Friday, June 12, 2009


I have been thinking of my father a great deal this week. It has been a busy week, so I have not posted as I had planned. Monday was the tenth anniversary of Papa's death. (That is the official date, although he actually died on June 6; he was kept breathing on life support.) Yesterday, the eleventh of June was the corresponding tenth anniversary of his funeral, a Gregorian Requiem, as he had always wished it would be, sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Athanasius Church, the Church where he and Mama were among the forty or fifty founding couples who built the parish from its beginnng in 1959.

Ironically, yesterday the Senate of the United States passed a much belated law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco. It is ironic to me because my father died from emphysema, a smoker's disease. Up to 1985, when he quit smoking, every picture of Papa that we have showed him with a cigarette in his hand. He smoked his last cigarette on June 6, (D-Day), 1985 and made a mark on his bathroom wall (now painted over.) Fourteen years later he collapsed and was revived by the paramedics only to have a massive heart attack in the emergency room from which he was again resuscitated, but never regained consciousness. I found it ironic then that he died on the anniversary of D-Day and of the day when he had quit smoking.

He called emphysema, "an old man's disease, an old veteran's disease", and told me about how his becoming hooked on cigarettes was linked to his service in the war. After one incident of combat, he said, someone offered him a cigarette and the combined adrenaline rush from combat and the nicotine caused him to become addicted as he had not been before.

I remember in my childhood in Toledo once when I was ten or eleven years old coming upon his cigarette in the ashtray on a table in the living room where he had left it while we ate lunch in the kitchen. It was nearly burned down and I could not resist taking a puff. The hot smoke and disgusting taste of the thing made me cough and I had to go into the bathroom and close the door so that I could cough and recover and not admit to stealing a drag on the cigarette. I couldn't comprehend why he smoked. It was just so yucky. (Years later I would become a smoker myself and I quite some months before Papa did.)

So I am very glad that the FDA will finally regulate tobacco. I have often wondered if he had quit sooner, would we have enjoyed his company, his intellect, his wit, his grace and charm and his joy and pride in us longer? He would, I am sure, take great pride in his grandchildren who in the past decade have become accomplished adults. He would be charmed and chuckle over the antics of his first great-grandchild, my grand-nephew whose first haircut pictures arrived in my inbox this week and made me laugh.

Often when I load new pictures from my digital camera unto the computer, I think of my father, wistfully for he was a skilled photographer himself and also a computer programmer. He did not live long enough to see the advent of the scanner, printers or digital camera into this house, but I am sure that he would so enjoy them. The prints I have made from old family photos adorn my shelves. I made them within the first year after he died as my own grief gave way to mourning and the mourning was turned into remembrance through the work of documenting our family history and printing out these pictures. He would have been amazed by the quality of the prints and enjoyed having his family around him again, as I do.

I wish the technology could have come sooner, that the Internet could have come sooner. I know he would be so pleased to see me re-inventing the little business that he helped me with and watched over in the eighties as I learned to garden and make potpourri. (Although he would be glad to know that I am no longer growing what seemed to be bizillions of seedlings all over the dining room.)

Tonight I watched an episode of NCSI, a program that he never saw, but that I think he would enjoy. I miss sharing these things with him. The books that I read, the television programs that I watch have less savor without someone, Papa in particular, to share them with.

Cooking is harder too, now than when he was alive ten years ago. Part of that, of course, is that I am ten years older now and physical tasks are not so easy as they were then. (That is relative, too, of course.) Lacking someone to share my "creations" with makes the task harder too and scaling back from cooking for two to cooking for one is a challenge as well.

Papa rarely talked about his time in the Navy or the war as my sister and I were growing up, but it was a seminal part of his life, if for no other reasons than that it took him away for three years and it solidified his occasional social practice of smoking an occasional cigarette into an addiction that ultimately took his life. Before it did that, it also robbed him of robust vigor that would have been his.

Two months ago when friends cleaned out my garage they found the following artifacts that were part of Papa's Navy Service tucked away in a drawer.

The first I call an insignia, but I am truly not sure what it is. The second is a pocket Morse code "cheater". I assume that this is from the time that he spent in Navy Officer Training at Princeton in the Fall of 1943. The last is the emblem from his cap.

Finally, here is his official portrait in his uniform, which I have also posted on the Squidoo lens that I have done about him--Fred is Peace, that is in the links to the right.

I am grateful for the life of my father, for my memories of him and I hope that the time will come when fewer people smoke and no one any longer dies from smoking related illnesses.


Roseanne T. Sullivan said...

That's a nice memoir of your dad, Marguerite. It is ironic that he had the heart attack on the anniversary of when he quit.

It's also not quite fair that my uncle, who was my guardian, and who was a former sailor who joined the navy at 16, also was a smoker, but somehow he lived until nearly 90. He did pay another smoking related penalty because he suffered from emphysema for the last years of his life.

I'm a former smoker too. It is a terrible addiction, and the withdrawal is horrible. I wish that there will be an end to cigarette availability, but the history of our nation is inextricably bound up with tobacco interests, and it would take a miracle to break the hold the tobacco lobby has on the government.

Marguerite (Peggy) Manor said...

Thank you, Roseanne for this thoughtful comment. It is interesting to reflect on how our history as a nation is bound to tobacco. I had not thought of that. Thank you for pointing it out.