Memories of Her Dad

My husband's cousin Denise Lassen (who has been a wonderful supporter of Ay, Mama!) recently lost her father, Robert Walsh. She read the following at his funeral, and I feel blessed to share this with you. It is a lovely tribute to his life.

When I was first dating my husband Craig, his grandfather passed away at the age of 93. While at the funeral I overheard someone telling his Mom that she was lucky because she had had him for so long. Jean replied "yes, but I wanted more!" I didn't understand it at the time but now I do. Time goes by so quickly and no matter how much time we have with those we love, its never enough.

My Dad grew up as an only child to Alma and Arthur Walsh amongst an eclectic cast of characters/relatives that included an aunt who read tea leaves and tarot cards and an uncle who swore he would return after death as a pigeon.  At my Grandma's funeral, his family believed that this prediction came true as a pigeon appeared in a closed-off vent in the funeral parlor.  For 3 days it sat and never made a sound.  On the day of her burial the pigeon was gone and no one understood (not even the funeral directors) how the pigeon got in or out as the vent was cemented closed.  But the family believed that her brother had come to take Alma home.  

His Dad was a proud Irishman and his mother a strong willed German woman.  He did not have your normal childhood. He often told us about how he was never able to get dirty when he went outside to play with other kids and he was warned by his mother from an early age never to touch a toilet seat should he need to use a public bathroom. When Dad was a teenager, he and his cousin decided to finally throw caution to the wind and touch that toilet seat -- both expecting something catastrophic to happen to them when they did -- but leaving sorely disappointed that they were left standing after doing it!

My grandparents were a big part of my life.  They would babysit for us when Mom & Dad went to Couples Club at church on Saturday nights and we spent every holiday with them.  My Dad's Mom died when she was 69 years old. She came home from a bingo game, wrapped her winnings in "tin foil" and put them in the oven (where she was sure no thief would find them). A few minutes later she laid down on her bed and passed away. From that time on Grandpa would come over twice a week for dinner at our house -- always clutching a loaf of italian bread (no matter what was on the menu)!  When he was in a nursing home years later, Dad would stop on his way home from work in NJ to visit him.  When he passed away it was the first time that I saw Dad shed real tears.

My parents met at church during a trip to the Statue of Liberty.  Dad liked to say that he got "a bird's eye view" of Mom following her up the winding staircase there -- and he liked what he saw! During WWII they corresponded back and forth by writing letters.  Their love story developed through these letters.  Dad first started out writing to a group of girls from the church and signed the letters "as ever Bud".  The letters progressed to being signed "Love Bud".  Eventually he singled her out -- writing that she was the one that he wanted to spend time with -- writing in parenthesis (marry) --until he progressed to the point where he signed the letters to her -- "All my love, always yours, Bud" -- with 3 xxx's and the number 25 in parenthesis -- meaning 3 kisses 25 times.  

During the war, letters sent home were read by censors and one time the censor made him take out the xxx's.  Mom saved them all and often re-read them long after they were married. Recently Mom started re-reading those letters again and one night not so long ago when he was awake and talking, she asked Dad if he remembered the last line of a v-mail he had sent her.  When Dad sent the v-mail he was annoyed at Mom for some reason -- he wrote to Mom telling her of his need to ask her a question, something that had been pressing on his mind and only now did he have the courage to ask?  One would think it was would she marry him? -- but no -- the last line which Dad remembered perfectly that day was "did she think the Dodgers would win the pennant that year?"  Through the years whenever I heard that story I was always amazed that they had gotten together after Dad had pulled a stunt like that.  Mom said here 65+ years later, Dad remembering that last line from the v-mail "was a gift from God" to her!  

My Dad was a disabled war veteran. Since he was a textile chemist by trade he worked in chemical warfare during the war. He traveled across the ocean to Africa and Gibralter accompanying hazardous chemicals needed for the war effort. My father loved the water and crossing the ocean.  I don't know if that is why he loved the Navy hymn so much but he always said he wanted for us to sing it at his funeral.  He didn't speak much about his time in the war but was very proud of his service. When they started to build the World War II Memorial, my parents were one of the first ones to donate to it. My Dad's name is inscribed at the memorial.  

My parents were married at All Souls Church followed by a reception at the house on 61st Street -- the same house they would later live in with my grandmother and aunts and where Kathy and I were raised. What started out as an idylic beginning for a young couple came to a halt when they lost their first child. A few months later my Mom's father died suddenly leaving my grandmother with 3 young children. Mom and Dad moved back to 61st Street and took over helping to raise my aunts, Marilyn, Jeanie & Joanie (Scott's mom) while Grandma went to work. It was not an easy time for them. The birth of my sister and then me a few years later left Dad living in a house "full of females" -- he lamented that even the dog, Ginger was a girl! My Dad became a "substitute father" to my aunts and when they married he walked them all down the aisle.

My parents loved being a part of All Souls Church. It was where they married and christened Kathy and I and where we would meet both of our husbands and christen our own children. My Dad was "Chief Usher" for many years and served as a Trustee for the church while Mom was active in the Women's Circle, a Deaconess and was President of the Church Council. Kathy and I were raised to go to church on Sundays -- no excuses allowed. When the snow fell -- no matter how deep -- we walked there (and we lived in Bensonhurst and our church was in Flatbush). We learned at a young age that the church was our second family and still it is today. My Dad, Grandma B. and I shared a weekly tradition on Sundays -- trying to get Mom to leave church after the coffee hour! We would be outside waiting for her when practically everyone was gone and Dad would yell "come on Sylvia, lets get going!!" The wait was endless but true to her "church lady" title, Mom was the last to leave!
From the time they were married, my parents had a routine that never once strayed from the course. Mom would get up every morning and cook his breakfast before sending him off to work. At 6pm she was at the front window looking towards 20th Avenue for him to show up from the train. Mom would greet him at the door and they would hug and kiss in the vestibule. As a child I loved smushing my way in between them to share that hug. They never went to bed mad -- well maybe sometimes -- but they always made sure to kiss each other good night.  

My parents loved ringing in the new year together. Dad had a tradition of eating herring at midnight. When the ball dropped this year, Mom was right beside him holding his hand and although he slept through it, I'm sure he knew that she was with him as they ushered in 2012. Maybe it was the fact that Dad worked for so many years at Allied Chemical and they were the first to sponsor the ball that dropped at midnight as to why New Years meant so much to them.

When he retired from Allied Chemical, Dad worked for a dye house, Kentile floors and Scalamandre Silks. He designed the formulas for the colors in floor tiles and linoleum and on expensive silks for the curtains and upholstery found in historic homes. Dad also provided the egg dye for our classes in grammer school at Eastertime.
My Dad never removed his wedding ring. It was put on by Mom on their wedding day and that is where it stayed. He joked through the years that he'd never cheat on her -- that it would cost him too much money if she found out -- but we all knew that it would never enter his head as his "Syl" was his one and only.

My father liked to brag about their personal life together and he referred to himself as the "weekend warrior"! When at one Thanksgiving meal when my sister decided we should all answer a question -- "If we were being executed the next day what would our last meal be?" -- my father replied "Sex"!! Enough said!!
Depending on where you met him you would know my Dad as Buddy, Robert or Bob. He was mostly Buddy (after the song "My Buddy" from World War I). He preferred Bob. He was so proud that Christopher's midddle name is Robert. My father loved being a grandparent and becoming that did not come easily to my parents. The loss of two grandchildren, Michael Dennis and Heather Dawn shortly after birth brought back the saddness of their own loss of their first child. But they rejoiced with the arrival of Kimberly and Kristen from Korea and the birth of Chris and Matt. When Matt was born, Dad told me that he was so happy that Matt was a boy as now he had two girls and two boys.

Unbeknownst to many, this had been Dad's prediction when Kathy and I were kids -- that she would someday raise girls and I would raise boys. My Dad had an uncanny knack for things like that and that is why we sometimes referred to him as the "family witch". He would predict something would happen in the future and we'd say "you've got to be kidding Dad" but we would have to eat our words when his predictions came true. Dad was also the "elephant" of the family -- if you needed any detail to be remembered from any time, he was your man!  

Reading was a passion for my Dad and he loved waiting for all the new best sellers. When he became disabled 20+ years ago, reading became his morning and afternoon companion (CNN, Lifetime and Judge Marilyn filled in the rest of the day). When Chris became a librarian and was able to attend Book Expo, Dad was thrilled as he would bring him copies of the new James Patterson books 6 months before they were to be published and sold to the general public.

My father suffered for years with OCD. When I was growing up I didn't know it was an actual disease with a name -- I just thought that Dad had his quirks -- like going in and out of a room numerous times, turning the light switch on and off or stuttering and stammering as he tried to get a sentence out. As I got older I realized what a serious disease he struggled with for so long and marveled at the normal home life that my parents had managed to attain for us when we were growing up all the while tackling the disease. When my father's disease became more difficult to deal with, my mother became his caretaker/mother as the "wife" part of her life became a distant view. Years later, Darrell, Dorothy, Beverly, Roxanne and Mom & Dad's wonderful neighbors joined our extended family in helping with his care.
Growing up, my parents never had a lot of money. But we were rich in so many other ways. 61st Street was not the prettiest house on the block but I know for sure that it was filled with the most love. When I was younger I thought my parents were close but as they aged I saw that they were in effect one soul split between two people. 

My parents danced to the song "Always" at their wedding and those who attended their 60th wedding anniversary party were privileged to gather around them and sing it to them. It seems a fitting way to end this by sharing the lyrics which truly describes their life together:

I'll be loving you -- always, with a love thats true -- always,when the things we've planned, need a helping hand,I will understand -- always, always,days may not be fair -- always, that's when I'll be there --always,not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but always!

Filed under: In Memoriam

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