One week ago today Mr. Stephens passed at the age of 91. He was…is…always will be…the father of Carol, my BFF since 1965. 91 years old. That is a long life, and it is easier to accept the passing of a loved one who has lived a long and fulfilling life. But I still mourn. And perhaps it is a selfish mourning. I miss being the child and being loved and cared for by not only my parents but also other elders in my life.
On Sunday, five days before he passed, I went to visit Carol and her family to celebrate Mrs. Stephens’ 90th birthday and to say goodbye to Mr. Stephens. I don’t believe at any time with all the days, nights, hours that I spent at that home did I ever go into her parents’ bedroom until that day.
In these 52 years, I have never seen him lying down asleep. But that Sunday I saw this 91-year-old man in his well-worn body laying in drug induced subdued pain. For the first time, I stood over him. For the first time when I spoke to him, he couldn’t respond to me. For the first time in 52 years, I gently kissed him on his forehead when I said my last good-bye.
On my drive home that day I reminisced about my past and how enjoyable it was because of the wonderful people that I had in my life.
As a young child, life was simple. I played outside. I rode my Schwinn banana seat bike without a helmet down the middle of the side streets. On rainy days I played board games and watched TV. I walked by myself to school. I ate whatever my mother fixed that day for dinner. I shopped for frivolous luxuries on my weekly $1.00 allowance.
In the 1960’s it was not unusual that my friends shared bedrooms with multiple siblings as it was common to have four to seven siblings per family. There were even a few families in school that had twelve siblings. And many siblings had friends within the same families. My four brothers all had a close friend from Carol’s family also.
The majority of my friend’s mothers were housewives who devoted the majority of their time to managing a tribe of children and overseeing the maintenance of the home that was infested with their children and their children’s friends coming in and out of the doors continuously throughout the day.
But our childhood was enjoyable because our fathers, like Mr. Stephens, and many of the fathers of my childhood friends, provided for us and set an example before our generation of being hard-working individuals who grew up during the Great Depression. They knew the struggles of poverty and knew it was possible to do better in life with hard work and determination. They knew how to make life better for their children and through all of this they taught by example to work diligently.
This past Monday Mr. Stephen’s wife, children, grandchildren and great children gathered along with extended family and friends to celebrate his life. His grandchildren shared how he impacted their lives with his patience and wisdom along with his willingness to teach, to help, and to love.
A portion of his obituary read: “He was a 1943 graduate of Hammond Tech High School. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served on the USS Kingfish submarine during World War II in the Pacific Theater, as a Torpedoman Second Class. After the War, he served on the USS Atule submarine in the Arctic Ocean, finished his tour on the USS Toro, and was honorably discharged in 1947. Upon returning, he began working for local steel mills, and retired from Bethlehem Steel after over 40 years in the steel industry. He was an avid runner, running in the Chicago Marathon in 1979 at age 53. Ed also enjoyed fishing, camping, boating, water skiing, and traveling coast to coast with his wife and children to see other family and friends.”
Mr. Stephens was also a second father to many. I am so thankful for the kindness and patience he has always shown to me my entire life. He has impacted my life and taught by example. May I only do the same for my children and grandchildren as he has done for his.
What childhood memories do you have of your friend’s parents? Preserving the legacies of these important people will prevent them from ever being forgotten and future descendants will enjoy reading about your childhood.
Pull out your laptop and grab paper and pen and start Keeping Your Memories of someone who impacted your life as a child.