I visited Mom and Dad yesterday, as I do every year about this time (1). The grounds at Grandville Cemetery were immaculate, the headstones clean, the VFW-placed flag flying, and now, between their headstones, beamed a fresh chrysanthemum, maybe the prettiest and fullest I’ve placed over all these years.
Each parent had come a long way to rest in these plots my dad bought after my mom died in ’62.
In a third plot, originally meant for me, rest the remains of dad’s little sister, my Aunt Florence, who passed in ’05.
Mom’s body came nearly 450 miles from Pittsburgh and Dad’s 55 miles from the Rupert-Durham funeral home in Portage after he’d spent the last 5½ weeks of his life at Rose Arbor Hospice in Kalamazoo. Their graves are less than a mile and a half from the little white house on South Big Spring Drive where they first brought me home. So, in a way, this is the ultimate homecoming, but there were no ceremonies other than my quiet reminisces over their graves.
Dad was the youngest – and the runt – of the 3 Ike boys, but still lettered as an offensive guard for the Ottawa Hills Indians and was forever involved in playground sports with his brothers and other neighborhood kids. Born Gerrit, Bogenus (Bo-ween-us), and Dirk, they quickly became Gary, Bub, and Dick as they pursued with vigor the American dream their parents had come from the Netherlands to pursue.
My dear Grandpa Ike lasted to 104 and 11/12th, so he saw almost all of his youngest son’s arc. Anyone who spent more than a few minutes with Grandpa would know where Dad got his impish sense of humor.
Check out the handsome, serious guy who emerged from Ottawa Hills in ’36. I guess you weren’t supposed to smile for “important” pictures in those days.
Dad parlayed 2 years at Heaney’s Commercial College to a career at Fisher Body, interrupted early on by Uncle Sam’s call. The Army put his managerial skills to work at a desk in Rome seeing the Italian Army was properly supplied. He had been destined for paratrooper school until someone noticed he wore glasses.
Tho’ he was never shot at, he was as proud of his WW-II service as any combat vet, having his Army rank inscribed on his tombstone. In his later years, he’d reminisce that his Army years had seen the best expenditure of his talents.
He rose through Grand Rapids Fisher Body #1 as a time-study guy, going back and forth to Detroit by train when that city was still the “Paris of the Midwest”. His prowess with union negotiations got him called to McKeesport, by Pittsburgh, an assignment cut short by Mom’s sudden death. After a couple years at the Tech Center in Warren, where we lived on the wrong side of the tracks in snooty Birmingham, his mentor deemed him sufficiently recovered to take on the task of setting up the time-study department at the new state-of-the-art plant in Comstock, by Kalamazoo. Dad found a spot for us on Barton Lake in little Vicksburg, allowing me to flourish. They changed the name of Dad’s department to “Industrial Engineering”, and he often had a chuckle that he made engineer with 2 years of business school. At home, he helped organize the sports activities of the neighborhood kids, transforming a vacant lot into a ball diamond and erecting a backstop that doubled as a football goalpost. Not just kids enjoyed these facilities, as they were site of some fierce beer-fueled softball games between guys in Dad’s office over for their annual blowout.
Dad retired at 51 while I was still in high school, one of GM’s first 30-and-out salaried retirees. He’d end up being retired one year more than he’d worked at GM, so I guess he got the best of that deal. He flirted briefly with real estate, but chucked it to devote full time to golf, sports, and travel with his lady-friend Dorothy.
He’d lose her too but surrounded himself in his last years with some great buddies.
He was a great dad who as soon as it looked like it would be necessary found a way to deflect queries about our considerable height difference: “vitamins”, he’d say. He could be Dutch-strict, but always knew how to have a good time. I owe my loves of music, sports, politics, beer, and Jesus to the excellent beginnings he showed me. I miss him every day.
Sadly, I barely got 10 years with Mom. She, her sister (2), and her mother managed to spoil this much-wanted adopted child rotten. On the other hand, she must have shown me some good ways, since I stayed in school well over 50 years, stayed married to the same woman – whom I keep well fed – nearly 35 years, attend church, and have spent less than one night in jail. How my dad snagged this beauty I’ll never know. I guess fun-loving and upright can take ya a long ways.
Tho’ she was bright and winning, she never went to college, putting some time in a real estate office. She was a good athlete in a time long before serious women’s sports, and she and Dad made a formidable pair on the golf course and in the bowling alley.
Yes, I found her. Maybe more about that some other time. The huge crowd at her funeral spoke to the many lives she’d touched. How different things would have been had she lived. As I’m pretty satisfied with how things eventually turned out, you could say I got over her loss, but I don’t think that can ever really happen. I’ve had people who know more than I do about how the mind works tell me some of the ways her loss is still affecting my behavior. As that loss is too deep to be extracted, I just work to adapt. Hope I’m doing o.k., Mom.
So that’s what wells up standing over the ground where remains of my parents have rested for 19 and 59 years, respectively. It’s like getting reacquainted. Isn’t that what visits are for?
- Ike B. remember. WordPress 5/24/20. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2020/05/24/remember/
- Ike B. Aunt Dorie. WordPress 1/13/21. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2021/01/14/aunt-dorie/