Walter, My Dad

Dutifully went to work at the newly formed credit union for over 40 years.  The adverb cannot be emphasized enough.  8-5 and Fridays until 8 pm were the hours he kept while continually warning clients that a credit union is not a bank but a safe place to invest your money.  He was its manager begun with a small group of investors who all gave $1.00 except my dad, because as he said later, “I wasn’t sure it would make it.”

At 46 years old he had me which made my friends ask, “How’s your grandfather?” not knowing there’s three siblings before me and one after.

He wanted to take the car to work but my mother insisted that he should walk for the exercise, a simple 30 minute walk.  I long to hear his thoughts as he made his way to work.

A secretary and my dad comprised the early days of credit unions.  A simple call from home with the extension “395 please” connected us with this silent, tall man with a gentle smile.  “Mom wanted us to call if you’d be home for supper,” asked the grandson/son and he’d say, “You kids go ahead without me.”

Today’s TV version of my dad’s late nights would have him cooped up in the local motel with his secretary or the Warren’s Restaurant waitress or selling drugs on Washington Street in Manitowoc, Wisconsin to help pay the bills or worse yet in a van in a hit series making drugs for the already drugged-from-the-small-ghetto-town kids that Manitowoc produced.

The fireplace was his “man cave” as we call it today except it was built to extend the kitchen.  There he’d sit with his cigar and glowing fireplace flame, one less than the other.  I wonder today what thoughts he had as he exhaled the cigar smoke with his stolid stare outside the kitchen window.  To interrupt him during those hours was always surprising to him.  He’d answer the kid’s question and then return to the stare.  (As years wore on he’d sometimes mistaken my name for our dead cat but that’s beside the point.)

Born in 1906 and a child  along side the number of a small day care center today, Walter finished high school and enrolled in a seminary in the big city in the 1920’s only to leave the seminary and return to begin this new business.

No one knows today why he left.  He loved his retirement as much as he loved his work, over 30 years of retirement.  My mother, the outgoing parent, passed away first and my dad’s final 8 years were spent with the five of us kids.

He stilled smoked the cheap cigar and still stared out the new window from his new home.  Our neighboring hospital wished to expand its parking lot (small town, remember? parking problem?) and 13 homes were relocated through Habitat for Humanity.  My dad was the last to sell his house in this growing non-metropolis.  The hospital’s finance director visits him along with my sister and me.

His cigars and staring may have paid off.  The hospital guy offers top dollar for Walter’s house.  He likes that but asks for another home, rent free for the rest of his life.  The hospital guy smiles and says, “yes.”  My dad adds, “snow, grass removal included.”  Hospital guy smirks and says, “yes.”   I told my dad, “What about cable?” and he looked at me to keep my mouth shut.  “Washer and dryer,” my dad returns with and the hospital guy again gives in.  The papers are placed before him, he signs them and says, “I like that pen.”  Hospital guy then did, well you know what he did.

I was never into sports but playing with my aging dad would have meant disaster if I’d hit him in the head with his arms folded in front of me wondering what the two of us were doing.  Didn’t happen.  But he did listen.

Rarely, if ever, responded but he listened to all the stories we kids were willing to tell him.  Some sordid and others just about growing up.  He sat there and listened; absorbed and absorbed all the information.  The squeeze?  It never happened.  He absorbed.

My dad.  He worked very well, he wanted to be priest for some reason, marries giving five children not knowing what to do with them nor always knowing their names, retires well and dies peacefully at 93.  The squeeze?  The five of us are still waiting.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). www.Salvatorians.com. He is associate pastor of partnering parishes, Christ King and St. Bernard parishes in Wauwatosa, WI.
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