Feb. 1 will mark 50 years since Father was killed in an accident at the meat packing plant. Memories of Dad have hardened into meaningful stories. I was thinking of him when I woke this morning.
What I remember most is his trying to get out of life as a factory worker. He never made it.
He didn’t like it that he got his hands so dirty, that work in the plant was degrading. His father felt the same way about mining coal. Father and son, they both tried to escape their work culture and couldn’t. Dad encouraged me to find a different path and I tried. After two summers working at the plant during college, doing some of the hardest work in my life, I declined their job offer to become a plant foreman after graduation. It was the only offer I had.
The most important decision I made after Dad died was whether to leave Davenport and attend the University of Iowa as he and I discussed. Mother encouraged me to go and I did. For years I didn’t understand that the August 1970 trip to Iowa City was it. My relationship with family changed in a way that was unexpected and forever. I didn’t realize it at the time but I mourned Dad’s death long afterward. I don’t know exactly when — probably during military service — I was able to live with the loss.
After a shift Dad would head over to the Knotty Pine or Pete’s Midwest Tavern where he would cash his paycheck and socialize. It was what people did, the culture of meat packing. That night he cashed his check at Pete’s Midwest over his lunch break. I kept the coins from his pocket after he died, Mom used the bills the way she would had he gone on living.
Losing a parent before life begins can be tough. It was life-altering for me. Fifty years later I don’t think of the loss. It is a part of me about which there is no thinking, only doing. What else is there to do except go on living?