Earlier this week, my last remaining Grandparent died. His mental and physical health sharply declined in the last two years, and I'm relieved that it's over. This afternoon, Dad asked for some writing help with an eleogy he was writing for the funeral.
We shared dinner at a nearby restaurant. I read the short recollection he had put to paper and talked to him about his memories of Grandpa. When we returned to my apartment, I took what he wrote and produced this:
Hidden Gifts, by Steve Flynn
We were always impatient to see what was under the tree. My brother Mike and I would conspire on Christmas Eve to sneak down the staircase of our Lincoln Avenue home in St. Paul at 3am for a peak at our presents. Dad was always generous with the gifts, although he always claimed they came from Santa Claus. My five-year-old eyes would stare in amazement and anticipation at the gifts – both wrapped and not – below the tree. Mike and I knew better than to venture further, so we would quietly return to our rooms to sleep off the remainder of the night. That is, when we could sleep at all. Back in bed, my mind would race with thoughts of toy spaceships, bicycles, and tinker toys. There was always another gift waiting for me, handed down from father to son.
Half a decade later, after periods in Wisconsin and Illinois, we returned to Minnesota. We lived in Circle Pines; I was 12 years old. The basement of the house was unfinished. He and I would spend our weekends together laying drywall. Using a Shop-Smith, he built a dry bar to refresh houseguests. For entertainment, he cut a viewing window through the adjoining wall – for a fish tank.
When not finishing the basement, Dad worked at a bank in downtown St. Paul. Often I would often hitch a ride on his way to work. He'd drop me off at Grandma Wilkings' where I cut the grass for a pocketful of change and a delicious lunch. Afterward, I'd walk to my old grade school friend Jim Richter's house where Dad would pick me up after work.
I, of course, wanted my own car. In 1966 I finally got my wish when I inherited Dad's '57 Chevrolet station wagon. The car was in rough shape having passed through the hands of my Sister Margie, and my brother Mike. After Driver's Ed, I'd return home and spend my evenings fixing the rear suspension. Cars, however, weren't the only thing I inherited from Dad.
While I was in the Army at Fort Lenordwood, Missori, I became interested in photography. I bought my first camera while I was on Basic Training. At first, it was just to send pictures back to Mom and Dad. Photography was a constant presence as a child, but it wasn't until then that it became a professional interest. Unknown to me, I was continuing a family tradition – Dad was a military photographer for the St. Paul newspaper.
In the late 70s, Mom and Dad left Minnesota for the warmer and sunnier air of Florida. I always wanted to go to Florida, but it was difficult with a growing family. It wasn't until Christmas 1997 that the kids and I boarded a plane for a visit. The walls of Dad's one-floor house were covered with photographs. Carving patterns, bits, and sawing blades were carefully arraigned along the walls of his woodshop.
Four years later Dad flew back to Minnesota for a family reunion. We stayed together at our cabin in Freeport. Dad met with Mary Kay's Uncle Jerome and shared memories of military service during World War Two under General Patton. We toured St. John's College and met extended family members at Flynntown in Collegeville. The following year, Dad attended my marriage to Mary Kay and gave a nice speech during the reception.
Not all the gifts a parent gives their children are easily found under a tree. Some things, like a love of photography, woodworking, or his memories of WWII, aren't tangible. And they are the best gifts of all.