and grind when you just have a potato peeler, knife and a hand grinder.  We did this outside, because of the smell and the gasses get into your eyes.  It tasted so good once it was in the jar with a covering of white vinegar. 
Continuing the harvesting even our dog enjoyed the adventure.  She would eat the corn cobs, odd shaped cucumbers and any other item that happen to hit the grass at our feet. Occasionally the dog would even steel directly from the garden, but that never bothered my father.
I remember also learning how to shoot a gun, clean any game that was killed during a hunt and my favorite fish.  Fishing often times was a family outing, sometimes even camping near the river. 
When the summers were warm we often went swimming.  We did, when I was really young, have a small pool which my Dad would also get into.  I really remember our trips to Lake Michigan to swim and play in the sand.  One day we were jumping off a tire.  It seemed like a huge tire to me.  My Dad was holding it up with the help of someone else.  All the kids would take turns and either dive or jumped off the tire.   One time I remember diving off the tire, but kept turning in circles.  Maybe a wave caught me or something.  My Dad reached into the water, grabbed my arm and it seemed to me saved my life.  When we didn't have a tire to jump from my Dad allowed us to jump off his shoulders.
I learned many other things from my Dad.  Car care at our house was more of a do it yourself type work.  He always needed a gofer to get him the tools he needed or the oil, break shoe, spring etc.   
My Dad quit high school during WWII and enlisted in the Navy.  He never talked much about being in the Navy other then he worked in the laundry part of the time, met my Mom while in Washington, DC and served on the USS New Hanover.  I know he served in the Pacific due to seeing some pictures of him and his friends while on leave in Hawaii and a few comments he made about other islands his ship made port.  I remember his blue wool uniform that he wore when my Mom and he were married shortly after his discharge.  As I have been going through boxes I have found my Mom's wedding dress (which she used the underlining to make my Brother and I each a vest one Christmas), but have not found his uniform. 
While I was very young my parents, with the help of others, built the only house I really remember as a child.  It was done in stages, so I was able to learn much about building. When we first move into the house I think my brother and I shared a room, because there were only two bedrooms on the main floor.  Later on the upstairs was finished enough for my brother to move to his own room.  Then my Grandmother (my Dad's Mother) moved into my room and I moved into another room that was finished upstairs.
My father often times worked a full time job and picked up extra work doing plumbing, electrical or even building houses.  It was not unusual for him and his brother(s) to work on projects together to support their families.
When my father was offered a chance to work at Inland Steel he needed a High School Diploma.  So he took his GED test and passed on his first try.  Believe it or not someone was tuning the piano located in the same room.  He then decided to continue his education and we all took an electronic class via DeVry Institute home study program.  Back then the lecture was recorded on a record that was sent to him via mail.  They also shipped different kits to him he had to assemble.  Tests were also taken at home.  So we all sat around the kitchen table and listened to the records, did the homework and took the tests.  We also watched and sometime held things in place as Dad assembled the ohm meter and a few other items.  After that he took classes at Purdue University Calumet campus and eventually earned a degree.  This allowed him to advance in his job.  By him showing us that an education is important my Brother and I both graduated from college.  My Dad for the most part paid for both of our undergraduate education.  We both worked during the summer and vacations to supplement the costs.
My father came from a large family.  My grandparents had 4 boys and 6 girls.  They all went on to marry and also have children.  We usually tried to meet as a family twice a year.  One time was Christmas Eve at my Grandparents house where families came and went at will.  There was singing, tales told, food, games and lots of fun.  Then midsummer, usually around the time of my Grandmother's Birthday, we would have a family reunion.  It was held at the Lake County Fairgrounds.  Every family would bring food to share and games to play.  Baseball, horseshoes, Bunco as well as other games were enjoyed by all.  This was usually the time we would get to know the extended family.  Great Aunts, Great Uncles, second and third cousins and my Great Grandfather were always welcome at the Smith family reunion.
My Mother was from Cleveland, OH.  My father made sure we made a trip at least once a year and sometimes more to see my mother's family.  Usually we traveled at night across the top of IN and OH until we arrived at my Grandparent's house.  While there we would also visit my Mom's Brother and his family and sometimes we even made a trip to the other side of town to visit my Mom's Aunt.  When I was really young my Mom's Uncle Walter was also someone he made sure we saw while in the Cleveland area.  My father made sure we knew both sides of the family. 
My parents had great love for each other and family.  They did things together.  They usually included my Brother and me in various activities.  They supported our education endeavors by attending school activities.  They went to school plays to see friends of ours perform.  Football and basketball games my brother participated in as a player.  They visited each of us for special weekends when we were in college and allowed us to bring friends home even during Christmas vacation.
As we were growing up we had rules.  If we broke the rules we faced a punishment.  Those punishments changed as we grew older, but we knew we would be treated fairly and the rules were there for a reason.   We were never abused verbally or physically. 
I remember both my parents sitting me down and talking to me about becoming a woman.  When my grades were not the best we would sit down and talk about them and if I needed help I could turn to my parents for help as long as they understood the subject. They both cried when they dropped me off at college, but we all survived.  When I left home to pursue a career my parents helped me find an apartment.  Helped me find furniture to make due until I could buy my own furniture.  Then they helped me move several times.  When I really became very unhappy with my job, my parents asked me to move into their new house in KY.  I didn't realize back in 1984 I would still be living in that house, but it has been a good thing.  They encouraged me to pursue a new career and I opened a Quilt Shop.  My parents helped me take a building with a concrete that had a 2" slop to one side of the building to level wood flooring with carpeting.  We shopped together for furnishings and my initial supplies.  Thanks to the Small Business loan and the support of my parents the store opened and stayed open for about 18 years.
Shortly before I closed my shop Bill and I married.  My Dad surprised up both at the wedding when asked "Who gives this woman away?"  My Dad answered "My Wife and I will share her!"  Bill and I had already been asked to live with my parents, but it was a shock when he said in front of God, relatives and friends that I would need to be "shared" between my husband and parents. 
We all lived together until my mother had to move to a nursing home.  We could no longer take care of her because she was falling, was doing things that put all of us in danger (putting plastic in a 350 degree oven) and ended up with a severe infection that affected her abilities to walk.
Prior to my Mom moving to the nursing home my Dad learned he was diabetic and lost his big toe on his left foot.  Bill and I cared for him as much as we could at home, but infection was a big problem.  He ended up losing all his toes on his left foot over about a 17 week period of time.  Dad was determined and learned how to walk at first with a walker, then a cane then with nothing.  He even went back to gardening, helped with some remodeling and even did some canning of excess vegetables and cooking because I was working and Mom was mentally and physically declining.
Once Mom went to the hospital, then on to the nursing home he went to see her every day except when weather did not permit.  He stopped driving on his own so this meant that Bill and I (or one or the other) would take Dad into town.  He stayed with her for about 4 hours every day.  During this time he got to know many residence of the nursing home.  He also created friendships with many of the workers, but I don’t think he ever understood why Mom could not understand conversations or remember things he remembered so clearly.  This took its toll on all of us, but especially Dad.   Around Christmas of 2010 Dad got a cold.  He still insisted on going to see Mom.  The cold turned into pneumonia and he ended up in the hospital early in January.  He had such a hard time fighting off the infection and was bed ridden for nearly two weeks he ended up in the nursing home at first for rehab then permanently. His balance was bad and he was falling at first at home and then in the nursing home.
Things were going well in the nursing home until early this summer.  We were told he had an ulcer on his right foot.  I would take him to wound care every other week. The nursing home would make sure his wound was cleaned and dressed as directed.  They kept changing his antibiotics, but nothing seemed to help.  A surgeon was consulted and on August 14th his little toe on his right foot was removed.  Unfortunately the infection and his diabetes worked against Dad getting better.  He did go back to the nursing home a few days, then back to the hospital. It was discovered he had pneumonia, another type of lung problem and possible complications with a blood clot.  The hospital did do some tests, took x-rays and gave Dad different antibiotics.  Wound care came in and managed to get the wound healed enough so he just needed gauze wrap, but by this time Dad was too weak to make it much longer.  I insisted he be returned to the nursing home so he could see Mom and be with those who have known him for several years. 
Sometime around 10am on Labor Day, September 3, 2012 my Dad passed on to be with our Lord and those who passed before him.  We love you Dad and miss you so much.
Rest in Peace.
Melvin Amos Smith
12-22-1926 to 9-3-2012