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“When Irish eyes are smiling. Sure it’s like a morning spring. In the lilt of Irish laughter, You can hear the angels sing. When Irish hearts are happy, All the world seems bright and gay. And when Irish eyes are smiling, Sure, they steal your heart away.” ~ Chauncy Olcot and George Graff, Jr

May 27, 2020

 

“There’s a tear in your eye, and I’m wondering why,
For it never should be there at all. With such power in your smile,
sure a stone you’d beguile, So there’s never a teardrop should fall.
When your sweet lilting laughter’s like some fairy song,
And your eyes twinkle bright as can be, You should laugh all the while
and all other times smile, And now smile a smile for me.”

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling – lyrics by Chauncy Olcott and George Graff, Jr

 

My father had the bluest of blue eyes. When I started to look at pictures of my dad after he passed away a few weeks ago to try to find a picture that showed his blue eyes, I was brought to tears and smiles to see that in almost every picture his eyes were smiling or he was making a face to make you smile. I would say his eyes twinkled, often with mischief.

When I think about my dad without tears clouding my vision, I remember how he did the best that he could. He came from very humble beginnings in a cold water flat in Bridgeport. He bragged that he was the first of his family to be born in a hospital, and was the first baby born in Bridgeport in 1927.

He was a proud man and one of the things he was proud about was his service in the US Army where he held the rank of Sargent and served overseas. He loved wearing his collection of caps, but he especially loved wearing his World War II cap.He was an active member of the VFW, and the American Legion. He acted as if he hated hearing people say “thank you for your service”, but he actually loved hearing that. One of his favorite things was sitting outside of the local grocery store distributing poppies in front of Stop and Shop with his friends. He loved collecting the most money and giving poppies away to the children. He would take multiple shifts for weeks and never missed one. No one could resist his smile it seemed. He had a large bit of blarney in him.

The best day of my dads life (second only to the day I was born) was the day he met my mom where he worked as an oil delivery man at Hoffman Fuel in Bridgeport. My mom and dad were a team. Mom managed all of the inside and raised the children while dad worked long hours and managed the outside and cars. This is one of the first pictures I remember taking of my mom and dad with a Brownie camera – it is still one of my favorites from 1971.



My parents were married for fifty- three years and had many challenges like most people in life. When my mom died a part of my dad did as well. For a long time I thought, without her he is not going to live long. Dad had diabetes, a heart condition, he had smoked and drank in former years. He lived though a ruptured appendix, fell off a ladder, once had a car bumper fall on his head, and I do not want to think about the number of times he probably electrocuted himself working on wiring he had no business doing. There were many times I believed that “this was it” yet it wasn’t. Dad was stubborn in many ways and always did things in his own timeline.

For my parents, their pride and joy of life was always family. My dad was a very proud man. In spite of the fact that they did not have money they always provided for their family. Dad worked long hours, especially in the winter, in a job that was physically taxing, to make sure we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, an education, a strong belief in God, and plenty of times to make good memories.

Despite the fact that dad drove a truck for a living, my parents would sit down with a map almost every year, and make a circle and find a place to drive to for a vacation. Even hours in a car before air conditioning, crowded in car was an adventure and a memory made. Not always a good memory, but a memory none the less.

Much of my dads life was centered around family. Most of that was my mom’s doing but my dad was happiest with the ones he loved most, his children.

If you asked me what my dad loved besides family and making people laugh I would say taking care of his yard. Fifty years ago my parent bought a fixer upper in Trumbull.  Trust me when I say it was desperately in need of repairs.  It had been a rental house that was abused and in need of some serious love. Over the years mom and dad lived there, I can honestly say they made that broken down house into a home. Here is a good snap of then and now. 

 

 

 

Dad loved his garden, his acre of yard, his lawn tractor and hundreds of garden tools.  Owning a home, using his own sweat and blood to build and repair that home was a huge part what made him happiest.  He tried to be a jack of all trades, and many times he succeeded and many times he did not, but that never seemed to stop him from trying.  

 

“What can go up the chimney down, but can’t go down the chimney up?”

~ Larry Condon Sr

If anyone had asked me which parent was the more social one I would have immediately answered that it was my mom.  My siblings and I held a surprise anniversary party for my parents.  After the initial surprise my mother worked the crowd like a politician raising funds and my dad stood frozen so our friend Tom remarked that someone needed to get that man a drink.  After my mother died however I realized just how engaging my father could be.  His love of riddles often brought me to embarrassment.  However, when I thought about it, it was his way of engaging people in conversation, it made people laugh (or groan) and it gave him a connection, which mattered. 

Although it was not often easy to see, dads connection to his family mattered most. 

In case you are wondering the answer to the riddle is umbrella.

“Children are the rainbow of life. Grandchildren are the pot of gold.” ~ Irish Blessing

Grandchildren, and great grandchildren, were a blessing to my dad.  Here was an entire new audience that he could torture, um I mean love, and he did both love endlessly and tease mercilessly his grandchildren, as he had done for many years to his own children.

My dad was blessed not be have dementia (dimension as he called it).  He often could not remember names so at one point numbered all the grandchildren from one to seven and had a giant picture of each of them showing their number on his living room coffee table.  He thought that was perfectly normal.  There are many days since he passed that I go to pick up the phone to call him, he was hungry for news of anything and anyone.  He often attempted to continue the conversation with “what else is new?”  When I was away and not sure if I could call as often, the neighbors would check in on him and my three children set up a schedule and would call him at least four times a day to check in.  When they were young and my husband Skip was traveling I would often go over my parents house for a few hours for an extra set of hands.  After my dad tortured them with a game of Giant Steps (“No, you may not take steps Becca, Dan you may take as many steps as you wish”) we’d have dinner and unlike in my youth, my children need not finish what was on their plates, it never mattered if they spilled their milk and they ALWAYS could have dessert of “pickled pigs feet” which was his name for ice cream.  

 

My dad had a love/hate relationship with being the center of attention.  He claimed to hate it, but in reality, it seemed more like he loved it.  Again, I think he loved the connection with people.  When he moved from his home to Independent and then Assisted Living, I was concerned that he would feel isolated.  He had habits of going to run Bingo at a local nursing home for over twenty-five years, he went to church and sat in the same pew every Sunday at 7:30 am mass, he put flags on the graves of the soldiers at a local cemetery, he knew the people at Dunkin Donuts in his local grocery store by name.  But just as one might not expect my dad to be the one to outlive all of his siblings, my dad flourished at Brightview Senior Living.  In the ten months he was there, although he may not have known your name, everyone knew his and loved him.  He was as he always had been, the life of the party.  

 

My dad saw a lot of hardship and a lot of joy in his 93 years on earth.  When I look back at the big picture, especially after the beautiful outpouring of emails and notes and calls after dad passed, I can say he was well loved and liked.  As Phyllis Diller said “A smile is the curve that sets everything straight.”

“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.” ~ W. H. Auden

 

“Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though it’s breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by. If you smile through your fear and sorrow. Smile and maybe tomorrow. You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

“Light up your face with gladness. Hide every trace of sadness. Although a tear may be ever so near. That’s the time you must keep on trying. Smile, what’s the use of crying? You’ll find that life is still worthwhile. If you just smile.”

~ Nat King Cole in Smile

 

When we meet again dad, I’ll let you know what else is new!  

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2 Comments
  1. Skip Shaw permalink

    A beautiful tribute to Dad, from the one who knew him best!

  2. Gary Stephens permalink

    Wow, Linda. Such a beautifully, written, heartfelt tribute.

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