It’s been quite a time since my father told me, in our nightly phone call, that he had a stomachache on Thursday night, March 7.
I thought it was too late to call my sister. But she called me in the morning to say that Dad had been taken to the hospital.
That night, she texted me instructions for calling him and warned that he didn’t sound good. She was right.
I did talk to Dad, and he said “It’s just a nasty bellyache; it’ll be gone at the weekend.” I’m glad I bit my tongue about it being Friday already… because Dad was right.
My sister called shortly before 1 a.m. on Saturday to report that our Dad is dead. It was the 13th anniversary of our mother’s death, the very same date.
I’ve had a lot of phone calls and e-mails ever since, but I have kept feeling like I can’t write about Dad until now. Yesterday, I got to the point where instead of not listening to one of his favorite singers, opera’s Leonard Warren, I couldn’t NOT listen to him.
I always tried to convince Dad that he sounded like Warren when he sang, which he did in our church choir as we were growing up. Practicing music was just something everybody did in the Laings’ house.
So you’re probably thinking our house was a Serious place. It was, at times. but we had so many laughs, too. Dad’s favorite joke was the butterfly joke that formed one of my early posts here.
Later, when his eyes wouldn’t let him read without tremendous magnification, he would say in our calls that he’d been thinking of a word he noticed.
“Shall I look it up?” I’d ask. I’ve seen language books call that “Question expecting the answer YES.”
So I’d look up the word, and we’d talk about all sorts of meanings, related words, or times when someone misused that word or a similar one.
It’s hurt this week when I’ve heard people mention “paralysation” on the radio, worked out that it should have been paralysis, and — had nobody to talk to about it. (Excuse me a moment.)
So this is going to hurt very differently from losing my mother after a long illness. The same exact time of year is scarred, but with the shock either worn off or, oh help, just starting to go, it’s very different now.
Dad taught physics at Homewood-Flossmoor High School from its formation in 1959 to his retirement in 1987. Before that, he taught at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, Ind.
He was born in Verdun, Quebec, Canada, in 1925, and could remember details of coming into Indianapolis by train about two years later. (I hope I have those in my diaries from nights when he’d mentioned them, but I can’t manage to look right now. I couldn’t see them straight anyway.)
He served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II on a Victory Ship, the El Salvador Victory. It was an ammunition ship and participated in the Saipan invasion. I remember the day I was doing my summer school history homework out in the yard while Dad did some gardening. As always, he wanted to know what I was reading.
“History homework” was probably my original (?) response.
“What’s it about?” he said.
“The Saipan invasion,” I replied. Then I needed an explanation for the shocked look on his face.
Although he served in the Pacific, his beloved family in Scotland meant that he was always interested in the European side of the war — always, even as a schoolboy with his Scottish-born dad and grandfather. (I’m so glad I checked on stories every time I wondered “Was it your grandfather who said that, or mine?”)
After The War, as the term always sounded when he said it, he served in the Army on Guam — his definition of extremely hot weather.
Then Shortridge, and then he was sort of “drafted” as one of the original teachers at H-F. He was among the last few “59ers” to retire.
After his retirement, he became active in the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, now known as Chicago Scots, which supports Caledonia Senior Living in North Riverside, Ill. He moved into the older part of Caledonia Senior Living, known as The Scottish Home, in 2016.
A memorial service is being planned. I’ve included the photo of roses because of a speech from a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty,” which Dad particularly loved. That speech, which I could recite to my sister in the dark — and did — should be part of the service somehow.
(Dad introduced me to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes first in 1976; I read “The Hound of the Baskervilles” before our family’s trip to Britain. The next year, when I wanted something else, I plowed through all of Holmes.)
Here’s what we’d debate calling “the rose speech,” “the rose sermon,” or “the rose aria.” I can type it from memory.
“What a lovely thing a rose is!… There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner.
“Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance.
“But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives such extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
The last thing Dad said to me on this earth was “I’ll call you when I can.”
I think he just did.
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