‘A’ for Augustine. Although Dad told me one time he thought Augustine was a character in the Bible. But I'll cut him some slack on that one, as we Lutherans didn't hang out with the Saints much. Years later when I entered the Catholic Church I took Augustine as my confirmation name. And if Dad were still around, and wasn’t entirely miffed that I’d swum the Tiber, I think he would smile at that. Not sure though if he would smile about my other new name, “Jimmy Confirmande”, which was given to me by my friend and sponsor, Anthony. “Hey Jim, this is great! Not only are you becoming a Catholic, you’re becoming an Italian!” (Spoken with proper Italian-American inflection. And yes, he talks with his hands.)
Twice in my life I saw my dad cry. The first time was when my brother Dave died. We were in Valley City, North Dakota, where Dave had lived for many years, and we were meeting with the local pastor about the funeral service. Dave had said one time that his friends there in North Dakota were like family to him, and while we were sitting with the pastor that somehow slammed into my dad. And he cried there at the table, wondering out loud if we had not been enough of a family for Dave. The second time I saw Dad cry was when he was dying. He was in the local nursing home and he knew his time was short. We were sitting together, and at one point his good friend and Marine Corps buddy Rod came to mind, and with tears running down his face all he said was, “Semper Fi, Rod… Semper Fi”…
Dad was the guy in my hometown you would call if you didn’t know what else to do. He had this gift for receiving and stabilizing the tumultuous moment. He could absorb the fear and uncertainty of the situation, and then parcel out the necessary constructive steps to go forward. Always with tact, and never without compassion. He was by blood and tradition a stoic, being of fine Norwegian stock.
Definition of a Norwegian:
A Norwegian is a shy, generous, and thoughtful person, who will kick your ass on skis.
Dad would always cut to the chase, after all he was a hardware store guy, but had also been a mortician, and wasn’t keen on beating around the bush. I remember one day our distant relative Lenora dropped dead, up on the north side of town. And whoever it was who found her called my dad at the store, which was my town’s version of dialing 911. People liked and respected my dad. Fair to say he was the unofficial mayor of Ruthven. And as I said, he always knew what to do, whether your furnace had gone out, your Maytag wasn’t being so dependable after all, or you just found a dead person on your porch. “Better call Marv.”
Anyway, back to Lenora… Dad got the news and shortly after that picked up the phone to call Lenora’s brother to let him know. “Hi Ron, it’s Marv Wigdahl. Yeah, Ron, Lenora’s dead… yeah, we just found her on the porch. Yeah… I’m sorry, Ron… Yeah, why don’t you give me a call later.” Dad was thoughtful and caring, while not really emotional or sentimental. He was very strong and direct, and people appreciated that and leaned on it.
And just to continue the death and dying theme, there was the time when Dad was a funeral director and he and his partner Bud drove a long distance to make a “delivery.” Dad drove over and Bud drove back, so on the return trip Dad rolled a sleeping bag out in the back of the hearse to take a nap. Then at some point he woke up, realizing the hearse had come to a stop. So he reached over and pulled back the curtain on the side of the hearse to see where they were. And there was this guy, standing there pumping the gas. Dad said later they almost had to make another delivery. Classic.
(Viewer Alert… you might want to skip this). And years later when Dad died at the nursing home in Ruthven I stayed in his room when the guys from the funeral home arrived to pick him up. They kindly asked me, “Jim, are you ok with being in here for this?” And I said, “I am, thanks. Dad would want me to be here.” So they lifted him off the bed and slipped him into a body bag right there in front of me. Zipped it up, and off he went.
My siblings and I discuss the many ways our parents should have done things differently. And maybe they should have. I certainly should have. But they also played the cards they were dealt, and did the best they could. And so shall we. The baton has been passed. I go forward with the stoicism of my father and the tears of my mother. And for these twin gifts I am eternally grateful.