There are some days you can’t forget even if you’d like to. Twenty-three years ago today was one of them.
I was on the way back home to Pittsburgh from four days in Long Island, N.Y. after covering a couple of games in the New York Islanders-Pittsburgh Penguins National Hockey League playoff series. (Writers always said four days in Uniondale, the outpost where the already decrepit home of the Islanders, Nassau Coliseum, was located was like a couple of weeks anywhere else. But I digress.)
It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and it was Mothers’ Day so I decided to call my Mom in South Carolina while waiting to board my flight at LaGuardia Airport. Back then, of course, you had to find a pay phone. We had a nice chat to catch up on things, and I asked if Dad were around. She said he was out in the garden. That was a bit of a walk back to the house, so I just told her to tell him hello for me and I’d talk to him later.
I arrived back in Pittsburgh in the late afternoon/early evening. When you cover a professional sports team in season, you don’t get many days off, so I had to spend a few hours working on some stuff that would run in my paper over the next couple of days.
I called Jayne to let her know I was back in town and that I’d be home later, then got down to the work at hand.
When I got home, she gave me the news that she had gotten within the last hour — and didn’t want to tell me on the phone. My Dad had died.
Always good with money, he was the treasurer of the church that I grew up in. And he was giving the monthly treasurer’s report at a church business meeting following the evening service when he said he wasn’t feeling well and needed to sit down.
He collapsed, struck down by what we later learned was an aneurysm. He died on the way to the hospital.
It’s hard to write these words and I would much rather remember the way he lived — an intelligent man of strong faith, yet possessed of a sly and sometimes even ribald sense of humor. He had a Southerner’s love of the land — as noted before, to plant seeds and grow things in it, and he could have lived off the fish and the wildlife which inhabited it had he needed to. As it was, we enjoyed plenty of vegetables, venison, etc., year-round.
I loved him and miss him to this day. And it’s a reminder of what I was saying to a cousin of mine on Facebook just the other day. The hardest part of growing old is not our own aches, pains and troubles, but the loss of those who matter to us.
But I also believe that people are never really gone as long as they survive in someone’s memory. And that’s a comfort as I sit here in front of a laptop on another evening here in the 21st century.