REMEMBERING MY FATHER
MY FATHER (on Father’s Day)
Remembering my father, on this special day,
Remembering how he looked and talked
And what he’d have to say,
Remembering how he loved to bowl,
Or watch a baseball game,
Remembering what his values were,
But it’s not the same.
I have the many photographs,
And letters that he wrote
I have a sweater that he wore,
And a threadbare coat.
Inside my head I hear his voice,
Calling out my name,
But it’s been so long ago,
And it’s not the same.
I have so many questions that
I should have asked him then,
I’ll have to wait until the time
I see him once again.
–Sandra Lee Smith
Originally posted APRIL 26, 2012
REMEMBERING MY FATHER
My earliest recollections of my father aren’t actually my memories—but I have dozens of black and white photographs in which my father is seen—I have collected for years those photographs in which I am in the picture with my father.
I had the notion for years that my mother was “the family photographer” – after all, it was she who pasted hundreds of old photographs in large catalogs of men wearing suits of every description; it was during WW2 that she pasted the photographs into the suit catalogs (for want of a better description) . Quite possibly, photo albums with black pages weren’t available during the war years and my mother improvised with old suit catalogs that would have been discarded. I think a new catalog was published every year – and my paternal grandfather was a tailor. (Writing about my paternal grandfather would also make a great article—he had traveled throughout many European countries looking for men who wanted a new suit of clothing and spoke seven languages fluently).
At some point in time, after the War was over, my mother tore the photographs out of the suit catalogs and began putting them into “real” photo albums. Oh, how I wish my mother would have left the family photographs in the suit catalogs. For one thing, the family photos took a beating being pasted into the suit albums, then torn out. And I think the photographs, pasted in the suit catalogs—would be quite collectible today.
And, for some reason, I believed for many years that my mother was the family photographer. And to some degree, this was true—but as I went through hundreds of photographs that ended up in my possession, I realized that my father was actually the family photographer—my mother is IN most of the photographs (and she loved having her picture taken—she took great delight in being the center of attention). And it was my father who bought a Nikon camera—I don’t think he had the opportunity to use it as when it came into my possession, it was in like-new condition with instructions and the receipt for the purchase of the camera.
And here’s what amazes me to this day—the camera that produced all the large black and white photographs for many years—was simply a Brownie camera. I had it in my possession in the first years of my marriage and from there always had an inexpensive “point and shoot” camera. (I have no idea what happened to that Brownie camera. I think it was lost in the shuffle when we first moved to Californian). The negatives to the Brownie camera were large and easily reproduced; I made dozens of 8×10 reprints from the negatives I had managed to save.
From early childhood on, I wanted to be a photographer—I would take books about photography out of the public library and read/study them even though I didn’t understand most of what I was trying to read. It wasn’t until the 1980s that I began taking black and white photography classes with a girlfriend from work. By then my father had passed away, and I inherited dad’s Nikon camera. Everyone else in the family also had their own cameras, much better models than anything I ever owned.
It was shortly after this, in 1984, that the girlfriend and I began taking classes one night a week at Glendale Community College; after six weeks of listening to the instructor, we “graduated” to the dark room. But, I digress – and this is another topic about which I could write about.
Let me get back to my father and the early years of my life. Earlier this year, because I was still recuperating from a kidney-related illness, I began putting the loose photographs into some semblance of order—I had “inherited” my mother’s collection of photographs, what she hadn’t given away; I also received an old album plus dozens, if not hundreds, of old ‘loose’ photographs that had been in my older brother’s possession and which he no longer wanted.
When my older sister Becky began fighting breast cancer and I was flying to Nashville to spend time with her–she told me to take whatever old black and white photographs I wanted;—she said none of her children would want them, so I began going through her photo albums. I was flying to Nashville once or twice a year from the time of her first surgery in 2000, until she passed away in 2004) … and there is a short story about HER oldest photographs—they had originally been in albums with black pages; her ex-husband’s second wife tore the photographs out of the albums to save on postage and mailed them to her.
Some of her oldest class photographs from Saint Leo’s were amongst her photo collection— group class pictures of all eight grades, a practice that was discontinued by the time I was a student at St Leo’s. I have a large group photo taken in front of St Leo’s church taken at the time we made our first communions – and an 8th grade graduation photograph also taken in front of the church. (I have my father’s 8th grade graduation photograph taken alongside a side entrance to St. Leo’s School and another large group photograph taken in front of the church that we think was taken when my father was in the 4th or 5th grade. (My father, uncle, and aunt all went to St. Leo’s – as did my sister, brothers and I. My cousin Renee was at St Leo’s until 3rd grade so that means her brother, Pete, would have been at St. Leo’s until 2nd grade.
Becky wrote the names of every student on her group photos. So, all of those old photographs from St. Leo’s, as well as Becky’s teenage pictures taken of her friends down on Queen City Avenue in South Fairmount, have come into my possession.
I didn’t think I would ever get this project completed. I began sorting hundreds of old photographs, putting them into categories – siblings, my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles and so on. I have two large albums filled with these photographs. Then I went back to my own album collection which I had stopped working on in 2012. I had the rest of 2012 and all of 2013 to get into albums. (I converted a linen closet into a photo album closet–I have more albums than linens, starting with an album I started when I was about 14 or 15 years old).
I guess this is when it occurred to me that my parents were often photographed together – or one or the other. I found lots of photographs of myself—either in the arms of my mother or my father—sometimes taken at Le Sourdsville Lake where everyone could swim or enjoy picnic lunches.
By the time my brothers Biff and Bill were born, I don’t think my father went on many of these summer excursions (in retrospect, I think he was busy almost all the time with his bowling. He was also league secretary on many, if not most, of his leagues).
I remember my mother taking all of us and my grandmother to Cincinnati’s version of Coney Island—usually on Findlay Market day, when ride tickets were being sold in advance at Findlay Market and I think my mother took advantage of these ride tickets being sold, something like 20 for a dollar. I have no memory of my father going to Coney Island with us.
We went to the Policemen’s annual picnic, and my father went to that. I have old photographs taken in the early 1940s when I was a toddler, when the family went to LeSourdsville Lake. I think this was more of a Beckman annual family outing than a Schmidt one—all of the photographs I’ve gone through show my mother and father, my mother’s sisters and their husbands (when they were home on leave, I presume) as well as Grandma Beckman.
In other photographs in which my mother’s sisters and their husbands were photographed during the War years, my uncles are wearing their uniforms. All of my uncles who served in World War II survived the war and made it home to their families.
My father was born April 20, 1915; I am fairly certain my father was born at home and delivered by a midwife in the downtown Cincinnati area near Findlay Market. (Both of my parents had been born in Cincinnati.) I had grown up believing my father was the oldest of three children – his brother John (Hans) was born two years later and Annie a few years after Uncle Hans…but we have learned that there were three other children born before my father, children that had died. None of us know much more than that. I think one boy child died on the ship coming to the United States—but the other two may have died in one of the horrific influenza epidemics that swept through cities and states throughout the United States in the early 1900s. My grandmother kept one photograph of a young child in a coffin—a photograph that disappeared when her health began to fail.
I sent some emails to my brother Jim, now my oldest sibling, to ask him about Dad’s work at Formica. Jim wrote, “Dad did get a military exemption since he had 3 children but mainly because he was in a critical career field at Formica. The British developed a process of inlaying gold on Formica but the tool and die department perfected it. Only Dad, Bud Hudson, and George Foreman were knowledgeable on how to do this. Formica kept it a trade secret until they could get the process patterned. This was the advent of micro – chips. Georget Helfridge was his boss in the tool and die department at Formica back in 1941.
I think my father was also exempt from being drafted because his only brother was already in the navy and during the War, Formica—for whom my father began working when I was a baby—stopped making decorative materials and instead produced “Pregwood” – plastic-impregnated wood use for propellers and “bomb burster tubes”. (I checked bomb burster tubes on Google but the explanation was too complicated for me to even attempt to repeat).
After the war, the housing boom boosted the market for decorative Formica. By 1953, one-third of the 6 million new homes had streamlined Formica kitchen surfaces, easy to wipe clean and cigarette proof.
When I was a very young child, I thought my father worked for someone named “Mica” – when he went bowling, he was bowling for mica. His team bowled in the 1947 ABC Bowling Tournament in Los Angeles; my mother accompanied him while we children stayed at Grandma Schmidt’s. I think it was my parents first flight on an airplane and the trip to Los Angeles entailed more than a few changes of flights—one of which I know was in Las Vegas since I have photographs taken of them at McCarran Airport. Only one other wife made the trip to L.A. besides my mother.
A few years ago, when my father’s scrapbooks came into my possession, I put together an album of his life and bowling career. Bowling was the favorite pastime and sport of both my parents; they had his, hers, and their bowling leagues. My parents had dozens of bowling trophies—many ended up stored in boxes and trunks in the basement—so it goes without saying that my mother was never a bowling “widow”.
I texted my brother and asked him to provide some of dad’s bowling history for me. I think you would have grown up and lived in the Midwest to really understand the attraction for bowling in Ohio and a lot of other Midwestern cities. During the wintertime, there was always bowling, regardless of the weather.
Jim wrote “I initially did not bowl with dad except in tournaments like ABC, etc. However, around 1962, we did join teams and bowled in the Knights of Columbus league on Sunday afternoon in a traveling league and we bowled in 35 different houses (bowling establishments) over the season. I was bowling with Mergards (a big bowling establishment in Northside) on Saturday night and Wednesday night at the same time. We bowled for Northside’s Knights of Columbus after transferring. We bowled with Bob Lintz and Steve Petko. After winning the league, dad asked me to join him on Tuesdays at Sanker’s (a well known bowling establishment in Mount Healthy).We had Don Mechlem, Yotz Purtell and another bowler. We also started up a 2 man Classic at Sanker’s. Dad and I bowled together. I averaged 205 and Dad 191. Again winners, we would bowl in the state, city, ABC (American Bowling Congress, now USBC) and Knights of Columbus tournaments. I was still going to school at University of Cincinnati…” (*Jim spent 4 years in the Air Force, then resumed his education while also working full time and supporting his family).
Jim writes, “Somewhere during this time frame, Dick Tabler joined us. We then bowled Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights. I continued to bowl with Stone’s Palace in Norwood on Mondays and on Wednesdays in the Hudepohl traveling league. Dad bowled at Brentwood with Vince Laehr at Colerain’s (Our uncle Vince– was a boyhood friend of dad’s who married our mother’s younger sister, our Aunt Rainy—so he and Dad were brothers in law) Many times I bowled on Sunday afternoon and Sunday night. Dad continued to bowl almost exclusively at Sankers…”
(Sandy’s note: I learned from our cousin Renee—who asked her father—how our fathers became childhood friends when they lived in different neighborhoods. Uncle Vince replied “when a bunch of boys were sled-riding down a steep street in the wintertime—no one would go down the hill with Pete—until Vince volunteered. They became buddies and when they were teenagers, the two took dancing lessons at Arthur Murray’s Dancing School to “impress those pretty Beckman sisters”. (My father was always a good dancer—I never knew about the dancing lessons. After my father passed away, my mother took up dancing. My brother Jim asked her what she wanted to do and she replied “I always wanted to dance”. And so she did.)
Jim continues, “After I received my MBA in 1973, I did bowl with Dad on Thursdays at Sanker’s when I decided to go for a Ph.D in psychology. I quit bowling and, of course, Julie was born in 1976.
This was when mom and dad went down to Florida to live (in Largo, Florida, at the Four Seasons Mobile Park. Largo is near Tampa, close to the ocean.) I eventually went to Michigan to work and live and gave up bowling for 20+ years. Dad continued to bowl in Florida and went to annual ABC bowling tournament until 1984…”
Sandy’s note “**the ABC’s were in Reno in 1984. Dad sent me a plane ticket to join them and it was the only time in my memory that I had both parents entirely to myself for 4 days). Dad had at least 25 years in league participation. The ABC tournament in Reno would be his last. I had such a wonderful time with them in Reno…”
Jim continues to write: “They moved to Florida in 1976. Mom said she was going down alone if he didn’t retire. He was working 14 hours a day, seven days a week. And he was bowling 4 nights a week. Scott and Susie were left in the house on Mulberry to fend for themselves. I had my own problems since Bunny took off with Julie 3 weeks after she was born. I found out she went to visit a (friend or relative?) in Melbourne, Florida. I have no idea why they (our parents) didn’t ask me to look after Susie…”
(Good question. and did anyone ever learn why Bunny took off for Florida just after Julie was born?)
Jim writes, “That winter, they came up to Cincinnati to visit. Scott and Dad went out shopping in a snow storm and got stuck in a parking lot. Dad was pushing (Scott behind the wheel) when he fell and shattered his knee cap. That eventually developed a blood clot in leg. (*Dad was put on blood thinners which caused him to get an ulcer. It was one thing after another. His leg was in a cast which was too tight – by the time they removed the cast, he already had a blood clot. He even had the last rites – he believed he WAS dying—but he recovered).
To return to Jim’s notes – “the blood clot in his leg in 1984 went to his heart and killed him” (*Dad had an initial heart attack—while bowling, what else?)
Sandy writes “In 1984 I flew to Florida –a girlfriend got plane tickets for me to fly to Florida on a Sunday and delivered them to my house on Saturday night. It was the only time I can remember that I had ‘rat-holed’ four hundred dollars, planning to go with a girlfriend to Carmel. I went, over husband Jim’s objections—he was rude and unkind—I had to pack my bags in the dark; I couldn’t understand why—I said to him “if it was your mother, I would be supportive”. I didn’t know at the time that he had a girlfriend—which makes his objections to my going to Florida even more mysterious. My brother Jim was already in Florida; he and mom met my flight. We went up to the hospital to see Dad and the last thing I said to my father was “I love you, Daddy” to which he replied, “I love you too. I’m glad you’re here”.
Three hours later, he had another heart attack which was fatal. We, in the family, believe that the blood clot he had had in his leg (from the previous injury to his knee) broke loose and went to his heart. He was rubbing his leg while we were there and a nurse came in. She asked him why he was rubbing his leg and he said “because it aches” to which SHE replied “well, don’t rub it”. All the signs were there – we just weren’t reading them right. And Dad’s cardiologist was in Cincinnati.
Sandy writes “The hospital called to tell us that my father had passed away. Jim woke mom up and the three of us went back to the hospital—to see for ourselves, I guess. We said some prayers and then returned to my parents’ mobile home at the Four Seasons.
The entire time we—mom, Jim and I-were driving back to my parents’ mobile home, I kept looking over my shoulder as Jim was driving & mom up in front with him so I had the back seat. I felt like we were being followed. Later I concluded that Dad was following us. We got mom to go back to bed and Jim began calling all the family. Around 3 am I went to take a shower, to stay awake – and I heard my father calling my name. He said my name three times—I tried to ignore the voice but finally said “I hear you dad. What do you want?” He replied “Take care of your mother”.
Well, Jim did take care of her; I was so involved with my own problems—a failing marriage and a lot of anger and towards a man who, I discovered, had been cheating our entire marriage. I have always felt Jim (Smith) wouldn’t have confessed about the girlfriend if my father was still alive.
“REMEMBERING MY FATHER” (written July 16, 2009)
It was twenty five years ago today
that my father passed away
And many of the events leading up to
And following his death
Are etched forever in my mind
Never to be forgotten.
I, who will be 69 on my next birthday Have a greater appreciation that he was Only sixty nine when he was taken from us.
I have often wondered
if the medical care had been better in Florida,
Or if he had still been in Ohio
Under the care of his own doctor,
If things might have turned out differently.
1984 was a horrific year
For all of us, my family and
Some of my friends
And it was a year to be gotten through Day by day And month by month.
—Sandra Lee Smith
LETTERS MY FATHER WROTE TO MY MOTHER IN 1978
I typed the letters, which my brother Jim had in his possession (Bunny’s handwriting was on the envelope) and which Jim gave to Susie—presumably when we were in Florida in April, 2013. Oddly enough, the memorial mass for Bunny, who died August 29, 2012—was held on April 20, 2013– dad’s birthday.
To put these letters into a better perspective, the following is from my journal memoirs, which I have been converting from notebooks into my computer. I wrote the following letter to my penpal Bev, who had kept all my letters over the years and gave stacks of them to me when I began working on my memoirs in 2011.
I wrote this to Bev: “March 15, 1978 – has been one disaster after another. We have had 2 months of rain (no more drought!) and floods and terrible mudslides. Back east they’ve had incredible blizzards and snow storms with unheard of sub-zero temperatures. Mom & Dad drove back to Ohio in January, just missing blizzards along the way, only to be in a big one in Cincinnati, and two days after the blizzard, Dad’s car got stuck in the snow and when he tried to push it out, he fell on his right knee, and tore the cartilage. The next day they operated on him; that was bad enough – it’s such a painful operation and he suffered terribly. Mom said later that for two days she prayed while he swore. Well a few days after he was released from the hospital, his leg under the cast began swelling. Mom got him back into the hospital, this time with phlebitis. They put him on anticoagulants and a week later he was in terrible pain and spitting blood and had developed a bleeding ulcer from the anticoagulants. He was taken to intensive care. He was so seriously ill that a priest came and administered the last rites. It drove me crazy to be so helpless. I wanted to go home. They said no, don’t come, if you come he’ll believe he is dying. He reached a crisis on Feb 18 – which was, oddly, the anniversary of HIS father’s death. He was convinced he would never leave the hospital alive. I just couldn’t cope with it. I guess no one ever really is. My parents always seemed so strong to me. Anyway, Dad is recuperating at home now and doing better, and perhaps everything will be ok, especially when they can return to Florida”.
The following letters were written by my father, to my mother, in 1978. Two are dated – one February, 24, 1978 and one February, 1978. A third is undated.
You know I don’t like to write notes but for you I’d do anything so here goes:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
You are so sweet
That’s why I love you.
Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx There’s your kiss. Now will you be so kind as to mail that letter for me and wake me about 12:00
Peter (and I still say I love you.”
It’s been so long since we really cared about each other. The only thing that hurts is my concern about your beer drinking. I love you and always will no matter what I may say or do. When you are at the end of the ropes and find out later how many people cared, you feel both good & bad. Maybe we could have done more but my love for you will be forever. Love, Pete”
It isn’t easy laying here and not knowing what, where and when it will happen. They all put on a good show. But once that clot breaks loose it could be the end. But whatever happens always remember that I loved you all the years we were together. God gave me a reprieve last Saturday and Sunday so have a mass said for my mother & father and your mother & father. You might say I just have this down feeling but for some reason I have this feeling and can’t shake it. I love you. Pete”
*These notes were each written on a single sheet of paper, which had been folded and refolded dozens (if not hundreds) of times. I think Bunny found them when she & Jim began going through mom’s things. There were a couple of personal telephone books in my mother’s handwriting that Bunny sent to me—I have one but an older second telephone book disappeared. I had started that phone book when the family moved to NCH in 1955 or 56 and I began typing names & addresses into it for mom.
Dad recovered from the knee injury and they returned to Florida to live. In 1984 he had a first heart attack followed by a second one 3 days later that took his life. He was 69 years old.
My mother displayed symptoms of Alheimers years before it was actually diagnosed. Her “best friend” Ron took her to Michigan to drop her off at Jim & Bunny’s and then he stole anything not nailed down in my parents’ mobile home. She didn’t know either of my sisters or me when we visited her at the nursing home. She was 83 years old when she passed away on September 29, 2000. I was thankful she didn’t die on my birthday.
I think there are other letters my father wrote to my mother. We have no way of knowing what happened to them. My mother may have burned them when she was busy burning the things her children collected – baseball cards and old comic books—all the negatives from years of photography—many things when they were making plans to move to Florida permanently. I could delve deeply into my mother’s psyche without ever coming close to knowing or understanding what was going on in her mind. I’ve tried to tell her story from an open unbiased point of view but it’s a hard thing to do, being one of her children who was subject to her whims and episodes of anger and her frequent accusations that no one loved her and/or that we loved grandma Schmidt more than her and/or that we loved our father more than her. There are no answers to many questions we are left with years later. My brother Jim & I visited the cemetery when we were in Florida in April 2013; unbeknownst to me, Susie & her family visited the cemetery too. Both parents are buried in Calvary Cemetery in Clearwater Florida, a long way from their birthplace of Cincinnati, Ohio.
–SANDRA LEE (SCHMIDT) SMITH
Jim wrote “Normally your first thoughts are the most accurate and meaningful. I’d go with what you have written. Our lives are near an end but it may make a difference, especially to Scott. You are disclosing a lot of information that our siblings don’t know. I know that my life could have been different if only someone had told me how important it was to continue my education. I felt always sorry for Becky. She got the shaft. Her only recourse was to run away and get married. This was going from bad to worse.
Many times I think of Renee. (Uncle Vince & Aunt Rainy’s oldest child). What are her perceptions? There were only four [children] in the Laehr family. Hopefully our younger brothers and sister can gain some insight into our background and benefit from it.” (June 27, 2014)
We – at least Becky, Jim and I, – have often looked back on our lives and wished we had done things differently. Becky took classes at UC around the same time Aunt Dolly began taking art classes there. Becky could accomplish anything that challenged her – she began working with pottery and her husband Bill put a kiln in their basement; she told Bill she wanted to learn how to fly; he told her to go for it. She got a private pilot’s license. I think the only thing that ever hampered her were her husbands (#1 and #2) who both, I think, were male chauvinists—quite like our father, when you think about it.
Becky was the most mistreated of all of us but you would never guess it from things she wrote—I think she wrote about personal things the way she wished it had been. I know my mother mistreated her; I think mom blamed Becky for an unwanted pregnancy that none of mom’s in-laws would ever let her forget.
And I think Becky yearned for approval and acceptance from both of our parents. I have forgotten many things from my childhood but have never forgotten how Becky was treated—not just when we were children but when she was a young adult as well. I think that’s what motivated and challenged Becky more than the rest of us – she was trying to prove to our parents that she was a good person, that she was smart and could accomplish whatever she set out to do. Becky got married at 15 to get out of the house. Jim went into the Air Force after he graduated from Elder High School. I got married at 18 because I felt trapped—I had taken care of Scott from the time he was born and throughout the summer after graduation; I was hired by Western Southern in September (and the pay was a pittance) – and mom said to me “now that you have a job, you have to pay room and board”. I was furious; it seemed so unfair—no one ever paid ME for taking care of my brothers (not that I expected or wanted it) – it just seemed unfair and so I cried telling im (Smith) about it and he said “Well, we could get married.” I had no idea what I was letting myself in for—but it was one of the few ways a “good” girl could leave her parents home – if I wasn’t going to college—a nice girl didn’t have her own apartment. I’ve often wondered—if I had rented rooms from Grandma, and she had kept her house and not sold it to Aunt Annie – then when Jim came home the two of us would have had an apartment in Grandma’s house—I would have continued working downtown and Jim would have been able to continue his education—and Grandma wouldn’t have lost her will to live by giving up her house.
Maybe we really don’t have a choice in how our lives are mapped out. Jim Smith & I moved to California where Chris & Kelly were born, and began divorce proceedings in 1985. I was fortunate that I had a great job by then and was able to support myself. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I would have been able to buy another house on my own. You have to believe that you are where you are supposed to be as you go through life – otherwise what would have been the purpose to your life?
FOUR DAYS IN RENO
Four days in Reno,
We laughed and talked
And had ourselves a time;
Four days in Reno,
A year ago those days
Were yours and mine..
Little did we realize
The sands of time
Were quickly running past;
Four days in Reno–
I should have known
It couldn’t last.
And now when it’s late at night
And I am in my bed alone,
I remember Reno
And all the happy times we’ve known;
I still can see us smiling
Silhouettes against a snowy mountain sky
And memories I’ll cherish–
Four days that I’ll remember
Til I die.
(In memory of my parents and the last ABC Tournament held in Reno, where I joined my parents in March, 1984 to spend a few days with them – Sandra Lee Smith