My dad was a remarkable man. At least I think so. He died in 1989 when his heart basically blew up. He was in his truck and managed to pull over where paramedics were called. And so was I. I rushed to his bedside, but I was two hours away and two hours late. No one met me at the hospital. But, that’s not the part I want to remember. I want to pay homage to a guy who adopted me when I was born, who taught me how to frame a great shot, who taught me how to fish, reluctantly.
He was also the guy who would quietly mow down my mom’s flowers after she bitched at him for something that really didn’t matter. She was a rolling pin woman. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. He would also smile at her when he would go to leave the house. “Where are you going?” my mother would demand. “Up Mike’s ass to get a milkshake,” he would always reply. I just loved that guy.
Elwood Arthur Mendenhall was his name. It was a pretty goofy name, I thought. It was a bit weird that his first cousin was also named Elwood. I mean, what were those women thinking? Most of his close pals called him Mendy or Gomez, or Omar. But, for the most part, people called him Elwood. I just called him Dad.
The following is a reblog of one of my first blog posts that was originally published August, 2010. I thought that I would share it again since it is Father’s Day.
Miss you, Dad.
Love, Your Favorite Daughter, Vickie
What can you say about a guy who walks into the kitchen wearing a plaid shirt with striped shorts and socks with his sandals? “Well, (sounding just like Ronald Reagan), there is blue in the shirt and in the pants.” I would roll my eyes. “Dad, it doesn’t match. You can’t wear stripes with plaid. It is against the law in West Virginia. You have to wear a plain top with striped shorts.” He would smile and go back into his bedroom and come back out with a yellow shirt on, never mind that there was not a speck of yellow in the shorts. “Good job, Dad.”
Dad parading around
My dad was a realtor and wore suits every day. He usually kept his suit on in the evening. He was always dressed up when we were young. He had places to go and people to see. He belonged to every club you can imagine. I have all of his membership cards. He belonged to the American Legion, the Masons (shhhhh, double double secret club), The Elks, The Moose, the Photography Club, The Shriners, and many others. I think a couple of the clubs were suspect, like the Skunk Club. (I can’t even print what was on that card.) So, Dad was rarely home through the week. In the summer he was in a lot of parades because he was a clown with the Shriners. He even had a motorcycle with a sidecar for a while. We used to go to the Shrine Circus in Wheeling often. I loved to watch the Flying Wallenda’s. They were and are a family of famous circus performers who do daredevil, death-defying stunts high up in the air without a safety net. Even when I was young, I thought how foolish they were to not use a net. And I was not a bright child. They must be a family of nit-wits. Anyway, my dad wanted a make-up mirror for Christmas one year so he could put on his clown makeup. How many dads ask for a make-up mirror? Life was never boring with my dad.
When we were small, we weren’t supposed to answer the phone in the early evening because my dad received a lot of client calls. People were always wanting to see houses for sale in the evening. Dad had a cut-off for client calls. After 8:00pm, Dad would answer the phone, “Duffy’s Bar, Daffy Speaking”, all the time. We knew then, work was over for Dad.
I loved listening to my dad talk to people on the phone. He had no idea he was doing it, but he would talk exactly how the people on the line talked. We knew when he was talking to his Irish friend, because Dad had an Irish accent. We knew when he was talking to his friend, Jimmy, because he would curse. His Italian accent was so funny. So were the conversations when he would use poor English. “We was gonna go, but it started rainin….I ain’t goin. I’m too tard (tired).” He really had no idea he was doing this. I think that is a reason I love dialects so much and had a blast when I took a dialects class as part of my Speech degree in college.
Of course, when you are a teen-age girl, you are embarrassed to be seen with your parents. That’s a given. I don’t know why, but those couple of years before you are allowed to drive are miserable. So, my dad understood this, and took every opportunity to drive me crazy. One example, a Brooke High dance when I was a freshman. I think Ramaine’s mom took us and my dad was going to pick us up AFTER the dance. Not before it was over, Dad, but right when it is over. I wish I would have specified that, or lied about the time it was over. I am pretty sure I did. He always had an ornery, “Ok, Vickie” smile. Wild Cherry played at our school dance. Yeah, the famous Wild Cherry pre-Play that Funky Music group. They used to play at pool dances and school dances often. Anywho, about 20 minutes before the dance was over, a member of the band spoke over the microphone and said, “Vickie Mendenhall, your Daddddddy is here to take you home” and then they put a damn spotlight over by the door and my dad was standing there, waving like Forrest Gump. That one ranked.
A favorite thing that my dad loved to do was call me back when I was walking down the street to Ramaine’s house. I’m not sure, but I think there were like 9 houses that separated our homes. “Vickie, come here,” he would wave me back. I’d get right in front of him and he would simply say, “See how far you would have been if I hadn’t called you back?” After many times, (he was always so believable that maybe this time he really needed me..) of falling for his little prank, I just kept walking back just so he could get one over on me. I knew as I got older, that he was not happy with my mom. How could you be? He got yelled at for just looking at her wrong.
When I was a freshman in college, my dad had a bad heart attack. I guess any heart attack is bad. He had to have a triple heart by-pass. Freshman weren’t allowed to have cars at my college, unless there was a pretty good reason. I got to keep my car because of all of the traveling home. So, I thought I was pretty special. My dad was in a hospital in Pittsburgh. The doctor’s said it was such a success because the veins in his legs were very strong. He played tennis in high school and was pretty athletic, so that was good. They hadn’t done very many triple heart bypasses at that time, but they thought he would make it through. It also helped that an elderly Italian looking lady dressed in black walked up to my mother and said that she prayed for those who entered into surgery that day and that “your husband will be the only one that will survive.” And then, she turned around and walked back to where she was sitting. Well, hell, that meant that the person she was waiting for was going to die? Good grief, rosary-clutched woman. What are you??? But, she was right. Or so my mom said. I had to go back and forth to college. My mom got to know the people who were on the same floor with my dad.
Well, the “Let’s embarrass Vickie” era continued. I briefly dated a guy in college named Tommy, and we had planned to drive to Pittsburgh to watch Pitt and Notre Dame play football. My parents invited us to stop by and eat before the game. So, of course, while we were sitting at the table, my dad, blurted out, “So, Tommy, I had open heart surgery,” and proceeded to unbutton his shirt, pulled up his t-shirt, and exposed his heavily bubbled scar. ”See.” Yeah, we see it, Dad. I was ready to slide under the table, with the dog. He really was proud of that scar. At least the day wasn’t a total wash. We saw Joe DiMaggio in a crowd outside the stadium and I stepped on his foot by mistake when I went to stand beside him for a picture. “Um….sorry, Joe….. 1…2….3…. Say Cheese.” Well, not many people can say they stepped on Joe DiMaggio’s foot. I can. I’m quite special. Come to think of it, I don’t think either one of us had a camera. I really think we both just went and stood on either side of him, smiling, like someone was going to take our picture.
After open heart surgery, Dad had a pace maker and had to make a phone call weekly and put the phone to his chest. Gotta love the technology of the 70′s. Well, the years flew by. I got married, and was lucky to have my dad walk me down the aisle. I stayed in Fairmont and had 2 children he got to meet and hang out with for a short while.
My wedding, October 1983
My dad had a boat load of pills he had to take. He had one of those pill compartment thingys (that I now have), but he still forgot to take some of his medication. My mom said he was getting mean, and with one swoop kicked my brother and my dad out of the house. Or, maybe my brother left on his own before that. So, my dad, ill as he was, packed up some stuff in his truck and left the house and stayed with David. My mom and sister were alone at the house.
On November 5, 1989, I was called to come home as soon as I could. My dad had a massive heart attack while driving his truck and was in the hospital. I hurried and packed, kissed 4-year old Adam and 2 year old Alex and drove like an idiot on the 2 hour journey home. (I didn’t leave them alone, just in case you were wondering.) Three weird things happened to me on my way home. It was an overcast day, and I was amazed how the clouds opened up and the light shined through like a flashlight beam. It was beautiful. For some reason it made me cry. The second thing was when a red-tailed hawk flew right in front of my car like it was crossing the interstate, and then went up in the air into a tree. I had never seen one so close. The third was eerie. I passed a hearse that was driving slow and I looked over, and the guy gave me a sad, sad, smile. It was like he knew I was on a sad trip.
When I reached the hospital, noone was there. I mean, no one. A nurse had to take me aside and tell me that my father had passed away. I asked what time he died, so she went to his chart and when she told me, I burst into tears. It was the same time that the hawk had flown by my car. I had noted the time of each of the three weird incidents in my mind, because I believe in that shit.
I was soo upset that no one stayed at the hospital to wait for me to arrive. It would be just like my mom to just drive home and forget about me. When I first entered the driveway and got out of the car, my brother was there. We hugged, crying, and I said into his ear, “She killed him.” And that is how I have felt to this very day.
We buried my dad on my birthday. That sucked. It was a cold November day and he had Masonic last rites or whatever they call it at the grave site. I felt like I was watching an episode of the Flintstones and a meeting of the Water Buffaloes. And dad was the Grand Poobah. They did this hand shake stuff that made me giggle, and then the next thing you know, I was silent laugh shaking. My dad would have expected me to laugh, so I did.
My mom informed me that she had no intention of visiting my dad’s grave. “I believe that if people aren’t nice while they are living, why visit them when they are dead.” I think that she may have been talking about my grandfather, because he didn’t like my mom. I also think she is confused. Dad was a great person. Sure he gagged when he saw a hair in the bathroom sink all the time. Sure, he put on a yellow raincoat when he gave the dog a bath. Sure he always offered us a quarter if we could eat a sour pickle without making a face. And wearing those socks with his sandals was unbearable to look at as a teen age girl. But, he is now in peace. Only his name is on the headstone. Good job, Dad! He is next to my grandpa and Grandma, and no room for my mother. Maybe he knew that witches don’t die. Karma, Momma, Karma.
We built our house on 13 acres and my husband cut the grass with an old 1949 Farm All Cub that my dad gave him. I am telling you the truth when I say that the first time Jay cut the grass on that tractor (it had a stupid smiley face on the front that my dad put on years before), I had gone down to take him a drink of water, and I heard this “Caw” and looked up and there was a red-tailed hawk flying in a circle above us. I smiled for hours afterwards.
I sure loved my dad. When I see an old hoot wearing socks with his sandals, I realize that teenage girls waste an awful lot of time being embarrassed by their fathers.