Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Memories of My Father 2

continued from Memories 1
My father was an early riser. Growing up I don't remember ever beating him up in the morning. He got up, made coffee, shaved most of his years of course with a straight razor as there was no other option. In high school he always had a bowl of cereal waiting for me for my groggy morning. It's only been since I've been married that I fell into this pattern myself.

I don't know if he was always a morning person. I have wondered from time to time how the army might have shaped his habits. Early to rise, very keen to be on time. His stopwatch was one of his idiosyncrasies. He would time how long we had traveled, stopped of course for the rest park. He didn't like unplanned side trips, unlike my mother. I do this sometimes with things, imitating something I always found fun about my Dad.

In terms of Myers-Briggs personality types he was a "J" who kept things in order. He wasn't an ogre about it, which is the perfect kind of "J."  He had the benefits of orderliness without the aftertaste.  He was someone who could do taxes for some of my sisters. He was the District Treasurer for the Florida District of the Wesleyan Church for thirty years.

I remember the huge four inch thick ledger he kept on all the churches in the district by hand. Then of course in the electronic age he switched to doing the budget on the computer. I vaguely remember the year he entered all that data. He would use Quicken from that point on.

He was a "J," so I'm sure he annoyed some churches and District Superintendents who would have liked a more flexible "bank" for a treasurer. But he had a constant override. He may not want to deviate from the plan. He might not want to take that detour down Stinking Creek Road in Tennessee. But you knew he would. There might be a little grumbling to himself. "Helen, we want to get to such and such a place by nightfall."

But you knew he would. There would in fact be no stopping him from doing whatever or going wherever from that point on, even if you changed your mind and told him that you didn't want to go there any more. And usually he was glad he did deviate in the end. My son Tom reminds me of him a little in that respect.

So the cereal bowl would always be there waiting in the morning. It was common for him to make small talk with me as I ate the cereal with closed eyes, having just stepped out of the shower and dressed. Sometimes he would ask two or three times something or another, "Did you sleep well?" When I would finally say, "YES" a little louder than normal, I would then apologize. "Sorry for raising my voice."

He'd drop me off at the high school, give me a kiss on the cheek and then go off to work. It's a ritual I've repeated now with my own children. It was only in high school that he was able to do this, maybe because it began before eight. In elementary and middle school it was always Mom.

My father grew up in a strict home. I seem to recall him talking about having to sit out a square dance at School 51 in Indy because they didn't believe in dancing. I also remember him talking about being a bit embarrassed when his Dad would show up in a butcher's apron because his younger brother Maurice was in trouble again. His Dad owned a corner store more than once, although during the Depression he had to sell it and go to work himself as a butcher.

Dorsey Schenck, my father's father, was a doer, not a thinker. He was an entrepreneur and a church planter. I guess there was a little awkwardness once when my mother's father was grading some of his work toward ordination at Frankfort Pilgrim College, where my mother's father taught.  Dorsey could lift a whole engine out of a car on a pulley--of course they weren't as complex as they are now.

I remember my grandfather Dorsey letting me shoot the b-b gun he used to shoot squirrels away in his back yard on Dequincy Street. I missed the target and shot out a lamp several feet away.  He died in 1974 so I must have been about 6 or 7 at the time. After his death, my Dad's mother always called me "Boy" and I wondered if she knew my name (I was grandchild #31). Mom and Dad thought she did.  She died in 1977.

Both my Dad's parents died at the age of 75, interestingly, while my Dad made it to 87. It was his heart, in the end, that gave out. He knew he had a murmur but didn't want to risk having it fixed. My uncle Maurice had died on the operating table having a blockage opened over ten years ago, but the aorta wall was apparently weak and the surgeon punctured it at Ball State Hospital. My Dad (and Mom) had no interest in chancing any surgeries to clear blockages or fix leaky valves after that.

That funeral of my Uncle Maurice, some time around the year 2000, was one of the first times I saw my Dad helpless. There was nothing he could do for his brother. I had never really thought of him in those terms before. To me, my Dad was smart and in control. He could find his way around any city, to any destination. In any crisis he knew what to do. He knew how to use a map. He was a planner.

The first chink in my Dad's directional armor I remember was our first time in Europe. I was working on my doctorate in England in 1995 and was headed to Tübingen, Germany for two months. My parents took the opportunity to visit Paris and go to Germany with me. It was my father's first time there since the war.

He had been stationed in Nancy, France in the final days of the war, then in Mannheim, Germany, just after the war ended I believe. We did not stop at Nancy because we were on a train, but rented a car to drive around Mannheim as I recall. There wasn't much familiar, although I believe there was still an auto factory where my Dad had worked. I remember him saying that there was still a sniper in the factory when they first arrived.

I remember being amazed at the "two layer" effect of the houses in Mannheim. The first floor might have one date of construction and be in one style. The upper floors might have a post-1945 date and be in a different style. We bombed Mannheim to oblivion during the war.

I may also have seen traces of the changed situation as my father visited a quite different place than when he was there before. Last time he was here the Allies were in charge and had moral authority over the fallen land. Now it was a post-reunification miracle in the making, although it was about to have a serious economic bump before the miracle fully took off. It seemed to me that he needed to make a minor adjustment in his thinking to think of Germany as a free country that could actually be good.

We went to Munich on that trip. We also went to Berne, Switzerland, where my Dad I believe had once gone on vacation from when he was in the Army. To get there from Munich, we traveled by train through Zurich and stopped there briefly. This was all done on Eurail pass. I remember our surprise to realize that the train from Munich to Zurich passed briefly through Austria, for which we did not have a pass. Dad had to pay for three tickets for that short stint across.

I regret that he never made it to Berlin. In my first Fulbright in Tübingen he and mom came over to visit us for a while. Angie's father was also with us. We went to Munich again that time and went up to see Nuremberg with a rental car with him and mom to see where the war trials had been. We went to Dachau where the concentration camp had been.

His directional anxiety was in crisis mode that visit.  As a son who prided himself in my father's ability to find his way around any part of a city or the United States, it was noteworthy that he was uncomfortable being dependent on someone else to find his way. In 1995 he still could get his bearings pretty good. When both Angie's parents and my parents went to England and Paris with us around 2001 it was different. He was very anxious when I was not around to speak at least a little French.

I regret that they weren't able to come visit us this last time in Germany. Dad would have gladly come, but Mom's back was very bad in the Fall. I had debated flying down to see him these last two months, especially when he had an incident three weeks ago. But he recovered fairly quickly and we were coming to see them this weekend. Thankfully, I was able to talk to him on the phone almost every day these last three weeks. He was his cheerful, optimistic self.


Tom said...

Very, very good, Kenny! I'm so sorry for your loss. Uncle Lee will be terribly missed.


Tom Schenck

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Tom. We'll probably be having a funeral in Indy on Monday, although we need to finalize the location this morning.

Rick Dykema said...

Thanks for sharing these memories - they are a blessing for all of us to read, and I think an honoring tribute to your father. Praying for you and your family...

Rob Henderson said...

I'm sorry for your loss. You and your family are in our prayers.