At around 2:00 a.m. the night before last, my wife’s father passed away. He was 87 years old.
It was not unexpected. He had been battling cancer for many months and the final outcome was understood. Nonetheless his passing leaves a void in the lives of his wife, his daughters, and his son-in-law.
Like many others who have lost close friends and family, I’ve found myself today pausing to reflect on my father-in-law’s life.
He grew up during the Depression in little more than a crossroads on the South Carolina coast just north of Charleston. “Hard scrabble” was the term that I most often heard him use to describe his childhood. The only heat in his house provided by the kitchen stove, the only light by kerosene lanterns.
Remembering the many vivid stories that he told of those times, it’s easy for me to close my eyes and envision him as a deeply tanned, barefoot boy with tousled hair spending idle summer days exploring nearby beaches or, with rifle in hand, stalking deer in the scrub pines bordering the tidal marshes. Coming home in the gathering gloom one evening, he had a particularly exciting confrontation with an irritable rattle snake which he could hear, but not see as he approached his front porch.
As a young man, he attended The Citadel, South Carolina’s military academy, for a year before dropping out in order to enlist to be a Naval aviator during World War II.
Flight school completed, he was preparing to fly in support of the imminent invasion of Japan when the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made his participation unnecessary.
After mustering out of the service, he graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Industrial Engineering, blazing a trail to be followed two generations later by my two sons who also graduated from Tech. I had once considered attending Georgia Tech, but wisely recognized that I had neither the financial, nor the intellectual assets required.
I came to my future father-in-law’s attention several years later, drawn by an intense interest which I had developed in his eldest daughter.
I will never forget the night on which I planned to ask for his consent to marry her. She and I came into the den where he was sitting in front of the TV. After my future spouse informed her father that we’d like to speak with him, he said, “Well, you better make it fast because Midway comes on in 10 minutes.” That was enough for me. My confidence shot, the asking for consent business was put off until another day!
It’s safe to say that I’ll always carry many fond memories of my father-in-law with me; rounds of golf (or a game closely resembling it) played with him and one of my brothers-in-law, his keen interest in mixing the perfect cocktail including one of his own creation dubbed a Grass Cutter (which could have easily exterminated an entire lawn if applied properly), and his willingness to apply his engineering background in the repair of anything and everything regardless of the availability of the necessary parts or tools.
Those who knew him will never forget him. Those who didn’t, missed an enjoyable and memorable experience.