Dear Dad… I will always love you.

I remember visits to my Dad’s house in South Dakota…

When I was little, I remember sitting on my Dad’s work bench while he worked. I can see it as if it was just yesterday. He wore a white t-shirt with his sleeves rolled up, always wore a belt and his pants had a cuff, his shoes polished. I Mom Dad Connie Cindy John 1967remember the striped bell bottom pants I was wearing, orange and gold tones complete with an orange short sleeve shirt with a big collar. The tools were laid out on the bench, everything was so organized! Dad had a Zenith light up clock on the wall with our last name on it. A remnant from the TV Repair Shop he had when He and Mom were still together. Now He worked out of his house. I remember every detail in the room right down to the carpet on the floor. The room smelled of burning solder and cigarette smoke. The work bench was where the dining room would be if he had wanted to have one. Dad had a rolling cart with carpet covering the top of it for the TVs to sit on. We loved playing with that cart!

The back door went to the lake. The front came into the kitchen. It was a small house that was on Lake Kampeska in Watertown, South Dakota. This little house holds so many dear memories for me and my siblings from spending time there with my dad in the summer. He was a TV repair man. He had a large wooden work bench along one side in the middle of the house between his living room area and the kitchen.

Dad and his mom Mabel Brandt 1955I’m not sure now if there was 1 bedroom or 2? I remember his bedroom and the 1 bathroom was in a little hallway off of the dining room area across from his work bench.

His bedroom wall was almost covered with stacks of Wall Street Journal Newspapers. He loved researching and keeping up with the stock markets. I was too young to know exactly what he did with them but I know he chose to have them in his bedroom instead of furniture on that wall so they must have been really important to him.

There was a sun room on the back of the house with windows facing the lake. An old upright piano on one wall. He loved playing that piano and he was really good at it too. My favorite song that he played was “Please Release Me and Let Me Go…” As soon as his fingers started playing he’d start singing. Us kids would crowd around him on the bench and try to keep up with him . Those were good times.

I wish I had just 1 picture of the house or even the address so I could maybe pull it up on Dad_1Dec1955the appraisal district website up there. The house was a little blue house that sat a little ways off of the road and it had a 1 car garage.

He had a red fin tail Car (I think it was a Cadillac?) that sat in the driveway for years. He’d clean it even though I don’t know if it ever actually ran during my lifetime.

The grass was always soft, so different from the grass we had in Texas. South Dakota didn’t have the poisonous snakes or the fire ants we had in Texas so I could lay in that grass as long as I wanted without fear of getting bit or stung.

There was a basement I used to play in. I had found a bunch of old baby food jars down there. I think I filled every one of them with spiders from around the house. I used to get a stick and poke the spiders living in the edges of the house’s siding and knock them off into the jars. When us kids were older and went back to see him those jars were in the basement with lots of spider skeletons in them! Four brown paper grocery sacks full! LOL!

Dad, your many skills always seemed to impress us when we were kids… can I pick the rock out for you next time? Oh yea, there won’t be a next time… I sure miss you Dad

When the lake was smooth as glass Dad would pick up a smooth flat rock, about the size of a 50 cent piece, but a little longer on one end. He rub that rock a few times on each side and say “watch this” then he’d skip that rock at least 10-15 times across the water! We were fascinated by it! We’d start grabbing rocks and trying to do it like him. There’s no telling how many rocks we threw in that lake. My brother got pretty good at it. I’d get off 2 or 3 skips and on a lucky day maybe a few more but we’d all gang up on Dad and tell him that he “couldn’t skip this rock like that”… and then we’d pick out a rock that looked like it’d be hard to skip (like a really small one!) and he’d surprise us all and do even better than the last one. My Dad had skills! Enough for us anyway. 🙂 We got to play on the sandy shores, swim, fish or just sit our chair out in the water and enjoy. We’d run down the beach to the store about 5 or 6 houses down to get candy and if Dad wanted us back at the house he didn’t yell, oh no, he’d whistle……. LOUD! That man could do such a high pitch whistle we could always hear it no matter where we were! We sure had a good time when we went to go see our Dad. For someone who has so few memories and so little time with their dad I sure do miss him. I think what I miss most is the hope I used to have that some day it would be different. But some day never came. I’m sorry Dad.

I so loved your huge garden, it was amazing…

Dad had the greenest thumb in all of South Dakota! I’d swear it! His garden seemed to be at least 30 feet long or maybe longer and I’d guess 20 feet across. Dad let us eat the peas right off the plant and they were so good! I’ve never had them so good since. And the strawberry patch… Holy Cow! the strawberry patch was amazing! He said it was like 6 years old (if I remember correctly?) All I know is it was spread out over almost 1/4 of the garden. Delicious! But my favorite will always be the peas. 🙂

Dad, I’m sorry we moved so far away… I know you missed us

It’s too bad we had to live in Texas so far away from him. Even though it hurt knowing Dad chose to stay in South Dakota all those years instead of living closer to us I never could blame him for wanting to live where life was so much simpler and sweeter. He could go for a drive and see abundant wildlife. There were wonderful lakes and rivers with clean water and lots of fish. It was his home. He was surrounded by people who cared about him. People he had known for many years and some his whole life. All the pheasant hunting he wanted and I’m sure he knew all the best places to hunt. I wish I knew him better. I wish I had more time with him. I would’ve loved to have heard his stories about where he’s been and what he’s experienced so I could pass the stories down to my kids about their Grandpa that they only got to meet a few times.

Hey Dad, are you up to a game of pool? Oh, you say you don’t feel so good, okay Dad, I’m sorry you can’t today, maybe a little later on… 😦

My Dad was a pool shark. Man oh man could he shoot pool! Mom has told us stories about how he’d act like he couldn’t play good and then they’d make bets and he’d wipe ’em out! And I’d bet money he did it with a smile on his face the whole time. God I loved his smile and his laugh even more. I got to play a little pool in my later years and found out I loved playing pool too and you know what? Turns out I got a little game in me too! 😉

“Dad, be careful, please don’t drink and drive”… I wonder if us kids would’ve made a difference in his life, had we been there to make that request and give him a reason not to do it?

Dad’s drinking caught up with him and he ended up having a bad car wreck, a head on collision, one night after drinking. I was 10 years old, I think. Dates always seem to elude me as if my mind has closed itself off to that part of my life. Dad had driven that highway home many times late at night and made it home safe every time but not that night.  That night he went the wrong way, took a wrong turn somewhere and somehow ended up on the other side of the highway driving towards oncoming traffic on a one way road. The steering wheel went into his stomach and caused internal injuries that were never going to fully heal and would change his life forever.

Dad, did you ever truly find some happiness?

He met a woman and married her. I don’t know much about the relationship but they stayed married for several years. I think I only met her once. It was awkward. I had not seen him in so many years at that point. I think I was in high school, not really sure now. Mom had stopped making the summer trips to South Dakota a long time ago… like 5-6 years? He and his new wife came down to Texas. They made a living taking care of the elderly till they passed. That had to be hard to watch so many people pass away after taking care of them, nurturing them, being their friends. I always felt bad about him taking that route for employment. I know his choices were limited due to his health issues but he was so smart I guess I felt like it was just less than what he was capable of. He had his electronics background, he could’ve chose something more challenging and just maybe had a better, more enjoyable life. I’ll never know his reasons but I’m sure he had them.

The last time I saw you Dad, I didn’t know it was going to be the last time…

The last time I saw my Dad, he was still living in his government housing apartment. My 127Dad was a veteran, fought in the war… but did that do him any good when he needed the favor paid back? Did our government take care of him? Hell no. He was told that if he made any money they would take what little they gave him away. He was told that if he showed any income at all he would lose his housing. My dad lived off spam, canned hams, mayonnaise sandwiches, crackers and can soups. He deserved better than that as does all our Vets! Still pisses me off when I think about how he had to hide his little bit of savings in a mayonnaise jar because he was so scared of getting caught with it.

Dad, I get to move up there for a couple of years and we can have some time together… oh, I’m sorry Dad, Mom and I got in a car wreck on our way to Texas to get my things and I’m not going to be able to make it back now… I’m sorry Dad, I almost got there… 😦

I was in my late 20’s and by this time I had a few of my own painful experiences to weigh me down. I had started to tell myself almost daily that he made his choices every day of his life… where he wanted to be and who he wanted to with… I did this not knowing how to really feel about it, not knowing how wrong I was. He never sent mom any financial help, that I know of, for his 4 kids. She worked all the time. Sometimes 2 or 3 different jobs so we could have a decent home, clothes on our backs and food on our table. It was a tremendous burden even in the 1970’s to raise 4 kids on your own.

I’m old enough now and I’ve been through enough with my own kids, growing up and becoming independent young adults, to better understand why Mom stopped taking us to South Dakota. It was also Dad’s responsibility to come see us and make that effort on his own to participate in his kids’ lives. No matter what his relationship was with Mom. No matter any other circumstances. We needed him to make an effort. A real effort. I guess we needed to know that he needed us too. At least in some way that was accountable. We got cards on our birthdays after we were grown. I got occasional phone calls from him that opened my heart and made me feel again. But it was still a struggle to let all that pain out of the back parts of my mind where I had tucked it away so many years before.

I love Mom for all she did for us. I respect her for all her hard work. She made tremendous sacrifices and worked her way up to a life long career as a real estate agent. She did good. But moving us that far away from our dad just feels wrong now that I have kids. Moving us that far away from everything she loved made it very challenging for her to achieve her own chance of real happiness while she was here in Texas.

Mom moved us here when I was about 1-year-old, if I remember what she said correctly. I only get stories in bits and pieces of our lives and it’s been difficult to keep the time lines straight. It’s one of those situations that if you don’t know the right questions to ask you can’t get the answers you need. And you don’t know what you don’t know.

It was just about 15 years ago when Mom bought a farm in South Dakota and moved back there. She wished we could live up in South Dakota with her but it wasn’t in the cards. Our lives and our kids’ lives were down here. We’re rooted here now, been here our whole lives. For me it’s been 47 years. My whole life.

One day, after I talked to my Dad on one of his occasional phone calls I made the decision to quit my job and move to South Dakota. I only had one child at that time. My job was just a simple little job that I could get anywhere. No real loss. I gave my job notice, trained my replacement, told my son’s dad I wanted time with my dad and we were planning on living in South Dakota for a couple of years. I thought that was fair. I packed everything I owned into a 6 horse trailer. On the day before my last day at work my ex-husband had me served papers at my job. He was suing me for custody of my son. The court case lasted through the winter, which in Texas is only a couple of months. I made it through court, turned out my ex just didn’t want to pay all that child support “on a child he wasn’t gonna get to see” (unquote!) so he was in fact trying to lower the child support and the custody papers were just to scare me into doing it. I ended up with a modified decree, more child support and more clarity in the visitation. Done deal! Now time to move! My son and I drove to South Dakota and met up with my Mom and started working on the little rent house in town that we were going to live in. I put my son in school there while I looked for a job. I GOT A JOB!  A good job! One that I could move up in the company over time. After my first week I had 3 days to drive to Texas, pick up my trailer and get back to work by Monday morning! Holy bejeezers! We loaded up our trucks, Mom in hers and me and my son in mine, and took off for Texas! We drove straight through the night, barely missing a horrible wreck in the Oklahoma hills where there was a small car with no lights sitting a the basin of the highway that we were on between hills. I will never forget the sight of Mom’s four door, four-wheel drive, long bed Power Stroke Diesel truck as it leaped the side around that little car!!! I’m still amazed that she missed it. Then it was our turn and WOW!!! We made it too! There was no more sleepy eyes that night. We stopped off at the occasional truck stop to walk around, get coffee and get the blood flowing back into our legs then back on the road. We were TEXAS bound! We were on a mission! I was finally going to move to South Dakota! The second day of our trip we were a mere one and a half hours away from home and there was a lot of construction on the freeways. After all that we had made it through we got into a 5 car pile up. Both our trucks were wrecked. We were numbers 4 and 5 in the wreck. Mom’s hitch on her bumper went into my frame and my engine and totaled my truck. We were all safe and sound with no injuries so we were grateful for that but I now had no vehicle. I was devastated. Insurance paid me $98 less than what I owed the bank on my truck. Being completely broke, jobless, homeless I moved in with friend from school and I never made it back to South Dakota.  I’m sorry Dad.

I didn’t know Dad, I swear, I didn’t know…

My sister just recently told me, as in this last year, that when we were very young and had just moved down to Texas, Dad had come down to Texas to try to mend things with mom and was actually living with us. I have no memory of this. And very few of the house we lived in. I guess I was just too young to remember it because I was like 1 or 2 (?) years old
1973 Dad and Us Kids at Evergreen Swimming Pool in Bellaire Houston. It sounded like things didn’t work out and it didn’t end on good terms… my sister said something about the police being called and them carrying my dad off and him not coming back again. Ever. She also said drinking was involved. Mom wasn’t putting up with it and it just didn’t end well for any of us. I will probably never really know the whole story but I will always regret the resentment I carried all those years for him because I thought he never even tried. He did come. I can’t testify or verify what happened or why it went wrong but I’m 47 years old and it was just this last year when I first heard that story. What causes a family not to talk about something like that? Was it just like water flowing under a bridge? I don’t understand. All those years never knowing, it’s just not fair. I would’ve preferred to have been told. At the very least after I was grown I would’ve appreciated being enlightened with such stories from our childhood that molded our lives forever. Once again, it’s one of those questions that I can’t ask because I don’t know what I don’t know.

Why?

Why didn’t us kids talk about Dad more? Why didn’t any of us ever make it to South Dakota? Was it because we just accepted the fact that he wasn’t part of our every day life? My sisters were much more involved with him and interacted with him on a regular basis so that makes me think it was the separation at such an early age. They say a child forms their personality by age 3 and I have almost no memories of that time in my life.

Mom was our whole world but we always loved our Dad. He was just so far away. Now that I’m older I can’t help but wonder how painful it was for him all those years. I can’t help but have questions and at the same time feel like there’s nobody to ask anymore.

I’m sorry Dad if my feeling of resentment and pain also caused you pain by allowing so many years to go by without making more of an effort to build a real relationship between us… I will live with that regret my whole life.

When you grow up and you know your Dad, or your Mom, loves you I believe it impossible to break that bond completely… even if it is built with small bits and pieces of memories that a child clings to when they don’t get to see that parent very much. It’s the absence can cause a heartache that never really goes away. You learn to carry it better, but it’s always there.  I missed him as a child. I missed him as a teenager, as an adult and I miss him still.

I love you still Daddy and I always will…

Dad left this world almost 5 years ago, back in 2011. It was so sad. He had got 107Alzheimer’s disease. He kept all of his things that he needed daily laid out on his kitchen table with little labels stuck to the table to show where each item went so he wouldn’t misplace, lose or forget something. Then he developed a bad case of Pneumonia and ended up in a hospital. The illness kept him in that hospital past his government housing contract deadlines and he lost his apartment. My mom and sister packed up all his things, threw away what they didn’t think was worth keeping. I didn’t go. I had to work and made excuses why I couldn’t go. I will always regret not going.

After losing his apartment he was sent to an Alzheimer’s lock down unit. Mom said he used to beg her to take him out of there, she would tell me through tears in her eyes. He had nobody else to help him but us and where were we, his children, where were we? Living our own lives… just as we thought we were supposed to do and just as we thought he had all those years. I’m saying “we” but I really can’t speak for my siblings. They all definitely had more time with Dad and made more of an effort to see him. But were we wrong to not go get him? I think so. Would he have left South Dakota and come to live with one of us? Maybe. Mom did say that she thinks he would’ve jumped at the chance to get out of that hell he was in. People stealing his stuff. Other patients coming into his room at night, lost. If leaving him in that place was the right thing to do then it wouldn’t still cause me to feel such an overwhelming sadness when I think about it. It was so wrong. There was nothing right about any of it. Not on his part but definitely not on our part either. Nobody should die like that. Nobody should have to die all alone.

Daddy, I waited my whole life for “some day” to come but it never did… now I will spend the rest of my life worshiping the little memories I do have of you. I love you Daddy and I always will.

As I get older I am beginning to realize how much pain my dad probably carried with him all those years he spent holding onto what little hope he could that his kids would some day come live with him. It amazes me that it was never, not one time, even a thought that I could go live with my dad. How is it that none of us kids never even thought it was an option? We needed our dad probably just as much as he needed us. It was truly a tragedy.

Now everyone… my Grandma, my Aunt and my Dad have passed and there’s nothing left for us there but missed opportunities to a life we could only dream about some day having.

Daddy,

Do you think that by telling our story it may help somebody else make better decisions than we did? Do you think that maybe they will try harder to see their loved ones? Try harder to understand each others’ faults? To pick that phone up and call them, even if it is just to say “Hi” and “I love You”… I hope so… for their sake. I hope so.

I love you Daddy… no more conditions Daddy… I promise

You will be in my heart Forever and Always!

Sky opened up after dads funeral

On my way home from my Dad’s funeral my sister and I were riding together and we were crossing the border of South Dakota and the sky opened up, the rains stopped and it was as if Dad was looking down on us and saying his last good bye.

I’ll never forget it. He always seems to surprise me when I least expect it.

Thank you for your interest in my blog.

Judy

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