There is an old joke:
Two baby boys are born in the same hospital on the same day and are placed in bassinets next to each other. The next day each one is taken home by it’s respective parents and they never meet growing up.
Seventy-some years later they both come back to that same hospital on the same day to die. They are placed in a room together and after everyone has left and it has grown quiet, one of them leans over to the other and asks, “So. What did you think?”
For the most part, we don’t get to do an ‘exit interview’ when we die. We are either clouded by age, or in a place of pain where we can’t speak, much less reason. Sometimes it’s abrupt like a car crash and sometimes we just slip away while no one is looking…and then it’s just done. Over. Book closed. And so it is that we take our personal story, our review of our life, at least the way we would tell it, with us. Every other person who knows the dearly departed has their own version to tell but, as you know, most people are, at best, unreliable narrators.
All of this is my way of saying that my father passed away this morning.
For those who have been reading this blog for over a year, you may remember that he had a massive stroke on August 22 of last year. What at first seemed minor turned out to be what they called “an evolving stroke” that continued on through the night after they thought it was over. The resulting damage left him paralyzed on his left side and able to speak only occasionally. In the past year he never ever showed any improvement although we sometimes tried to convince ourselves that he was improving. Two weeks ago he slipped into a deep sleep and, well, this morning he left without saying goodbye.
But that’s not the story of his life.
He was born to Italian immigrants in Columbus, Ohio, the sixth boy of seven children. His mother passed away a few months after his birth but not before she and her husband named him Emilio. All of his friends came to call him Boggi (as in Bogey), which is a contraction of our last name. In later years many people were surprised to hear that wasn’t his real name.
On his first day at school he was sent home because he didn’t speak english. He ended up having to repeat that year. He dropped out of school early, but went back and got his high school diploma when he was 32. I was seven years old when I saw him graduate.
He joined the Navy when he was seventeen and ended up stationed in China at the end of WWII. If you asked him what he did in the Navy he would tell you that he served as an MP whose job it was to keep the other sailors out of the Chinese whorehouses. Not exactly a Greatest Generation story, but he seemed to like telling it.
He and his brothers opened up a dry cleaner in San Diego in 1949. Later he would go on to work in management at General Dynamics where he was very proud of the work they did for the space program. He felt a great sense of ownership and personal pride when we landed on the moon.
He was married for 53 years to a beautiful Italian woman named Jean and they had three children, all of whom turned out pretty darn well if I do say so myself. According to my mother, he always told people his greatest accomplishment was his kids and the kind of people they had become.
He helped us with math and taught us how to tie a hook and how to play cribbage and that we should never lie. He also told us we didn’t ever have to call anyone ‘sir’ or ‘mam’ unless they earned it first.
He had many opinions, some of which I agreed with.
He used to grow so much zucchini and tomatoes in the summer that people in the neighborhood would hide behind their doors when they saw him coming.
He liked jokes, ice cream, Coke (regular, never diet), crossword puzzles, dogs, Frank Sinatra songs, and watching his granddaughter play Little League which he thought was the damndest thing.
He enjoyed his retirement but I think he was driving my mother nuts. Most days her only salvation was sending him to Home Depot or over to a neighbors house to fix something.
He didn’t want it to end this way. He didn’t want to be one of those people who became ill and wasted away in a hospital bed, but he stuck around for a year doing just that, which allowed us to start learning how we were going to live without him. I hope we learned well.
We didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to him. We didn’t get our chance to do our exit interview with him. But I like to think that if I had had the chance to lean over and ask him, “So. What did you think?”, he probably would have leaned back and said, “I think it went pretty well, don’t you?”
I think I’d have to agree.