He took an electrician’s correspondence course through the mail, thinking that qualified him to help build a custom home we had built for us years ago. Unbelievably, that seemed to satisfy the contractor. Some weeks later I held the ladder while he installed a large chandelier at the foyer of the split level home, meaning the ceiling was 15 feet above us.
I heard a large electrical pop, and my father crashed down and landed on his back. Lying there, still clutching the screwdriver, he opened his eyes and whispered “don’t tell your mother.”
He loved to tell us that his first job, when he was six-years old, was shuttling dirty money for a bookie in an old cigar box. And though his mother was a good Catholic, she condoned the work. It helped feed the family.
He delivered newspapers before he could read. One of his clients was the town judge, who would take my father on his knee and read the news to him after he’d delivered the paper.
He joined the Air Force in 1956 and was assigned to Air Defense Command. In 1967 he was sent to Pleiku Airbase, South Vietnam, where he spent a year with the 1st Air Commandos (Special Operations). He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal there, and was selected as an evaluator for a Pacific Air Forces stan/eval team. Those of you with an Air Force background know the prestige related with that position. All told, he had an astounding seven devices on his Vietnam Service Medal.
In later life he became a safety compliance officer and risk manager for the state of Arizona. Governor Bruce Babbitt requested he develop safety legislation for carnival rides. Later, he was hired by K&K Insurance Group to provide Risk Management assessments for large-scale sporting venues like the Super Bowl, the Preakness Stakes, and his own personal favorite, the Kentucky Derby. He became one of America’s foremost authorities on safety issues related to the largest roller coasters in the country, such as Goliath, at Magic Mountain.
When you met him he wanted to learn everything he could about you. If you were a plumber, or a mechanic, or a stock broker, he was fascinated with all aspects of your work and life. Most times, people felt compelled to tell him their life’s stories.
He was a man of constant curiosity.
Last night, at just about 9 pm, my father passed away. This morning, aside from the insistence of songbirds, my step-mother and I (as well as the brothers and sisters melded from their marriage) will begin the task of planning a celebration of his life. We may not get it exactly right, given the magnitude of the man, but I don’t doubt he’ll be satisfied with whatever we come up with. I’ll propose a toast at some point, and we’ll all clink our glasses toward that end.
But just now, this morning after, all I have is this raw sense of sorrow that began minutes after he left us. George Harrison reminds us that all things must pass. Yet I’m pressed between the notion that he’s with us and not with us at all, like a thin sweet scent that wafts past your nostrils that you know but can’t quite place. He’s shrinking already, and I am trying desperately to learn how to miss him.