Saturday, February 9, 2013

February 9th

February 9th, 1973: Tonight, my mom got the shocking word from Dr. Bunting about dad. He has cancer. Yes, he has a tumor on his lung. And his liver is enlarged. He will go back next Thursday for more x-rays. Meanwhile, we just pray to God that the tumor is not malignant, because I love my dad very much.

Dad and me. 1966.

February 9th, 2013: The 9th fell on a Friday in 1973. Everything in my life had been "normal" up to this date. I don't know whether dad had discussed his condition with mom or others. Whether or not he confided to friends that something wasn't right with him..

I think I remember mom telling me that dad was going go stop by to see Dr. Thomas Bunting, our family physician, after finishing his work at the hardware store. I doubt she told me that it might be serious.

Looking back, there must have been some tests conducted before that Friday. Because when dad did come home from the doctor's office, Dr. Bunting showed up too. The doctor wouldn't have followed dad home to talk to dad, mom, and me, if it wasn't clear that something was not right. If there were previous tests, I wasn't told of them.   It all came crashing down on me when dad and the doctor showed up together.

We sat in the family room. Dad was most likely in his rocking chair, a chair he'd been allowed to bring home from the Pittsfield fire department, where he'd been a volunteer firefighter for years. He may have been retired by 73', but he'd once been the chief. Dr. Bunting, mom, and I scattered around the room in other chairs.

 The meeting didn't last too long. A half hour, 45 minutes. Dr. Bunting laid out the facts to all of us in a direct manner. The type of cancer he likely had. The treatments available. What dad would be facing... At one point, dad asked the doctor what kind of time frame he'd have for living, if he was indeed cancerous. Dr. Bunting responded something to the effect of, "Several years on the good side. As few as three months on the bad side."

 Dad was born in 1912, in Quincy, Illinois. The oldest of two children. His sister, Betty, also lived and worked in Pittsfield. Grandpa and dad both worked at the Gardner-Denver plant in Quincy. At some point, Grandpa moved to Pittsfield and opened the hardware store. As I understand it, dad followed a couple of years later. They had owned and run Pittsfield Hardware together. Dad was in his 37th year.

Grandpa died in 1963. Dad kept the store going. It was a good business, supported by loyal customers. If things hadn't played out the way they did, I'd have likely been selling nails and hammers for a living. Not making photographs.

Dad was 57 years old. Other than vacations, hardware shows, and maybe a day or two with a bad foot, I don't think he missed a day of work. He was somewhat overweight, enjoyed a couple of Falstaff beers most evenings, and probably smoked a couple of packs of Salems a day. He wasn't physically active, other than enjoying his golf. I can remember us tossing the football around in the back yard. He'd huff and puff after awhile, but go as long as he could. It was more demanding than when we were racing h.o. cars in the basement. When we'd vacation to the Rockies, his sightseeing was done from the window of the car.

So. He liked his beer and smokes. I never saw dad drunk, or out of control. He never was physically or mentally abusive to mom or me. He loved us both. And though he wasn't overly, or outwardly affectionate in the traditional sense, there was no doubt we were two of the most important people in his life. Dad also had a daughter, from his first marriage. She is 20 years older than me, and lives in the northwest.

Dad met mom at Miles drugstore on a coffee break from the store. She was a much younger, good looking, Pike County girl with farm roots, working the soda fountain. She'd been married for a short time too. She was 21 years his junior, and he swept her away. I think they were married in 1957. I was born in 1959. A 21 year age difference in a small town in the late 50's. I'll bet that was scandalous! Dad was the glue that held us all together. Strong, and direct. He pulled no punches, and told it like it is.

In 73', for my 14th birthday a few weeks before, I remember mom commenting about how short of breath dad was, as he made 2-3 trips to unload a set of weights and barbells, my birthday present, from the car into the house. Knowing dad, he probably hadn't felt good for awhile, and put off going to the doctor. I'm guessing many of us, me included, don't want to confront the possibility of a serious illness. Prolonging facing it as long as possible.

Vintage Virg. Dad and his rocking chair, 1970

There weren't too many, if any, tears, shed that Friday night in 1973. There was more of a feeling of shock and disbelief. Also, at this point, it was not know if the growth was malignant. But the signs didn't point to anything good. I think all three of us were very scared.

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