My father is in hospice care as I write this. He is in the late stages of Parkinson’s Disease and probably has experienced multiple strokes in the last two months of Summer 2020. He is ninety years old. And in many ways, he is already gone. I mean he is living in his past now. He is recalling his time in the Navy during the Korean War. At times he doesn’t know my mother, and he doesn’t remember that he ever had a family. Of course, this essay will not be a happy-go-lucky, full-of-jokes-and-humor essay. We can’t even visit him because of positive tests for COVID in his current care facility. And I am stuck here in Texas while he’s still in Iowa because the pandemic precludes travel between hot-spot States. But neither is this going to be a tear-fest. My father’s life was not a sad thing to reflect upon. My father was a domestic hero.
My father was born into an Iowan farm family in Nora Springs, Iowa. There my Grandfather, Arthur Beyer, worked the land for raising corn and beans, and together with my Grandma, Mary Beyer, raised a family of three, Raymond Beyer, who is my father, Aunt Jean Beyer, and Uncle Roger, better known as Skip Beyer.
Being the oldest, Dad was the most responsible for helping on the farm with chores and odd jobs during the depression in the 1930’s, and during wartime in the 1940’s. He learned a work ethic that involved doing the next thing right away so that you can get a head start on the thing after that. Never put off until tomorrow what you could’ve done yesterday. Stay ahead of the weeds and bad weather. Prepare for the worst and be happy when you don’t get it. But also grit your teeth and pitch in when you do get it. As his oldest son, he taught all of this to me. I hope I never disappointed him as his student.
He came from difficult times. He was still a boy during World War II, but when he came of an age to serve, he enlisted in the Navy, a family tradition, and served aboard Aircraft Carriers during the Korean conflict. Of course, he never saw actual combat. But aboard the USS Bennington, there was a terrible war-time accident. A boiler-room explosion killed the young sailor who had relieved Dad from a duty station in the blast area only a couple of hours before. But for a matter of luck, I might never have been born. Or, more properly, for the Grace of God…
And though it was a difficult time, in many ways it was also a simpler and more innocent time.
My father not only forgave me for the skinny-dipping incident at Randy’s birthday party, he laughed about it when I told him. And I had wisely not finished getting naked for it even before we knew the girls were spying on us. So, I didn’t have to be totally embarrassed by it when he laughed. My father didn’t laugh at everything, but when he laughed, he laughed well.
During the tornado in Belmond in 1966, he was something of a hero… to my way of thinking at least. He was the last one down into the cellar as the fertilizer company’s office building blew apart. Being at the top of the stairs, a shard of something clipped the scalp on the top of his head as the storm leveled the place where he worked as an accountant. So, he was bleeding when he helped everyone emerge from the wreckage. And he continued to let it bleed as he assisted storm victims all the way down Main Street, working his way towards the hospital where Mom worked as an R.N. He found her in the miraculously untouched hospital, and she quickly got him patched up and un-bloodied. We four children had a miserable night at Uncle Larry’s place, knowing that both of our parents had been in the tornado, but not knowing if they survived. It was Dad who was able to pick us up and take us home the next day. If nothing else makes you a hero in life, surviving because your children need you to certainly does.
I would not be who I am if not for my father. I owe to him everything in life I don’t owe to my mother. I wish love could be enough to cure him. He’s still alive at this point, but his mind is lost in the past… reliving the events on the Bennington, reliving the tornado, and somehow not able to remember the good things in life… and remember us, his children and grandchildren. If love were enough, I could cure him so well, he would be young again, and able to live it all over again. But I guess, that is really God’s job now. And who am I to argue with my father’s father’s father?