Today would have been my father’s 96th birthday. He’s been gone thirteen years and I still miss him every day. In honor of his birthday, I am reposting the excerpts from my book My Pineapples Went to Houston that I posted on Father’s Day. As I said then, my dad was part of “the greatest generation,” and embodied the best of what that meant–he was brave, strong, honorable, honest, kind and generous…as well as stubborn, impatient and never wrong! 🙂


My father had been in the hospital for three weeks, battling a very virulent strain of pneumonia, when the following took place.

That same afternoon my father looked over at me through fever-weary, half-closed eyes and sighed heavily. “Are they going to take me out and shoot me?” he asked half joking, half pleading. “Do they still shoot sick horses?”

“Maybe they do,” I replied, “but not stubborn mules, so you are safe. You have no choice but to fight this and win.”

We all figured he was on the road to winning the day that a psychiatric resident stopped by for a consult. My dad had been quite disoriented at some points during the worst of his illness (once thinking he was in prison!), and given my dad’s age of 81, we all thought it was a good idea to rule out dementia or other problems. The resident introduced himself and my dad replied, “What do you mean psychiatrist, who the hell thinks I’m nuts?”

The resident proceeded to ask my dad the usual questions, i.e., did he know his name, did he know where he was (he answered hospital this time, not prison!) and then the doctor asked my dad if he knew what day it was.

“Monday,” answered my dad correctly.

“Can you tell me anything else about the day?” continued the doctor, fishing for the exact date.

“Well, hell, yeah, it’s V-E Day!” exclaimed my dad.

The resident—who looked about 12 years old—regarded my dad with a mixture of confusion and concern. It was clear he had no clue what my dad was talking about.

“It’s V-E Day,” my dad repeated louder, with a definite “duh” in his tone. “Victory in Europe. May 8. 1945. 55 years ago today.”  He paused between each phrase, as if giving the doctor clues.

“Oh, yes, right, I wasn’t thinking,” the resident said, convincing no one. He declared my father to have no dementia and swiftly bade us good-bye.

As soon as he had gone, my dad let us have it. “That kid doesn’t even know what V-E Day is and you girls think I’m the one who’s nuts,” he declared. “That’s pretty damn good.”


Two years later, my father’s hospital stay would be his last. We learned he was suffering from advanced colon cancer, a completely unexpected diagnosis that shook my whole family terribly.

This time around, of course, there was no “could,” only a devastating “would.”  And the difference between “could die” and “would die” reduced me to a quivering coward, a lost and frightened child who was not equal to the adult task being demanded of her. My sister and I drove all night through a raging thunderstorm that spanned the entire 700-mile trip to be with my father shortly after his surgery. We arrived at the hospital, disheveled and distraught, and took the elevator to his floor. With each leaden footstep I took toward his room, my sense of dread grew and threatened to send me running in the opposite direction.

I needn’t have fretted so. Walking into his room and forcing a cheery, “Hi, Daddy,” we were met with a decidedly wan, but still heartfelt greeting in return. We stayed with him all afternoon, and every afternoon for the next week, and never once did he mention death, his or anyone else’s. Our constant chatter lent an apparent buoyancy to the mood, but the space surrounding our words, the space that outlined every single letter of every single word, was sodden with sadness. And just when I felt my heart would break under the weight of it—watching him sleep after he’d nodded off—he’d come alive and spout out some kooky “daddyism” that would lighten the load considerably.

“Now that’s a damn shame!” he exclaimed on one such occasion, while pointing at the wall opposite his bed. Ever the builder, his eye had caught sight of a crooked outlet plate. “Can you believe that? A beautiful new building like this and that plate isn’t square. It’s a damn shame,” he repeated, shaking his head with disgust.

Yes, it was truly scandalous; how could I not have noticed it myself?! How, he continued, could anyone have been so careless, especially on a tiled wall where it was obvious that the plate was not level with the grout lines? He was so incensed I thought he was going to demand an electrician come and straighten the offending outlet box that very instant. There he was, lying on his deathbed, hooked up to an assortment of monitors, IV tubes going in, a colostomy bag catching what came out, and he was up in arms about shoddy workmanship! That’s how my dad made it very easy to sit with a dying man.

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