Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Hero

     On October 8, 2010 I received the phone call that no one ever wants to get.  The woman said, "Hello Carla, this is Teresa Gillentine." She asked me, "are you driving"?  Confused, I replied "no, I just walked into Burlington to look for dresses for my Grandaughters."  She stated, "I am here with your Mother and you need to talk to her."   A dark cloud began to creep in as my Mother explained to me that she and Dad had been down at their lake house all day. Dad was installing handrails going up to the upper deck over the boat lift.  He finished working for the day, walked up the hill toward the shed at the back of the house to put away his garden cart.   Mom noticed that he was taking longer than usual, looked out at the shed and didn't see him.  She thought he might have gone on up the hill to put some tools away in the garage.  She walked up the hill to find him.  She went in the side door to the garage and there found my Dad lying in front of his workbench.  He passed away so unexpectedly.  The Coroner said that he most likely had experienced a heart attack and died before ever hitting the ground. Our world turned upside down.
     My sister arrived in town the next evening and without hesitation, we agreed that speaking at his funeral was something we wanted to do.  This would be the last thing that we could do to honor him and his life.  
     My sister stepped up to the podium and read her letter first.  I stood by her side listening to the love for our Dad pour out from deep inside her.  Then came my turn:
     " Daddy's girls probably have a tendency to exaggerate their first hero's (their Dad's) and his abilities; and just exactly what they are able to do in reality.   But my Dad was extrememly talented and a very intelligent man!   He did very well in his years attending Tech High School, graduated mid-term working where his father worked at Zimmer Paper Products. After graduation he couldn't wait to enlist in the Army and served his country with great pride.  He loved being a soldier. He loved getting to see and experience other countries.  He loved riding in the cockpit as back up to the pilots.  It was during the time he was stationed in Newfoundland that he learned how to snow ski, but his slolum skiing behind his first ski boat was really his forte.  I have to admit that when I went along to flag for the driver of the boat, my mom, it made me just a little nervous to see my Dad out there crossing the wake back and forth, loving the thrill of it all.  Sometimes he would even give out a 'Yee  Haa!' and he always exclaimed when he got back into the boat that it was 'Fantastic"!
     After his tour of duty he went to work for Western Electric. It was at Western that my Dad was promoted to supervisor in the plating department.  He was the very first person to ever be promoted who didn't have a college education.  I remember when we would drive down Shadeland Avenue past the plant, he would tell my sister and I, 'that's where your bread and butter comes from!'  It took me a little while to realize he wasn't talking about the Wonderbread Bakery outlet nextdoor!!!  My Dad was a funny guy and at times a rascal!  He had many sayings that we will never forget, like: "I'm goin to slap your mouth full of $5.00 bills, you'll be cryin around wantin me to slap you again.', at the dinner table he would often say to us 'eat it, it'll put hair on your chest'.  It wasn't until I was older that I wondered, why in the world would I, a woman, want hair on my chest?'  And then there were the nicknames he gave me, 'big dutch', 'Carla Dean, the green bean' and I will always cherish the times when he would call me and I'd pick up the phone and hear 'hello Carlie, it's me Dad'. 
     When I was still living at home he would often say to me: 'love me good, Car?' and I'd reply, 'love you good, Dad'.  His vast knowledge of how to fix things, work on his cars, plant his garden, craft things from wood starting with the very cutting down of a tree, build a house, make a musical instrument are just a few of the multitudes of things that he knew how to do.  It was when I was forty something that I heard my Dad pray out loud, for the first time.  I was so proud of my Dad.  My Dad was my hero.  He lived a good life, and got to experience many things.   My Dad loved life and lived it to the fullest right down to the very last minute.  I had all this hidden inside my head and heart and as he approached his golden years I knew I had to tell him.   So it was at my sister's suggestion that we wrote him letters.  We didn't share with each other what we wrote.  We just agreed that we would mail them on the same day, hoping he'd get them at the same time.   I'd like to share with you what I wrote:
Dear Dad,
     On my way home from the Doctor's office last week I decided to drive through our old neighborhood to take a look.   Of course, it has changed a lot since I lived there 32 years ago.  I drove around the block 3 times just looking and remembering who lived where and what it was like so long ago. 
     One thing that I had never really thought about before was that we had a custom built home and that I grew up in a neighborhood with all custom built homes.  A "custom built" home!  As a child I had no appreciation for what that even meant.  I didn't know then about the quality of craftsmanship or the design and skill and detail that went into building a house of this caliber nor did I know the cost involved in one as compared to a pre-fabricated house. 
     Looking at the old back yard it's nothing like it was then but I remembered it as it was in great detail,  the gardens that you so masterfully created every year and how perfectly straight every single row was and how you taught me how to get rows like that with string and wood posts stuck in the ground.  You taught me to hoe the soil and plant the seeds just the right depth and spacing apart, to cover them with dirt and to fertilize and water just the right amount.   You taught me that rhubarb has to be mounded and squash and cucumbers and pumpkins are all viney plants that spread out and need room.  Tomatoes need staked and suckered so that you will get the biggest and best tomatoes and lettuce needs to be sewn early in the Spring before it gets too hot.  I remembered going out and just sitting in the grass at the end of the row,  just watching you work the ground and soaking up everything you did.  ( too bad I didn't get yours and mom's green thumbs!) 
     In that same back yard you taught me to throw a football, swing at a baseball, kick a kickball and swing at a birdie in badminton, fly a kite, make a tail for it for windy days, even how to wind up the string in figure eight fashion so it wouldn't get tangled.
     The birthday card that I gave you this year really struck me and started me thinking.  You know, the part that said that so much of you made me who I am today?  I am a woman with a strong work ethic.  I am very honest, one who has integrity, believes in myself and my abilities because of my upbringing.  I have a spirit within me that makes me believe that I can do anything I put my mind to because that is what I was taught.
     Even though I know in my head that you can't actually walk on water Daddy, I have always believed in my heart that you probably could if you put your mind to it!
     You are an amazing man and father.  I marvel at the things that you know how to do,  the perfection in which you do them and the knowledge that you have.  I always know I can get an answer from you when I don't know how to do something. I am a good painter because I had a good teacher.   I love to drive in snow because you patiently taught me how to do it.  I have no fear, the deeper the better! (people think I'm crazy but I think it's great!)  I can fish, drive a boat, and row a boat, water ski (one and or two ski's)  I actually could skin a rabbit or clean a fish if I had too. Not that I really want to, but I know how to!  I get my sense of adventure from you Dad.  My sense of
humor too!  You and I dad, we are hilarious!!!!
I didn't learn to ice skate until I was almost 20, learned to snow ski when I was in my 40's.  Who knows what's in store for my  50's!!!! I know that there is no age limit to learning knew things.   I learned from  you to never stop, keep on going, stay active, eat healthy and drink milk.  You taught me how to check my oil, my tire pressure and wash my car.   As a child, I didn't really get it when you wanted to watch the news or read the newspaper but I learned the importance of staying up on my current events through my parent's example. 
     It would take me the rest of the week and a ream of paper to list all the things that you have taught me, Dad.  I just want you to know that I am so proud of you and so thankful that you are my dad.  I love you so very very much.  Happy 79th Birthday!

                                                                    Love you good!
                                                                    Carla Dean, the green bean!

                                                                   Orville Dean Harrod
                                                                   9/03/1927 - 10/8/2010


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