Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Memory of My Dad

No matter how old I get, there are still days that stir fond memories from my childhood. My father, Dale Rettstatt, Jr., (nicknamed Sonny) passed away in 1981 at the age of fifty-nine. It's hard to believe it's been thirty years.

As we celebrate Father's Day, I take time to enjoy some memories of my dad. Mostly I remember him as a quiet, constant presence with a dry sense of humor. According to his high school yearbook, he wanted to be an engineer and to build airplanes. He became a soldier who served in WWII and received a Purple Heart for injuries during battle in France. He was a dedicated husband and father, never quite achieving his high school dream. Still, he worked hard to provide for his family, and did so without complaint.

He was in the high school band and played clarinet. He also loved playing cards and, suprisingly enough, creating paint-by-number paintings. I didn't think much about it at the time, but now reflect on the ways my dad tried to feed his creative spirit. Maybe that's where I get this passion for music, photography, and writing--the need to create.

My father was not a very communicative man. I wonder what he was like before he experienced the ravages of war at such a young age. But the man I knew as Daddy was quiet, sometimes brooding (though he did experience headaches from the shrapnel that remained in his head following the war). But he was 'there'. Always. To play ball in the backyard. To take me and my four girlfriends to see the Beatles movie, Help, at a drive-in theater because none of us could drive yet. (More than should be asked of any man!) To teach me to drive. To keep my car in good repair. To help me move out of my parents' house when I thought I was ready for the move. And to help me move back in a year later when I discovered I wasn't quite ready.

He didn't generally refer to my sister or me by our names. If a phone call came, he would shout, "Hey, you. Telephone." If the wrong daughter responded, he'd say, "Not you, the other one." Got so we signed his birthday cards from Hey You and The Other One.

The last time I saw my dad was the day before he died. I had taken a bus home from Pittsburgh for the weekend. He drove me to the bus station on Sunday before he went to work his shift. He lingered at the bus station with me, even though I told him I'd be fine (knowing he needed to get to work). We didn't talk, but he kept asking me if I needed any money--to which I said, "No, I'm okay." It was as if he did not want to leave.

But he left the next evening because of a massive heart attack. Medically speaking, my father had a bad heart. But my Dad had a great heart, a generous heart, the heart of a hero.

Here's to you, Daddy. Happy Father's Day.

The Other One

3 comments:

Sandra Cox said...

What a wonderful way to honor your father, Linda.

Kimberley Koz said...

Your father sounded very special, Linda. I love the way you signed your cards to him.

Therese said...

Thanks for sharing your memories of your dad. It sounds like he was a very special man.