I was torn on whether or not to post this on Valentine’s Day because it’s not your typical Valentines reading fare, so I am posting it after Cupid threw his arrow in your direction. Nonetheless this is a memory of what happened years and years ago.
My father-in-law passed away on Valentine’s Day 1990. We were called to the hospital to say our poignant and heartfelt goodbyes, and we did. There were a lot of tears and hugs and hand-holding throughout that day for sure. It was such a sad time for everyone.
James Lake was one of 21 children born to his mother Nancy. (Yes, there are relatives are everywhere!) He witnessed his father John being hit and killed by a car in front of the house when he was only 15. Times were extremely tough during those days of the Great Depression for Midwestern farm workers, and became even tougher with the loss of his father. He only got to about the 5th grade in formal education because food had to be put on the table and school didn’t figure into that scenario. Through the struggle of everyday living, he met and married the love of his life, Margaret, and they had 3 children the youngest, my husband Jim.
That bleak candy and flowers day Jim and I left the hospital with such heavy hearts not only for the loss we felt personally, but the reverberation of sadness felt throughout the entire family.
Although my Jim (Jimmy) had been a Mamma’s boy growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, his Dad Jim was, well, his Dad. He was there every step of the way. His kids loved him and his kids friends loved him. He never missed one of Jimmy’s baseball games from little league all the way though high school varsity baseball. Jimmy said he was always proud of his parents and never ever at any time was embarrassed by them and not happy to be around them. Not one time. He never thought they were lame or bothersome or anything ever. How many of us can say that about our parents?
Our oldest, Kelly, was 21 and married at the time of her Grandpa’s passing. She had lived with her Grandpa and Grandma for a time when she was very young, and they were always always always part of her life. She was devoted to her Grandma Margaret and Grandpa Jim. It was a loving, safe, and comfortable place to be. Her Grandma passed away when she was only 9 which was a devastating loss to her life. She had the kind of special magical relationship with her Grandma some people take pen to paper and write poems about. Her Grandpa’s passing that day in 1990 also represented the passing of a major component of who she was. Kelly went on to eventually name both her children after them — Maggie and James, our grandchildren.
Leaving the hospital that afternoon was difficult for the obvious reasons whenever someone loses a parent, however, we knew we still needed to tell our young boys (Jay just shy of 11, and Nick 10) that they lost their beloved grandfather. The grandfather who babysat for them when Jimmy and I were at work. He spent time holding them on his lap and reading the newspaper comics to them. He drove them to Carl’s for their favorite ice cream on a hot summer’s day, and took them fishing for the first time in their young lives and even cleaned their fresh catches on my kitchen counter. (Totally Mom yucky time.) He went to their little league games, and complimented them as though they were movie stars after their first big-boy haircuts. He was an integral part of their little lives. This was going to be a tough one for them.
To complicate things, it was also the day of one of the biggest ice storms in our area’s history. Ice ice, baby! It had been icing up outside most of the day while we were at the hospital, and it was really icy by the time school dismissed. We lined up in our car and waited outside with the other parents for the kids to come out. Since this had been a sudden and unexpected change of events and there wasn’t pre-planning on picking up the boys. We were going to see them and flag them to the car when they appeared. Well, Jay made it to the car, but Nick — where’s Nick? We went into the school and asked his teacher, but she said he’d already left. In this weather? We creeped the 2 blocks home from the school and sure enough, he had walked home by himself and let himself in. His little face was reddened by pelting ice from the storm. We then gathered them on the couch and proceeded to tell them the news about their Grandpa. No other way to say it except, it was sad.
That night in the awful ice, Jimmy’s best friends from growing up gathered at our place, and we all toasted with a beer or two to ‘the old man’. The power was out because of the storm, and we all sat in the dark talking into the night about Jim and some of the stories he told.
My father-in-law Jim was witty, funny, kind, honest, hard-working, and law-abiding. Although he had limited formal education he never missed reading 3 newspapers every day, solving the crossword puzzles, and being politically informed and socially aware. He mostly didn’t have two dimes to rub together, but his kids and grandkids didn’t do without much. He was known to tip back a shot of whiskey or two or three back in the day, but he was always fun. He was committed to the flattop haircut as long as I knew him. He told the best stories even if they were so long you just wanted to shout in the middle of them, “Just get to the point!” Nobody got the joke better than he nor appreciated their own jokes more. He loved animal shows like Wild Kingdom, played the guitar on which he stummed some of the weirdest ditties. He said he’d never turn down a stranger at his door because you never knew — at the least it’s someone who needs your help, and at the most it could be Jesus himself. He felt global warming before global warming was cool. He once told me, “Someday, this will all be a swamp.” He never put on airs, never tried to impress anyone, and always took people for who they were. He never knew a stranger and could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere and did. He could put anybody around him at ease. He loved his family, friends, fishing, Cubs baseball, the Heart’s mens’ softball team in town, old country music, Lawrence Welk, a good shot of 7-Crown, a pack of Salems every day (but any kind of cigarette would do in a pinch), and was loved by pretty much anyone who ever crossed his pass.
Our world was encased in ice that Valentine’s Day literally and figuratively. Jim was missed then, and he is missed now. A one-of-a-kind-great guy… Sandy