Eight years ago, on hubby’s and my anniversary, we said our final good-byes to dad as we laid him to rest. It amazes me how often I find myself thinking “I wish dad was here!” or “I can’t wait to tell dad!” or “Dad would have loved this!”. In fact, I had one of those moments last night as I was standing outside on my deck, taking photos of the lightning strikes flashing all around me. Dad would have been the first one out there with me, exclaiming about how he had never seen so much lightning. (And truthfully, it really didn’t matter if he had or not, because every time dad experienced something it was the best thing he had ever seen).
I also find myself including dad a lot when we go on vacation. Dad, and mom, absolutely loved traveling, and they instilled that love into me, for which I am so grateful. I am even more grateful for the fact that hubby has that same love! This past April, while vacationing in Texas, I had many opportunities to think about dad and how he would have loved exploring and wandering around – especially in Smithville. Dad would have fallen in love with the quaintness, the friendliness, and declared it the best little city he had ever visited – especially eating at the Olde World Bakery & Cafe.
First, let me back up just a bit. Coffee has been an intricate piece of my life since a very young age (6 months or so). I have a photo of me sitting in my high chair next to dad at the table, and he giving me his cup of coffee to drink from. I personally do not remember this, but luckily I have those photos to help stir the memory (nice pun huh?). So, to me coffee shops, no matter where they are, bring a moment of childhood nostalgia every time I enter one.
As soon as I walked into the Olde World Bakery I envisioned dad and I pulling up a chair, after picking out the most delectable looking scrumptious pastry – because coffee is much better when you have something sweet to eat with it. Dad would have been absolutely enthralled with the resident cat, Charlie, who would have been sitting in dad’s lap (despite swearing up and down he did not like cats) and owners looking in awe as they swore up and down the cat doesn’t like anybody (not sure if that’s Charlie or not but I heard it many times). He would have been absolutely delighted to sit and talk with the “old-timers” as they came in to eat. For being the strong silent type, dad had a way of inviting people to talk with him, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than sitting on a bench while mom went shopping and talking to the other old “codgers” there.
We would have had quite a discussion about what to have for lunch. Whether we should order some of the specialty sandwiches, or make up our own combination. Of course, my bet would be that dad would have settled on something off the breakfast menu, because that was always his favorite meal. Well, wait. I think dad’s favorite meal was every meal. He also would have been the first one there waiting for the music to start on Saturday, and he would have been the first one to exclaim how they made the best coffee he had ever had, or the best pastries, or the best food. It really didn’t matter. He would have been bragging them up… just because.
I loved spending time with dad. It didn’t matter what we did; laying sod, delivering oil, working at the gas station, I was just happy to be with him. I don’t know if I ever told him that. The only time I was glad he was not around for was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Knowing a child of his was battling something as awful as that would have tore him up. He would never have said anything, but he would have been there at every single appointment, every chemo treatment, every surgery – where not only would I wake up knowing hubby was there, but also dad (and mom!) patiently – impatiently – waiting for me to wake up.
Dad gave me much more than a love for coffee (or dirty water as hubby calls it!) – and pastries! Dad was not a “touchy-feely” guy. To him, actions were more important than words. Being that I never heard him say “I love you”, it took me a very long time to realize he showed me every day by his actions towards me and towards others. Something else I realize he showed me was the art of being joyful – and considering he was a 6’4″ and 100% Swede, most people probably would not use that word to describe him. But I’ll let you see for yourself whether or not you agree with me and so today, on Father’s Day, I want to honor his memory by sharing three ways dad showed me how to be joyful, and why that was so important.
Think of Others
When I was ten years old, my dad’s father died, and shortly thereafter dad moved an hour away and began running Grandpa Oscar’s gas station. Because dad lived there 5 out of 7 days, I spent most of the summer staying with him. One of the strongest memories I have were the twice a day coffee breaks.
If I am remembering correctly, every day at about 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., gentleman would start wandering in to the gas station, until it was standing room only. Dad would stop whatever he was doing, pour himself a cup of coffee, pull out some cookies or cake, and the ‘bs’ sessions would begin. I swear up and down hanging around there has made ME the ‘bs’r’ I am today! I remember when dad purchased this fancy new machine that could make coffee or hot chocolate – just so anybody who wanted something to drink would be able to (I wonder if he ever knew why the hot chocolate was disappearing so fast???).
Dad had a way of making everyone feel welcome, and that was evident by the number of people who came in every day to shoot the “sh**”. It was also evident in the way he paid personal attention to every customer, greeting them, washing their windows, checking their oil – anyone who came in to that gas station went away feeling valued, feeling appreciated. There are many other ways dad showed people they mattered – filling their oil tanks to heat their homes, even if they didn’t have money to pay him; planting flower gardens so people had something beautiful to look at – I could go on and on.
When I was undergoing my chemo, I reflected back on how dad thought of others, and I used it to move me forward out of my funks. Don’t get me wrong – feeling depressed or being in a funk is a natural part of the cancer process – but I believe I was able to move through them faster because I started thinking of all the people who had battled this same disease and lost. Or those who were still battling it. Or those yet to come. I became a warrior for those who could no longer be one. My battle was their battle – and their battle was my battle – and I was not going to let them …. or me … down.
Look for the Adventure
Dad LOVED to have fun. It really didn’t matter too much what we were doing, chances were high that dad would be, in a manner of speaking, jumping in with both feet. When I was about 16, mom and dad took me to Lutsen, Minnesota, which is along the shore of Lake Superior. Mom and Dad had been going there for years to celebrate their anniversary, and I think after listening to me whine often enough, they agreed to bring me along. Lutsen is the home of the Alpine Slide – you know … one of those slides where you took the ski lift to the top of the mountain, and rode a sled down concrete slides to the bottom. I don’t remember much else of that trip, but I do remember we spent the majority of the day at the Alpine Slide, where dad and I went up and down, over and over and over and over again (mom had to have been bored out of her mind!). The staff at the top of the hill started playing along with us, because they knew when they saw us coming that dad and I were racing to see who could get to the bottom first. We were going down those slides so fast, I know on some of the corners my sled and I were coming up out of that slide. How I didn’t crash, I’ll never know. And how dad kept up doing that, I’ll never know either. I mean he wasn’t ancient (58 years old), but I can’t imagine that was the easiest thing to do; yet I never heard him complain.
That’s how he lived his life. Every vacation, every illness, every setback – somehow dad would find the adventure. Whether it was exploring every attraction, making connections with people in the hospital, or telling the story of some catastrophe in a way that made it funny, it made them all enjoyable. While I wasn’t able to be much of an adventurer during chemo and subsequent surgeries – I now spend every day trying to find the adventure – whether I am at home working in my garden, or taking the dog for a walk – if you look, I promise you will find it!
One of the things I miss the most about my dad are his eyes. Dad had these crystal blue eyes that would light up and start twinkling when he had something funny to share. He definitely was not very good at hiding when he was teasing you, or when something struck him as funny. Dad was one of those people who you would swear was totally out of it and BAM! Dad would spit out a one-liner that had everybody on the floor laughing until their stomach hurt and you would swear your sides were splitting. Or playing cards with his grandkids, you always knew when dad was “cheating” because his eyes would light up and he couldn’t help but smile. I’m not sure the grandkids always caught on, but we did – and I can still hear their cries of “Grandpa – you’re cheating!!!” ringing through the house.
Every family gathering, every time mom and dad were with friends – what I remember the most is laughter. Even when dad was in the hospital, not able to breathe because of his COPD, his sense of humor came out and suddenly hanging out in the hospital room was enjoyable. Eight years later, nurses still recognize me and when I say I am Myron Sandberg’s daughter, they all remember him. Nurses, who weren’t even dad’s nurses, would come in to his room – especially if they were having a bad shift – because they would walk out of dad’s room with a smile on their lips. Even at dad’s end of life, when he was mostly comatose due to the medications to ease his pain, when one of his favorite nurses came in the room to say good-bye to him, he spoke for the first time in a week – “How the h*ll did you get in here?” It might sound rude and crass, but it wasn’t. We all burst in to laughter, and suddenly there was joy.
I tried to remember this every time I was in the hospital, because I dare you to try and not be joyful when you’re laughing… go ahead try. I’ll wait. <insert theme music from Jeopardy here … dee dum dee dum dee dum dum, dee dum dee dum dee dee dum dee dum dum>
On second thought; I can’t wait. I’ve got things to do and if this gets any longer you’ll be bored out of your mind. Not a good combination.
Dad wasn’t perfect. He made a lot of mistakes in life – who doesn’t? But regardless, he left a beautiful legacy in showing me how to find joy and happiness in everything you do. Happy Father’s Day papa!! I love you like biscuits and gravy!
Until next time, capture life kreatively!
P.S. What brings you joy? What is your most joyful memory with your dad? Leave a comment here, and share your joy with me. I would LOVE to hear it!
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Photographer – Myra J. Horner – Kreatively Captured
Location – Olde World Bakery & Cafe in Smithville, Texas. Visit them on the web at www.oldeworldbakerytx.com or on Facebook at @oldeworldbakerytx