That's my 88 year old father. Why? Because he showed me how to live life to the fullest. Actually, the root of the word, held, in German, means "hero."
I think a good part of the way he's lived was being a member of "The Greatest Generation," as Tom Brokaw put it. When you're 18 years old, on a Merchant Marine ship that gets torpedoed near the Straights of Gibraltar, while you were climbing a ship's ladder, almost missing the rung as the bow of ship was lifted out of the water from the blast, you don't take the rest of your life for granted.
When you're assigned shore duty while waiting for the ship to be repaired, anxiously return home across the Atlantic without incident for a leave, then are reassigned to a post in the Army in the Philippines, learning afterwards the ship you were on was torpedoed again and sunk, YOU DON'T TAKE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE FOR GRANTED!!
I'm pretty sure he got the message the first time, but God was probably making sure he did. Thank you, God. If it wasn't for You, I wouldn't be writing this.
After the War, marrying my mother, and having me, he set about his plan to have a house at the Jersey shore, and a boat. Having grown up in Edgewater, a sleepy town on the Hudson River, the Atlantic Ocean was his compass for which his life journeyed, and I was along for the ride. To do what he wanted (have a house and a boat), he would work two or three jobs, with me tagging along as an apprentice of sorts. He was literally a "jack of all trades." The best part of all this for me was, not knowing any better, I thought I was the richest kid in the world, and the happiest with that ignorance.
There might have been other times, but as a son growing up and even now, I recall my father being anxious about his life only two times. Both had to do with the aging process. His father died at age 60, and as my father approached that age, he seemed depressed. I didn't pick up on it at the time, but when he was in his mid 60's, he confessed to me that age 60 bothered him for that reason.
"Well," I said, " It looks like you have grandma's longevity gene."
That pitch has been over the plate, until now.
You see, his mother lived to be 90, and we're approaching that milestone. Just the other day, as I was taking him for his pre-op visit to the hospital, preparing to remove the melanoma on his upper lip (you can see it in the pic), he said this,
" I don't know why I'm having this done. How much time do I have left?"
Not usually quick witted, I mustered this answer in a flash,
"At least 12 years!! Don't compare yourself to grandma. She was very sedentary, played cards (usually solitaire) most of the day, didn't eat right, and generally didn't take care of herself. You've led an active life, and you still do, thanks to your personal trainer, Candy Sue (my baby sister, a long haired chihuahua). You've had plenty of fun in the sun; so what's the trouble of getting a couple of early stage melanomas whacked off? It was worth it, don't you agree? You have several good years left."
He bought this pitch also, and I wasn't lying.
That was a very befitting testimony to your “Hero”!
I guess that boyhood Edgewater/Hudson River boating education sure paid off for your dad when it came down to the survival techniques needed overseas. He was one of the blest hometown boys who used his schooner and cliff climbing skills to show true heroism and lived to return and tell his stories.
There were many young fellows who never made it to manhood as a result of the early tribulations of the Bergen County wilderness. Those notorious Palisade cliffs and treacherous rip-tides in the ever-flowing Hudson River claimed the lives of many an adventurer of the 1920-30’s. Thank the guardian angels that our own dear ol’ dads lived to fight the foe on the foreign shores and come back to their sweethearts (our moms) in our good ol’ Fort Lee and Edgewater, New Jersey homeland! Lest we forget that without them we would not have been begotten!
I last saw your dad about 25 years ago. After doing the math, I realized that he was actually a year younger at the time than you are now! He was in his natural setting at the Jersey Shore, and I would have loved to converse with him about his many adventures. Alas, time was short, and he took the backstage to the filibusting entertainer’s tales. Meanwhile, the “Fair Lady Laney” threw in some quips of her own here and there while she humbly served us the goodest of her goodies. I do hope to have another visit with them someday soon and have them both fill my ears and heart with the enrichment of their life story!
Until then I salute your dad … John J. Heldon, Sr., an American Hometown “Hero”!
What a wonderful post. I try to never take life for granted but little reminders like this always bring the point home again.ReplyDelete