February 4, 1917, my father, Charles Virgil Emerson, was born in Plains, Kansas. Among his siblings he had two older sisters—Pearl, 9 years older, who went by “Spud,” and Velma, 7 years older, who went by “Billie”—and they doted on him. I always heard them refer to my father as “Chuck.” He had two other sisters born after him who did not survive the terrible influenza that gripped the country from February 1918 to April 1920. I adored my aunts and the thought that I missed out on two more aunts feels like quite a loss. My father’s family was an exceptionally sweet group of people.
February 4, 2007, we had my father’s 90th birthday party. His brother Irvin brought his sister “Billie” from Missouri to the Oklahoma celebration. How I love the memories of that weekend. My daughter made a lovely little photo album of it. By February 4 the next year, I was scrambling to get to Oklahoma as my mother began to transition in hospice. She died February 5. The morning of her funeral, Daddy and Terry and I met my brothers and their spouses for breakfast before the funeral.
I had discovered his wardrobe became pretty disheveled as my mother deteriorated. At breakfast I noticed we had just enough time to seek a suit and tie before the service. JC Penney’s was near the restaurant. We found a very kind salesman who located a suit, shirt, tie, and even shoes and socks! Everyone commented how sharp my father looked.
The following February 4, I was once again in Oklahoma, this time to bring my father home to live with us. Sadly, he had a stroke in April and died in July that year. But the time we had in those few months was some of the most precious in my life.
Fast forward to February 4, 2018. I had selected that day as the occasion for my ordination, in honor of the man who was such a quiet, steady presence in my life, a man who was respected for his breadth of knowledge, his kindness, his faith. He spent his life as a newspaper printer from the time he apprenticed at 17 to the time he retired at 70. I have a few letters he sent me in college, typed on his linotype printer. In one he typed into the want ads “Lonely Hearts: Would like to establish contact with beautiful, blue-eyed blond. Last seen boarding giant jet for Kansas City, St. Louis and points east. Am unable to sleep nights, also suffering greatly from loss of appetite. Am considering drastic measures if I do not hear from her soon. Any information as to her whereabouts and activities greatly appreciated. Ponca City Papa.” This was so out of character and unexpected, I was quite startled but very pleased at his humor and expression of love.
Today my father would have been 105. Happy birthday, Daddy. Love, your daughter.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: “My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived, and let me watch him do it.” Clarence Budington Kelland