Trying to say Goodbye

Recently, I wrote about finding a new normal. Here’s why:

About a month ago, I received a series of calls that changed everything. My mom, my brother, a neighbor of my mom’s all called to tell me that my dad had died. I rushed to my parents house, thinking they must be wrong. I’m sure he was just having one of those bleeding episodes that had happened a couple times before from being on a blood thinner.

But, they weren’t wrong. He was gone. He wasn’t coming back.

Bill Wilkinson & Shannon Wilkinson at Shannon's College Graduation

The proud dad of his first college grad.

A month later, it’s still hard to believe. Even though we wrote an obituary. We buried him. A lone bugler played Taps on the hillside. I still expected to see him sitting in his chair on the back patio, petting a cat, when I pulled up to the house yesterday.

I miss him in a million different ways. A million ways that I never expected. I’m assuming it gets easier over time, but I suspect it never goes away, this feeling of being a half orphan. Such a surprise to feel this way, when I’ve been taking care of myself for longer than they took care of me.

Here is the eulogy I wrote with the help of the rest of the family. My eldest brother Bill, with the help of his son Joe, read it.

In 1934 Dad came into this world in the front room of the family house in Cloverdale. He was over eleven pounds and his four foot ten inch mother frequently reminded him of it.

He’d point out the house where he was born every time we drove by it. And I manage to tell everyone else as well.

The family moved down the Willamette Valley for work for his dad Ed, a sawyer. Eventually though, they headed back up to Cloverdale and the dairy farm. Those years, particularly after he got his driver’s license, were some of the most memorable years for everyone who lived in South Tillamook county at that time.

We’ve heard from more than one person in the last few days, a story or two about Dad’s infamous driving stunts and other trouble he got into.

Not long after he graduated from high school, and I’m sure it wasnít at all related to his antics, it was suggested that Dad join the army. He signed up and became a tank commander in Germany. He served during the last few months of the Korean war, but was stationed in Germany. While he never saw combat, he sure did see the inside of a lot of pubs.

After he was discharged in 1956, he headed back to the farm.

A few years later, Mom and Dad met in Pacific City, at the Turn Around dance hall. Or rather in a car, in the parking lot of the Turn Around dance hall. Mom jumped into her friend’s car to get out of the rain, and ended up on Sherry’s boyfriend’s lap. Is wasn’t long before Sherry was out of the picture, and Mom and Dad started “going together.”

Dad knew right away Mom was the one for him. We’re all very glad that Dad has a persistent streak, because it took several marriage proposals before Mom said yes. They married in 1960 and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last November.

Just like his childhood, we went where Dad had work in the plywood industry. He worked his way up through the years to become a foreman, and ultimately superintendent. We lived in Tillamook, McMinnville, Portland and finally Oregon City.

His family was so important to him, he always wanted the best for us, so we learned to milk cows, slop hogs, muck stalls…haul wood, weed the garden, mow the lawn, walk on his back. We griped about it at the time, but he instilled in us a strong work ethic and self-sufficiency that is with each of us to this day.

I don’t recall as many things as some from my childhood, but my favorite memories were the trip to his parent’s house in Cloverdale, driving the straights between McMinnville and Sheridan at over one hundred miles per hour…in the oncoming traffic lane. Followed by the Valley Junction to Hebo leg of Highway 22. His theory was that if you doubled the posted speed and subtracted ten, that was slow enough with his four kids in the back of the ’64 Ford. I was either breathing down his neck or torturing my siblings. Which is mostly what they remember about those trips. That and stopping for Funyons and cans of Squirt to munch on the drive.

I suppose I shouldn’t have mentioned Dad’s driving habits since my kids are here and I’m insisting that my eldest, who just got her permit, not drive more than five miles an hour over the speed limit, so we can qualify for a healthy insurance plan.

Sean wanted me to tell you about a ritual they shared. They spent lots of time together at the Riverhouse, on that famous stretch of the Little Nestucca River, Dad loved to drive. He cut wood, read books, watch a movie at night, and just really relax at the Riverhouse. He always insisted on making his special egg, hash brown and bacon breakfast. After the big loggerman’s breakfast, he’d insist on doing the dishes. He only asked Sean to make the coffee because he “just couldn’t get the right formula.”

A big moment in his life was when his name changed from Dad to Poppa. First was his granddaughter Taryn, then Jackie, Jillian, Reid and Joe. He loved his grandkids. He spent time with each of them, and loved nothing more than having all the kids dog pile on him while he was laying on the couch.

He always called himself the luckiest guy in the world, and would tell anyone who’d listen, and even some who didn’t, about how wonderful his family was. He said he never knew where he’d be if Mom hadn’t jumped on his lap all those years ago.

Dad wasn’t a religious man, but he was spiritual, and I like to think that he is with Marc, his parents, his family and friends that went before him.

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