For My Dad

March 28, 2007 at 11:30 AM | Posted in Personal | 5 Comments

[I just changed and added to it. Most of what is new is just at the bottom, which I highlighted.]

This is most of what I could remember
from Monday, which was completely off the cuff, by the way, as well
as thoughts I had after the fact to bring it all together.

My father, Raymon Lee Bushong, was
born on February 6th, 1936. . .in a log cabin. . .that he built
himself. He grew up in a time when life was harsh and the world was
in black and white. He told me stories about his dad, my
grandpa, whom I had never met; but the stories he told painted a
picture with vivid color and detail of life during that time.
He worked hard, shoveling coal and
hauling ice with Grandpa. Grandpa was a tough man who never backed
down from a fight, and neither did Dad. Dad told me lots of stories,
many of which I’m not sure of the truthfulness contained within them.
But he said he raced cars. I believe him. He said once he wrestled
a bear. I can believe it. He said he sparred with Sonny Liston—but
didn’t beat him. I believe him. He said he was a mercenary in
Korea, and I believe him.
He said he spent time in a Mexican
jail, and described it vividly. He said he and Grandpa got into a
fight with most of the cops in Mount Vernon–all at once. I got
surprising corroboration of that story from Uncle Junior, who,
although very young at the time, described looking out the window and
seeing Dad pounding a cop’s head into the ground while Grandpa fought
with several at once. So, I kind of believe it.
My dad even said he drove a truck for
a living. I’m not real sure if I believe that or not. It might have
just been a cover for his secret CIA job.
My dad knew alot of people and had
alot of friends. I remember being young and riding with him to go
visit his friends. They were everywhere, and there were lots of
them. Even on trips, we would run into people he would know. We
were on vacation in New England, and more than once just ran into
people he knew.
And so it is perfectly logical, when
I was young, for me to think that when we were on vacation in
Washington DC, that we would swing by the White House and meet
someone he knew. But though I expected it, we never did. I assume
it was because we ran out of time.
And through Dad’s Teamster’s
affiliations and others, he knew some bona fide gangsters, mobsters.
Dad knows what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, but he never told a soul.
We moved from the city to the
country, and Dad continued to do the things he wanted to do. He
hunted, he traded, he worked on old cars. He built a barn, even.
The things he traded? Guns . . . dogs . . . and stories.
He became accepted in this small,
entrenched society that didn’t cotton well to outsiders, and
eventually became a member of the town board of trustees. He was
endeared to them, as he was to so many.
He made friends with some of the old
German old-timers, and those old men were my surrogate grandfathers.
All over town, I was "Bud’s little boy." I remember their
names: Hiram, and Otto, and Adolf, and Old John. And Moose, of
course. And of course we knew Dad was accepted by them when they
shared with him the secrets of German wine making.
And Dad made some wine.
We moved back to the suburbs to be
closer for Mom and Dad to go to work. But there, in the suburbs, Dad
still lived in the country. He did what he wanted to do: He bummed
around with his buddies, made new friends, and still worked on cars
and tinkered with things and always–always–took time for us. Not
just us kids, but all of us. And all of you.
He accepted my step-kids as his
grandkids, without question. And my grandkids are his
great-grandkids, just like that.
I know one regret he has is that I
never met his father, but I feel like I have. And I am grateful that
I had kids for him to see, and be a part of their lives. And another
thing I know, because I am alot like him, is that he enjoyed his
life. He enjoyed everything.
I know I’m not a hard man. Not like
Dad, and certainly not like Grandpa. But I lived with a hard, hard
woman for eighteen years. You have no idea how tough that makes you.
I know Dad was proud of Carl. He would tell me his side of their
arguments, which I was supposed to take, but in there with it I heard
a gradual respect and pride for his boy growing up and raising a
family and doing good. And I know he was proud of Judy, and glad
that she went back to school on her own, and happy that she was there
to–well, no body takes care of Dad. Dad takes care of himself. But
she was there to be with him, and remind him of things, and read
things that were to tiny for him to read, and make calls, and remind
him to take his oxygen with him, and take care of the animals, and
things that he could do by himself, with no help that he would ever
admit to.
And I know he was proud of me. He
told me so. I left school disgraced and I know that was hard on him.
But I took a crappy little job delivering pizza and worked my way up
to the top, and that job allowed me to raise a family. And I did go
back to school, and finish my degree, and get a new job, and that
made him proud.
My whole life, my Dad has always
helped me work on cars. It was never something I wanted to do, I
never thought of myself as a mechanic. But I enjoy it now, and the
times we spent doing it together I will always remember. Like I
said, I’m not a mechanic. But I can change an engine. I’ve done it.
I’ve learned more about cars from my dad than I ever thought I would
want to know.
When Mom got sick, Dad took care of
her. I never knew till afterwards how hard that had been on him. He
never complained about it, ever. I get that from him. After she
died, I’m glad that Dad had a few years to really enjoy himself, and
do what he wanted. He got to build his garage, which he always
wanted, and it made him happy. He got to have a girlfriend, and I
know that made him happy too. And. . .well, when my wife and I split
up, I’ve heard from several people that that made him happy as well.
In fact, that may have been the thing that made him say, "At
last, my kids are okay, and I can go."
I wanted to add a little story here,
two quick ones. Back in 87 I was 21, living with a 40 year old
woman. We broke up, and I came back home. Then I was missing again,
going out a lot. My dad comes to me and says, “Your mother—“
and I know he meant him, but he said it like that: “Your mother
wants to know if you’ve gone back to your old girlfriend.” And I
said, “No. In fact, I think I have a new girlfriend.” Dad
didn’t have much faith in my ability to choose, so all he asked
was, “Is she white?”
And now, my new girlfriend, Kim, has
only known my dad for about six months, got to know him, got attached
to him. She said that once when they were talking, he said to her,
“I bet you never thought you’d have a—“ and there he stopped,
about to say “father in law.” But he said, “Know a guy like
me.” But that’s what he meant. And I knew that he loved her,
accepted her, and was glad I had her.
And I’ve told my Kim that I love
her too much to marry her. But I may have to, just so she can say he
really is her father in law.

He told me once or twice that you are
never *really* fully grown until your parents are dead. And now I
know what he means. Not only because I don’t have him to go to for
things I always went to him for: answers, help, support–I am truly
on my own, in charge of myself now–but also for this little reason:
I was over at Dad’s house when my son
was very young. Mitchell was perhaps four or five years old, playing
on the floor in front of us. My dad turns to me, and, pointing to
Mitchell, and says, "You know, you will never be any older than
this to me, in my eyes."

Monday, March 26, was the wake for my
dad. He wanted to be cremated, but that did not preclude us from
having a visitation first, with a viewing. He didn’t specify when
we had to cremate him.
So the viewing was from 4 to 8 pm on
Monday, followed by a brief service that evening. My brother would
officiate, my sister would prepare a eulogy, and we would ask a few
people to get up and tell stories about my dad. Everything was set,
my sister had her work prepared.
She forgot to bring it with her.
I said, “Look, don’t worry. I can wing it.” And I did.
I fully, completely intended to play
it straight–and then that first line came out of my mouth. It just
snowballed from there. With an audience of almost 100 people. . .I
killed. I got laughs, and lots of them, and it was completely off
the cuff, improvised. And at the end, I got applause.
Laughs I get. It’s a way to
relieve the stress, and most of the jokes I said were completely
inside, things you would have to be in the family to get. I guess I
knew my audience. But to get applause? At a funeral, for Christ’s
sake? As I sat down I thought to myself, “Well, I may have been
funny, but to get applause is completely inappropriate, so we are ALL
going to Hell.”
Then Saturday the 31st, we
had a graveside memorial to bury the ashes with the family. Probably
not what he had wished for, but then again, that’s what you get
when you don’t leave a freakin executor or a goddamn will laying
around somewhere for us to find, Dad. At the graveside, I read the
above text, trying to remember what I had said on Monday. So this
was a little more poignant, and had a definitive beginning and end.
But the humor—was it appropriate?
Well, this came to me as I was thinking about the stories everyone
told about Dad. This is one I wish I had remembered, so I could have
told it, so people would know that Dad did appreciate the humor:

I was a teenager, not exactly sure
how old. Dad was in his bedroom, and he called for me. I get in
there, and there he sits, on the edge of the bed, in his underwear.
His pants lay on the floor in front of him. He says to me, “You
know that expression, ‘I’m a normal man, I put my pants on one
leg at a time like everyone else’?”
I had heard of it. Seems a little
obscure now, but I’ve heard it. “. . .Yeah. . .”
Still seated, he puts his feet in the
pants, bends over, and pulls them up as he stands up– both legs at
the same time.

Yeah, that was my dad.

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5 Comments »

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  1. I am so sorry to hear about your father.  This is a beautiful tribute!  If I could give you a hug I would, I\’m sure Kim is taking great care of you.  You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. 

  2. wow that is a beautiful tribute. i am very sorry for your loss. Please take care.

  3. WHAT A wonderful tribute to him Bryan.. just wonderful words of love and praise.. I can hardly see the keys the tears are flowing.. Peace be to you and Kim..and the family..please take big hugs from me and know I am thinking of you all at this time. ((((()))))   HUGS!! Prayers always, Carol 

  4. I am sorry about the death of your dad but that sure was a wonderful piece you wrote on him.  It made me like your dad.

  5. That was a beautiful tribute to your dad,
    he was a wonderful guy.
    Remember he is still around you, look for signs…
    Take care ~ hugs
    Say hi to Kim for me, please


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