Saturday, February 27, 2010

Memories of Dad #5

Memories of Dad continued (See Memories in earlier blogs)

Dad was not as much of a fighter as Mom. He was resigned to a lot. Like living in the city. I asked him about that once and he said he loved New York because he had met Mom here and because we kids were here. When he was demoted (today it would be downsized) in his job after years of hard work, because of all the layoffs, he took it quietly but I know he was hurting inside. Life is not fair - Mom hated that and ranted and raved against injustice. Dad just sat and took it. Maybe it built up inside him, boiled, festered. Maybe that’s why his temper explosions were so scary.

Dad was conservative, too, in his politics. He was very patriotic. He loved America and he believed in everything this country did. He would have gladly fought in any war and died for his country. In fact he tried to enlist in WWII but was refused because of his age and his job at a defense plant. I wonder what would have happened had he lived through Vietnam. Would we have had terrible clashes about that war which I opposed? I wonder.

I appreciated that Dad could listen to me and share my problems and even confide in me about his own personal conflicts. Many times we walked and talked quietly. He listened and told me his problems too. He didn’t solve any but it was so good to be comforted and to know that he had problems too.

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Dad was the second child in a family of four boys and three girls. He grew up speaking Hungarian. When his older brother Joe started school at Sacred Heart Parochial School, Dad missed him so much that the nuns let him come to school, too, at age four. But he spoke no English and Uncle Joe had to translate for him. Dad remained bilingual all his life. Dad told me once that no one could trace the roots of the Hungarian language; it is not related to any of the Indo-European tongues. I was fascinated by the strange-sounding and mysterious-looking language that I heard him use with my grandparents and that I saw embroidered on the wall hangings in their home.

Young John or Janos (his parents called him “Yanch”) was an altar boy at the Hungarian church. He would go to two churches every Sunday, first to serve on the altar in the Hungarian liturgy, then to Mass in English.

Dad did not like high school at all and dropped out after two years. He would always be defensive about his deficient education; perhaps that was why he valued learning so much and like Mom, encouraged his children to get as much schooling as they could.

Aunt Elizabeth remembers walking home from the store when she was six or seven years old. She met Dad (he was 16 or 17 at the time) and he told her he was leaving, to say goodbye to Mom and Pop. He would up in Ohio and came home a few years later. Once again he encountered his sister Elizabeth , this time on the train. He was very ill with the flu. Later he went to New York because Aunt Anna and Aunt Helen, my grandmother’s sisters, visited Erie with stories of how it was easier to find work in New York City. Dad lived with Aunt Anna in NY. This was the time of the Great Depression and finally Dad took advantage of one of the programs of the New Deal; he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and traveled to Idaho and Wyoming to fight forest fires and plant trees. This experience shaped his life immensely and enkindled a great love of nature that he passed on to all of us.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Memories of Dad #4

Memories of Dad continued .....

My Dad was the quiet, observing person who loved nature and sunsets and clouds and trees. He would rise at 5 a.m. and drive hours to a lake or river and fish quietly all day. He liked a buddy with him, whether it was Uncle Bill or his cousin Gene or a friend from work or me or Kathy or one of the boys.

He was also the one who couldn’t watch a sentimental program on TV or hear a beautiful song on the “relaxing” station WPAT, without tears coming to his eyes. I’m like him in that way, the least thing gets me all choked up and teary eyed. Mom never cried at a movie; at least she never let me see her cry.

Dad was concerned with our education but not in the same way as Mom: he was proud when we brought home good marks but I think it was more of a vindication. Dad was a high school dropout, while his oldest brother was a college graduate. Dad never got over this and would always let me know if he thought I was getting boastful or conceited about my academic achievements. And when I was in college, he resented my “know-it-all” attitude and took it personally. He must have “hurt” from his relationship with his older brother. So our marks must have proved in some way that Johnny Lovas was not so dumb after all!

Dad was a powerful teacher in his own quiet way. He taught me a lot about faith and beauty and constancy. He was the ultimate responsible person. He was the cool head in a crisis. He never panicked, you felt so safe with Dad. He could fix anything - around the house, and more importantly, when Jeff had all his accidents and Mom was hysterical, Dad knew just what to do.

Dad never missed Sunday Mass but he would go himself to the early Mass. He didn’t like crowds and often shared that he thought worship should be a private affair. Every night, he sat on the edge of his bed, head bowed, and said his prayers silently before going to sleep. His favorite spot to think about God was out in God’s creation. Dad had a picture of a Mass being offered on the shores of Jackson Lake in the Teton Mountains when he was in the CCC’s. That was the perfect church for Dad.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Memories of Dad #3

Last Tuesday, February 16th was the 45th anniversary of my Dad’s death. I think I will continue my memories of him by starting with the basics.

My father, John James Lovas, Jr. (12/28/1909 to 2/16/1965)

Dad was tall, about six foot, well-built until middle age when he got a bit flabby around the middle. But he was so-o-o handsome, with his wavy dark hair (later silver at the temples), his piercing gray eyes that always seemed to be squinting, his long nose and perfect mouth. The pipe, perennially perched at the side of the mouth, was the final touch. It gave him a peaceful look and comforted me greatly. I thought he would never lose that terrifying temper while he had that pipe in his mouth.

Dad was the opposite of Mom in many ways. While her walk was hurried, her appearance a bit disheveled, her manner spontaneous, my father’s actions were slow, deliberate, carefully organized and planned, never in a rush.

His walk was slow, with long powerful, unhurried steps. The only time I remember him running was to pull Kathy and me from the lake when we almost drowned. I used to wait for him to come home from work - he’d walk, straight and powerful, up the block. I would run up to him, but he never altered his pace.

Mom was always in a rush, always last minute, often late. Dad was early to bed, early to rise, probably never late to anything in his life, absent from work only twice - for severe poison ivy and a burst appendix. He was on his way to work the day he died of a heart attack.

Dad went about his work on the job and at home in an organized, cool and deliberate manner. He planned a project at his workbench, which was always neat, clean and impeccably ordered. Everything in its place. Even the screws and nails in the baby food jars whose caps were nailed to the workbench so he could unscrew the right jar as he needed it. I think the only one of us kids to take after him is Kathy.

His appearance was always just right. Not a hair out of place. Well-groomed. He never left a piece of clothing on a chair - everything was hung up, in its place.

His speech was reminiscent of the Pennsylvania twang of Erie where he grew up. I didn’t realize this till later in life when I heard some people from Pennsylvania talk and realized how much their accent sounded like Dad’s. His voice was a deep bass, very masculine. He usually spoke slowly and calmly but that temper would cause a roar that could be heard “all the way down the block”.

That Hungarian temper was the tragedy of this gentle man because it could flare up so suddenly and unexpectedly. It made me fear him, which is sad because I loved him so and because he was really such a teddy bear at heart.

In fact, I often compared Dad to a bear. When he hugged me (till I thought I would smother) it was truly a “bear” hug. He was a big old lovable bear, ferocious at times, funny, lumbering, overwhelming, dangerous, but oh, so cute.