There are certain days that indelibly etch into our consciousness, so much so we remember exactly what we were doing when we learned of an event. Sometimes those events are historical, such as when an assassin’s bullet cut down a president on a November Friday in Dallas back in ’63 or when those twin towers fell on a Tuesday in ‘01 and gave new meaning to the date 9/11.
Sometimes those cataclysmic moments are far more personal, especially when we lose someone we so loved and admired, and I think about that each year during the run-up to Father’s Day.
It was on a late May Monday in 1978 at Allen East High School when I learned of my father’s death. I heard a light knock on my classroom door, one that seemed more deferential than urgent. I remember glancing at the clock on the wall. The time was 12:18, twelve minutes before the bell would ring for the final lunch section of the day for my fidgety 14-year-old freshmen. My lesson was on verbals, specifically gerunds and their various functions in sentence structuring.
As I opened the door, I saw the red-rimmed eyes of my superintendent, Jim Barton, who told me that my father had been killed in a car-train accident outside Paulding that morning. My superintendent’s reaction was not just the manifestation of his having to tell a young teacher of a father’s death. You see, he was also a personal friend of Dad, a friendship that was forged in the fairways and on the greens at Lost Creek Country Club.
Of course, I think of Dad at other times during the year, not just around Father’s Day, as all of us do. For me, one of those times when Dad was so very much on my mind occurred when I received a letter a couple of months ago from a reader in Palos Heights, Florida, from a Bill Graf.
He told me that he’d worked as a sales rep for Central Steel and Wire Company, working out of Elkhart, Indiana, before his retirement. Mr. Graf knew Dad, also a sales rep for Central Steel. He told me what a great guy he thought my father was and how much he enjoyed talking with him at sales meetings and other company functions.
He continued by saying that he’d recently met a couple in Florida from Lima, Ohio, and asked them if they knew a John Grindrod. The couple mentioned there was a writer there of that name. He went on to say that the couple now sends him my columns, and he enjoys them, which is always nice to hear. Towards the end of the note, I could feel my eyes beginning to water a bit when he said, “I can almost see John Sr. there when you talk about your early family days and growing up.”
It’s been 11 years ago since I was as old as my father was when he died at 58 years old. Despite the extra time the Lord has granted me, I sometimes feel I’ve yet to catch up in terms of what he accomplished. I’m pretty certain I have more posthumous admiration for him than I did when he was here, something of which I am not proud.
Like so many of his generation, his formal schooling ended following high school in Lynn, Mass., a couple Ted Williams’ blasts from Boston’s Fenway. Like so many of his generation, he never thought twice about serving his country. Dad chose the Marines during his World War II years.
If I close my eyes and concentrate for a moment, I can still see him on Friday mornings seated at the kitchen table, writing his duplicate reports, using a sheet of carbon paper while working the phone checking in with his customers.
I saw him leaving many a time on a Monday morning dressed in a suit and tie and wearing a pair of Florsheim wingtips polished to a mirror-like finish befitting a former master-tech sergeant in the Corps. Many weeks, he wouldn’t return from his work roads until Thursday evening. One of the realities of his Central Steel and Wire job that supported his family so well was it did take him away for large chunks of time, which made his career so very different from most of my friends, whose fathers left in the morning through the same door they would return at each day’s end.
However, my, did my father ever make up for his work-related absences when he was there, both with his family and his friends. That’s always been the great challenge of those whose jobs take them on the road for stretches of time, and it was a challenge he met so very well.
I can still hear his voice echoing in my mind, one tinged by that New England accent that had been softened by his years in the Midwest but never lost, especially when he added and subtracted his r’s so that weather became weatha and Lima became Limer, something which delighted my sister Joanie’s and my friends.
With a firm handshake, a stentorian set of pipes and a full tank of exuberance, there was simply an inherent likability about him that people sensed, people like Bill Graf, whose memories of Dad are now well into their fourth decade.
Thanks, Mr. Graf, for your kind note from John Grindrod, the writer, about the John Grindrod who was taken far, far too soon, the one that, quite simply, meant the world to me.
And, to fathers both present and the ones who live on in our memory banks, happy Father’s Day.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.