Learning how to live
What a beautiful gift he gave you - and how movingly you have described it. Thanks for this wonderful essay.
Robert Carl Thoreson Jr, born May 15, 1921. My grandfather was the first Robert Carl Thoreson born April 12, 1898 and was always known as Carl. I was very close to my grandfather and was called Carl’s shadow. My grandmother often remarked again and again, Carl always said you should have been a boy. He was a great guy who could fix anything and taught me to hunt and fish. I also learned to whistle piercingly and loud as well as to walk silently through the woods. As a youngster in my brand new to me blue snowsuit and leftover black galoshes from my brother with big black buckles, I followed Carl everywhere on the farm I grew up on. One day I slipped, tripped and landed with an ugly splash in the cow gutter. Completely soaked in manure, Carl tried to return me to my mom at the back door, but she insisted that Carl hose me off in the milk house first. Eventually I was allowed back into the house, in sopping wet but not smelly condition. Carl and I laughed about my early swimming lesson in the barn.
My dad was always called Bob. Except when his mother would call for him and he was in trouble. Then it was Robert, ROBERT!!!!!!!!!!!! I may have some experience with Mary, MARY GERARD THORESON, YOU BETTER GET IN THIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW!! AND TAKE OFF THOSE FILTHY BOOTS!!!!
My dad didn't read much fiction, more of a history guy. But he loved John Steinbeck. Steinbeck wrote about people that my dad knew from his life experiences. Hard working people that were always just a slip from disaster, crop failure, floods, the manufacturing plant shutting down for good, and so on.
Of Mice and Men is a tale of 2 guys, a small smart guy, George and his friend and obligation, Lennie. Lennie is a huge man who can work 3 men into the ground each and every day but has the mind of a child. He also has a weakness for soft things. My dad is a big guy, 6'4" in his prime. And he worked hard most of his life. So I guess I could have called him Lennie? But that would be a different story.
Certain lines from the book became part of our regular conversations.
Can I pet the rabbits, George?
I like ketchup in my beans, George.
And live off the fat of the land, George.
We still throw those lines out in our talking together.
So as a young adult I teased my dad and always called him George. He was no longer anything but George. This did irritate my mom, definitely a bonus as far as I was concerned. Everyone knew and loved my dad, George.
My dad and I do share a lot in common, humor is one. And my son, Daniel has it as well. We agree the apple didn’t fall far from the tree and it’s a very small orchard. The three of us together is a time of laughter and joy. My family has often been told, You all think you're so damned funny. And we do believe it.
My mom slipped away into the never ending fogs of Alzheimer's. Dad said it was like losing her a little bit each day. And they were such a love match. Married for 62 years,WOW! And very happily. Holding hands and giggling together is one of my most common memories of them together. My mom or dad looking at the other in a rapt and adoring fashion as they told the same stories over and over and over again. I come from a family of storytellers.
My dad's 90th birthday party was a great event. We all wore tie dye and of course, there was cake!! It said HAPPY BIRTHDAY GEORGE.
My mom spent a lot of time asking, Who's George? I cried that day. And laughed. And ate cake. Mom finished the party asleep on the couch with a happy ring of chocolate frosting on her mouth.
Mom died in 2013 and my dad found some way to continue on his journey of life without her. He lived with us for some years until he needed more care than we could provide. He managed to keep his gratitude for life and all the small things he enjoyed, reading, politics so proud that he never voted for a Republican, his grandson, playing bridge, and eating cookies. He never ate a cookie he didn’t like but he kept looking.
Our last visits in hospice care were sad and difficult with an occasional smile as we shared the many memories of a life just weeks short of a century. He asked to come home. He asked for a beer. Can I pet the rabbits, George? Robert Carl Thoreson Jr, died February 23, 2021. Last night I dreamed George came home, hung up his coat and sat at the kitchen table eating cookies. Welcome home, George, welcome home.
very touching and a good lesson to live by. thank you
I struggle with the death of my husband - and the words " I like to think he died because his life was complete" resonate for me . He had dementia; so, I had four years to learn the lessons I needed to move forward.
Beautifully said, Alice. I particularly relate to: “I tell my family and friends I love them. I strive to do what is out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I talk to strangers on the subway. I use the good dishes.” Why does it take death and older age for us to finally wake up?
Particularly touching and so wise. I just loved this one. Xo
Alice your father exemplified heroism in all its aspects - big, small and messily human. Heroes are not perfect, but your father’s legacy was to hold you to the notion that this world deserves our best. He was and would be so proud of you.
A great piece - and a reminder how much we all carry from our parents nurturing and influence.
It has been 15 years since my father died. Initially I remembered only his later years when he became someone who sat quietly largely due to his inability to hear properly. He truly disliked his hearing aids. He had been so dynamic and vital. With the years I have managed to return to that earlier time remembering this extraordinary man and the wonderful life he created for all of us.