Monday, August 16, 2010

John Henry Hudoba: 1/28/33 - 8/16/10

I entered kindergarten in the fall of 1968.  It was a tumultuous time, but not because of the riots at the Democratic National Convention which had happened in our fair city just days before.  I was not at all cognizant of that.  No, I wasn't thinking beyond my own household.  My baby brother had just been born a few months earlier.  He wasn't due until August, and my last summer of fun as the youngest in the family was ruined by his early arrival.  On top of that, my lunatic Italian (redundant, I know) grandfather that lived with us returned from his summer spent back in the old country. 

My older sisters were entering 2nd and 5th grade at the Catholic grade school.  I was going to the nearby public school, and on the first day of school my mother walked me there with my new brother in a carriage.  I cried and didn't want to go in.  I had never gone to preschool and had been the baby of the family for five years, so this was quite traumatic for me.  I received the first homework assignment of my life that first week when the teacher asked us to learn our address and telephone number.  I had no idea how I was to ascertain this information.  Was I just supposed to know?  Was an archangel going to visit me and bestow it upon me?

It is truly a testament to how busy and distracted my household was that it never entered my mind to ask my parents.  Surely this wasn't something that I could bother them with considering everything else that was going on.  So day after day for what felt like weeks, I would go to school, sit in a circle with all of the other children, and when it was my turn and the teacher asked me for my address and phone number, I would sit there mutely feeling stupid and humiliated.  Then one night my father came into my room with our address and phone number written on a card.  He quietly, almost sheepishly, told me that he understood that I was to learn this information for school.  He drilled me on the address until I knew it by heart.  Then he asked me something that for some reason has stuck with all these years:  he asked whether I wanted to learn our phone exchange with numbers or letters.  You see, I could memorize it as either 785-4309 or PU5-4309.  I chose the PU (hee hee), which stood for Pullman.  And finally, FINALLY, I didn't have to dread going to school (at least not for that reason), and could proudly recite my name and address for my teacher the next day: 53West124th StreetChicagoIllinois60628PU5-4309.

To this day, I'm not entirely sure what it is about this episode that makes it such a vivid memory for me.  I think that I was shocked that somehow my father knew about my homework assignment.  Was he omniscient or had an archangel visited him instead of me?  His demeanor struck me as so odd:  why was he the one acting embarrassed, rather than bawling me out for not doing my homework?  He was even asking me how I wanted to learn my phone number.  This is one of the few childhood memories that I have that involve my dad.  Probably because we were rarely alone having any kind of a one-on-one conversation, let alone one where I wasn't in trouble or where he wasn't settling a fight with a sibling.

I will always remember my father as he was that day.  And wonder how much it was an acknowledgment of regret that I felt I couldn't come to him, and that we didn't spend more time together.  We were accidental tourists in this loud, multi-family, Italian household.  He was a skinny Polish kid from Minneapolis who had to put up with Polack jokes and comments from a dago family that wasn't exactly royalty itself.  In his final days, he repeatedly told anyone who would listen that marrying my mother was the best thing he ever did.  Mean-as-a-snake father-in-law, crowded house, a kitchen table that was second only to Ellis Island for the number of D.P.'s whose asses were planted in those chairs, Polack jokes, and all.  Now that's love.

So thank you for everything, Dad.  For helping me with my homework.  For not making fun of my tears when I lost that archdiocese spelling bee that I had pretended not to care about.  For carving a Halloween pumpkin for my 2nd grade class (for which I still have the thank-you note that the class wrote to him).  For that priceless look on your face through the smoke and haze of sawdust after I shot my bedroom dresser with a 12-gauge shotgun.  And for the memory of you, lighting 4th of July fireworks with your cigarette, looking like something out of Mad Men, so handsome with your terry-cloth shirt and slicked-back hair. 

I am so, so grateful that your suffering is over...and that you can finally rest.

23 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss. Please extend my condolences to your family. ((hugs))

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  2. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family right now. I'm sure your father couldn't ask for a greater legacy than you and your beautiful daughter.

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  3. Great story! Now I am thinking I ought to teach my son who is about to start kindergarten our address. Who knows what memories we'll make in the process. ;)

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  4. Thanks for sharing such heartfelt memories of your dad. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.

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  5. Lynn, I'm so sorry for your loss. This post was a wonderful tribute to an obviously great father and husband. My thoughts are with you and your family today.

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  6. Oh Lynn. What a beautiful post -- thank you for sharing your father with us in this way, in his memory. May he rest in peace.

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  7. I'm so sorry for your loss, Lynn. As everyone said this is a wonderful, wonderful tribute to your father. What great memories.

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  8. Terribly sorry for your loss and very touched by the lovely tribute

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  9. To Lynn's Dad:

    Sir, I hope you lived a wonderful life. Rest, relax, and kick back, you've earned it.
    I know you will continue to watch over your family, especially your little girl Lynn. I'm sure you are very proud of her. Godspeed.

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  10. That was a beautiful post Lynn. Sorry for your loss.

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  11. Barbara O'Connor LaMantiaAugust 17, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    So sorry for your loss. A wonderful memory and tribute to your dad

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  12. Got a tissue?

    Very touching Lynn. I am sorry for your loss, but what a great way to commemorate him! Great blog!

    But really, shooting your dresser with a shot gun???

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  13. Oh, Lynn. I am so touched by your tribute to your father and so sorry for your loss.

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  14. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to him...nicely done!

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  15. Your blog has made me laugh out loud and now it's brought tears to my eyes. Your writing is absolutely beautiful. I'm so very sorry about your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

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  16. Awww. That was sweet.

    Peace to you my friend.

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  17. Oh Lynn, I'm so sorry for your loss. Prayers and best wishes for you and your family.

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  18. Lynn, I'm very sorry for the loss of your father. I'll be praying for your family.

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  19. I'm so sorry. I hope your memories bring you comfort during such a tough time.

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  20. I'm so sorry for your loss. I love this post! With Megan starting kindergarten yesterday it makes me wonder what she'll remember as she grows up. Beautifully written

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  21. Lynn, I'm glad your father isn't suffering anymore, but I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you.

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  22. I'm so sorry for your loss, Lynn. What a beautiful, funny post about your memories with your dad. Your photos of you and your dad are precious. You look - to me - like Audrey in that first one.

    Now, I understand a little bit of what you were telling me about understanding what I am going through. Going through this time is extremely stressful and so I must send you ((hugs)). I'm glad that you have the closure now.

    I admire your strength and resilience that comes through in your writing. I know there can be lots of happy once we stand completely on our own now because I can see it in you, Lynn. Thank you for leading me to this with today's post about Audrey and her goodbyes.

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