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Memories of my father

June 17, 2013

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On April 22nd, 2013, at the age of 57, my father went to be with Jesus. His passing was completely unexpected and the cause still unknown, though we know he went instantly and without pain. And I find myself in a place I didn’t expect to be for 25+ more years–fatherless.

I wrestle with why. I struggle with anger. But most of all, I am flooded with the memories of the best father I could have imagined. I see his face looking at me, smiling with his eyes. I hear his hearty laugh, the way it sounded after the telling of a joke or story. And I feel the sensation of his arms around me in a protective hug.   And I wonder how to go on, how to find happiness, without his presence in my life.

You see, loss was already a part of our vocabulary this year, as I lost a pregnancy some months earlier. The devastation of the miscarriage hit us hard, harder than I expected, and happiness had been hard to find. But the depth of my pain increased tenfold after that fateful phone call from my mother, letting me know that my father was gone.

But even despite the pain, I’ve learned. I’ve learned how lucky I am to have had a wonderful father for 28 years. I’ve learned what an impact my father left on the community and the legacy he has left. Through the endless casseroles, pies, meat platters, flowers, and cards brought to my mother’s house, I’ve learned how loving and supportive my hometown community is. And I’ve learned that tragedy does not have to defeat us–that we can and will choose to go on and still have a beautiful life.

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So to celebrate my father’s life, here area  few of my favorite memories of him.

-As a child, one of the best parts of my day was when my father would come home from work.  As a large animal veterinarian, he would arrive in his green coveralls, smelling like fresh air and farms. I would ask him, “Did you do anything besides cows today?” and I was always thrilled when he would tell me about the donkey, sheep, dog, or horse that he treated.

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-We grew up with a lot of nicknames, almost all of which came from my father. A few nicknames he had for me were Leonard (and just Len, for short), Mozart, Flip (and Flipper), and Kuda Butt (when I was a baby). Others in the family were nicknamed Bear Paw, Snoopy, Crankshaft, Babs, and more. I seem to have picked up this affinity for nicknaming from him.

-My dad had a wonderful green thumb, and we always had a huge garden. Potatoes, squash, lettuce, beans, carrots, onions, berries, asparagus, and more. We had enough to feed us all summer and fall, plus lots of produce that ended up in jams, pickles, or frozen for the winter months.

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-On Easter a few years ago, John and I went with my dad to attempt to capture some dogs that had been dumped on the side of the road and were running beside the highway. We were planning to catch them and bring them to a rescue, but we only managed to catch one of the five or so (they were not tame). Soon after we brought her home, it was clear that she was not going anywhere and Emma, a Shar pei mix, became a part of the family. For about a month she was afraid of all people, but eventually my dad won her over and she became such a sweet and affectionate dog. She found a way into his heart and he just loved that dog.

-My dad displayed absolute assurance and confidence with animals of any kind, and his expertise came in handy in so many cases, such as 1) freeing an angry raccoon from an (illegal) trap on our hobby farm in Minnesota, 2) stitching up the chest of our horse, Dannyboy, after he ran through a barbed wire fence, 3) helping a badger out of our window well, 4) giving immediate treatment to the family dog, Emma, when she had seizures, and 5) answering the countless questions on pet ownership that we kids have had now that we are adults.

-When I ran track and field in high school, my father was my biggest fan. I ran the same races he did in high school, the 400 meter and the 800 meter. He came to almost every race of mine, even when he had to leave work early or drive over an hour to get there. He would always stand in the same place, the backstretch of the track, because he knew the backstretch on the second lap of the 800 was the most difficult place. I never heard the voices of the others cheering for me, but I always heard my dad, yelling, “Stride out, Elena.”

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-My dad had a wonderful sense of humor. He got a big kick out of what I considered to be lame jokes, and he loved poking fun at his kids. He would also make up funny little songs, such as his own version of “O Christmas Tree” which goes, “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how ugly are your branches. They are so brown and all dried out, I wish that I could throw you out, into the brush pile where you belong, then light a match, goodbye so long.” He also had a song called “Rudolph, the Runny-Nosed Reindeer.”

-My dad had a heart for animals that were not wanted by farmers due to being too small or some sort of disability. As a result, we have had a blind cow, a couple of cows with a “dead” leg, and a cow whose front legs my dad fixed by constructing splints. He also had a habit of finding pigs that had fallen off a hog truck, so we raised four or five pigs that he found in that way.

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-One of the sweetest memories for me now is of course when he walked me down the aisle at my wedding. I knew he would be a little nervous because he doesn’t like to be the center of attention, but he did great and looked so handsome in his suit (which we rarely saw him wear!!). At his funeral, one of his friends said my dad told him that my wedding day was one of the best days of his life because I was marrying such a great guy.

–Lord of the Rings was my dad’s favorite movie series, and he loved Gandolf’s quote, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

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My dad grew up in South Dakota, and the place dearest to his heart is the Black Hills. We took a family vacation there many years ago, when I was in second or third grade. My dad always wanted to take us back as adults, and so, two years ago, we managed another family vacation to revisit the beautiful area. We spent the week visiting Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument, climbing the boulders at Needles Highway, being surrounded by thousands of Buffalo, visiting Badlands National Park, and just spending time together as a family. I think it was probably one of the best weeks of my dad’s life, and I am so glad we got to experience that time with him.

There are so many more memories I could share, but altogether they tell the story of the confident, hard-working, man of God my father was. We don’t know why he had to go, but we do know that when he arrived in heaven, he heard God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Trina permalink
    June 17, 2013 1:39 am

    A beautiful memorial to your dad. Thanks for sharing Elena. Sending hugs and love from Iowa! He raised an amazing lady! 🙂

  2. Etta Romkema permalink
    June 17, 2013 1:58 am

    I enjoyed reading your beautiful tribute to your Dad. God always provides us with so many blessings and sometimes even though the blessings are with us for a short time, they live within us forever. Etta Romkema

  3. Mary Ann Blezien permalink
    June 17, 2013 4:10 am

    Such a beautifully written tribute to your dad, Elena. Thanks for sharing the special memories with all of us.

  4. Carol Romkema permalink
    June 17, 2013 1:21 pm

    Beautiful…

  5. June 17, 2013 6:21 pm

    Grief and gratitude create an articulate love song. I’m sorry for your loss; I’m happy for your time as a beloved daughter.

  6. Judy permalink
    June 17, 2013 6:30 pm

    Elena, This is so beautiful! I don’t know if you remember me. I lived on Little Birch Lake. I remember your dad as such a humble, kind man!!! When my son’s cat was injured he helped us out!!! My heart grieved when I learned of your dad’s passing. I have been praying for you and your family!

    Judy

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