It’s never too late to be blessed with a loving relationship.
Vern worked for The Change Companies before he died on September 26, 1999.
He was born in Ogden, Iowa. Over the years, he took jobs as a soldier, a bank teller, a bookkeeper and a salesman. He married Irene and fathered four children. I was the youngest.
Growing up, we rarely connected. During my school years, he crisscrossed the Midwest selling grain storage equipment. He would return home on occasional weekends with his left arm berry-brown from the sun and state maps filling the locked glove compartment.
Irene always paired the two of us up to do the wash at a laundromat around the corner. I’m uncertain which of us she was punishing. As a freshman, I hid from the dirty window so as not to be seen by the popular kids. Vern sweated profusely just waiting for a dryer to open up. Coin machines jammed. Socks went missing. Vern and I faced off folding sheets. He shook them hard and the corners slipped out of my hands. Vern snapped his fingers in disapproval as clean, damp linen hit dirty linoleum.
It wasn’t as if we didn’t care for each other, I believe we just made each other nervous. Nothing clicked. Driving to the store to get Crisco, cleaning up the storage area in the basement of our apartment and failing at anything we attempted to fix were our high points.
Forty years passed while Vern and I stayed stoic and distant.
Then one night at 2:00 a.m., he called to ask for my help. Early the next morning, I flew out to Pennsylvania and brought him home to live with Sherry, me and our dogs in Carson City. The love gate opened. Dad shared secrets that explained old family mysteries. Now in his late seventies, he wanted to find purpose in each day, so I asked him to come to work for The Change Companies.
In the months that followed, he contributed to our corporate family and became best friends with Wyatt Blue, our German shepherd who only engaged with people of the highest character. On weekends, we watched college bowl games, swapped jokes about salesmen, burned brats on the grill and, on rare occasions, hugged each other. I mean real hugs, not those legs-rocking, hand-taps-on-the-back kind of things.
Thanks to Dad, my circle of understanding and compassion expanded. I wonder how often all of us allow ego-driven scorekeeping to keep us from experiencing the love of those we’re most connected to.
Dad’s heart was failing. In the time that followed, he modeled how to live with courage and pain and die with dignity. On one of his final days, we drove to a laundromat in Carson City and looked through the window. A sock was still missing but a loving relationship had been perfectly paired.