Mom called at once. Then I began to cancel meetings and obligations while rushing to get ready to catch a red eye from the upper left corner to the heartland.
He was a quiet man, not given to any kind of rhetoric. Gentle, too, for a man who stood 6 foot two in his youth. As a child I was amazed at how those huge hands of his could touch like a moth’s wing.
Though he never finished high school he had an abiding interest in figuring out how things worked. If it was mechanical, he could fix it. Before printed circuit boards he was the guy in the neighborhood that fixed radios and TVs for spare pocket change. He taught me what I know of auto mechanics including the fact that the job is not done until the tools are cleaned and put away.,
Dad was passionate about three things: His family, being a railroader and his tinkering. He loved Mom. You could tell by the way he looked at her, especially when she didn’t know it. Loved me, too. Never missed a game when I was playing high school football. Always found a way to encourage me.
But the defining thing about him was that he was a railroader. My first memory of him was running down the railroad platform at Norwood station when he came back from the war and leaping into his arms. I was 4. He was 25.
For the next 40 years he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a fireman and then an engineer. He was proud to wrangle those big steam locomotives and later, the sleek diesel engines.
After he retired, he and Mom camped all over the United states, at first with a tiny tent trailer and later with a big fifth wheel unit. They had just started home from a visit to see their granddaughter, Kelly, when Saint Helens blew for the second time. They drove through eastern Washington into the night to escape the falling ash.
But time catches up to us all and at the last he had difficulty remembering. In a way, I think that may have been a good thing as he had lived such a full life and could no longer.
I will miss his gentleness, his passion and his advice that ” It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s what you do that counts.”