March Sadness, March Gladness

Cecil - Pet Show
Me, my father Bert, and my sister Laurie, circa 1960. We won second prize at a pet show thanks to Cecil, our pet squirrel (being fed here with a baby-doll bottle).

In honor of “March Madness,” here are some “-nesses” of my own….

March 2016 is a month full of significant dates for me.  As a result, the last week or so has been full of emotion, about both my Peace Corps service and life in general.  The most overriding feeling is one of bittersweetness (yet another “-ness”…), which is, I think, both appropriate and ultimately hopeful.

Tuesday was March 15th, the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Albania — the culmination of a laborious, patience-testing 21-month process that was the culmination of my lifelong dream of joining the Peace Corps. March 15th was also my father’s birthday and every year, it saddens me to think about the fact that, thanks to a car accident — and his refusal to wear a seat-belt — he was deprived of many birthdays that he deserved to celebrate.  This year had particular resonance because it was (theoretically) his 90th.

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Bert, circa 1950-51, during my parents’ cross-country trip to the Grand Canyon.

This coming week, on March 23rd, I will also celebrate a birthday — my 62nd.  Here again, this birthday has particular resonance: my father was 62 years old when he died.

The last time I saw my dad alive was in May 1988.  During a weekend visit to my parents’ home outside Philadelphia, we spent a great deal of time talking about my father’s impending retirement.  He wasn’t quite sure when to retire and wanted to explore the pros and cons of different scenarios.  He also waxed poetic about my parents’ plans for their retirement, which he envisioned as full of travel and activity.  Throughout his life, my father never lacked for curiosities and plans and his retirement was going to be the culmination of his dream: to hit the road and see/enjoy what there was to see/enjoy.  At the top of his list was a return trip to the Grand Canyon, which he hadn’t seen since the early 1950s, when my parents made a cross-country trip on Route 66.

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An adventure my father and I shared was riding the parachute jump at Coney Island.

That August, when my dad died, his 20-something neighbor told me, “He was the youngest old guy I ever met,” and he was right — crotchety old curmudgeon-ness (yet another “-ness”…) was not in his future.  He was still the guy who in the mid-1960s, as other parents were breaking and burning their kids’ Beatles albums, introduced us to the Beatles because he wanted to see what all the hoopla was about.

On and off over the 25+ years since my father died, it has been painful for me to think about his dreams-that-never-were.  And, it was that sadness that propelled me — on my 59th birthday — not to risk a similar fate and to accelerate my plan to join the Peace Corps rather than wait until after retirement.  I decided that joining the Peace Corps would be my 60th birthday present to myself and I was thrilled to arrive in Albania just one week before my 61st birthday.

And now here I am, nearly 62.  From this vantage point it’s funny to think about my dad as an “old guy” when I myself don’t feel particularly old.  And, it’s difficult not to be spooked by this birthday, which is common I think among those whose parents died before their time.

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March 2015 – The Peace Corps adventure begins!

Mostly though, I realize how right it was for me to throw caution to the wind, sell my house, quit my job and “just do it.”  I realize that my later-in-life adventure is a way of honoring my father — of celebrating the legacy he passed to me through both nature and nurture and of fulfilling dreams he wasn’t able to realize on his own. When I think about the many times and many ways he encouraged me to venture into the world and seek my figurative fortune I know he would be proud that I made this happen. And so, ultimately, I am grateful to be celebrating this emotionally charged birthday as a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Albania; it feels fitting.

 

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Because my father was always the one behind the camera, there are very few pictures of us together.

 

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The entire family: Estelle, Bert, Sue (formerly known as Suzie), and Laurie in 1973. Gotta love those pants!

11 thoughts

  1. What a moving tribute, Sue! I don’t think of you as being “old” either! I think of you as an inspiration of who I want to be like: someone who is thoughtful beyond words, filled with insight, and who takes life head-on. Hope you have a great year!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very wonderful to read this — thank you for sharing it. I greatly admire that you followed the call to realize a dream, rather than just dream it. Also, given that Beth’s dad died in a car accident, there’s a lot there that resonates (he was just shy of 68, with many future plans of adventure — having just returned from a trip to Turkey). My thoughts are with you — and best wishes for your upcoming birthday!

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  3. Sue – Happy birthday. Your article is an incredible and moving tribute to your dad. I’m glad that you are able to live your dream of being in the peace corps – even though it has provided you with probably more hardships than you imagined!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue, as always, it is good to hear from you.

    Your tribute to your father is beautiful I could not help but note the parallels to my own father’s passing in 1988, which I infer was the year (or very near the year) of your father’s passing too. Like your father, my father was stubborn and that stubbornness was instrumental in his passing. My dad took on a second career following retirement and was too damn stubborn to see a doctor until the weekend, after his work responsibilities were met and by then the pneumonia had progressed beyond the point where antibiotics could knock it out. Like you with your father, I learned a lot about my father after his passing, he drove school bus for physically and mentally challenged children and they and their families all came to the funeral–about 300 folks came! As with your neighbor’s comment about your dad, this action spoke volumes about mine. I am guessing your dad was about 65 when he passed, mine was 66. Thank you for sharing this story and for all of the positive memories of my father that it conjured up for me. I miss my father, but feel that he remains near me always, as I think you miss your father too.

    I have several times shared with you my jealousy of your adventure and your courage for embarking upon it. Your blog post are so animated and personal that it is as if I am there. Thank you again.

    I hope the next 1.5 years in PC is as exciting and exhilarating for you as has been the first year. Take care, know that you are always in my prayers and I look forward to your next post.

    Tom

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  5. Hi Sue,

    I’ll admit I haven’t read all your posts but I plan to and all the ones I’ve read are a delight. What’s your plans? Will you be coming back to Chicago – I hope. Let’s get together when you get back – I’d love to hear more about your travels. I’m still living in both Chicago & Santa Cruz and enjoying it. Thanks for sharing the tribute to your father – very touching and great that you added pictures, Tom

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Sue,

    I can’t believe it has been a year already. But you are off doing great things for people that are in great need of it. I myself do miss you here at Stuart.

    I would like to wish both your dad and you a happy birthday. may you continue to make him as proud as you are currently. I am sure he is looking down on you with a great big smile on his face.

    Wishing all the best with your remaining time there. Take Care!

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  7. Tears.

    The honor you bring to, and the love with which you remember your Dad, brings tears of joy.

    How he would marvel at your present series of adventures.

    I extend every best wish.

    Michael [&#X1f60a]

    ________________________________

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  8. Dear Sue,
    Happy Birthday!
    Thank you for sharing your stories and your life in Albania. I am fascinated by your experiences, amazed by your deep insight into the culture and life of Albanians, and admire your courage to follow your dreams. Your dad would be very proud of you! Hugs, Martina.

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