(Shenandoah) -- For the second time in less than a decade, I was recently called upon to eulogize a parent.
It doesn't get any easier.
But, I appreciated the opportunity to speak on behalf of the family, as we remembered our father--a man who shaped us, and left an imprint on us for years to come.
This is a follow-up to last week's blog, in which I discussed some personal issues I've faced over the past few months--including a medical challenge involving my youngest daughter, and the passing of my dad at the age of 88. For a second straight week, I beg your indulgence, as I delve into something about my personal life. But, I thought I would refrain from my writing in-depth about my dad until this weekend.
As I went about preparing for my eulogy given at his funeral a week ago Friday, I took the approach about what someone who never met Dad should know about him. Given the fact that tomorrow--Monday--is Veteran's Day, it seemed appropriate to begin by writing about his service to his country.
Dad was extremely proud of his time in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He never talked about his time in the Marines too much in my early years. But, as time went by, he began to open up about those years spent at Marine bases in California in the early 1950's. He especially loved telling stories about watching Los Angeles Rams and USC-UCLA football contests at the L.A. Coliseum--a stadium with deep family history.
True, Dad stayed stateside during his time in the service--something he expressed guilt about at times. But, he never forgot about lessons learned as a Marine. There is a saying amongst those in the Marine Corps: Semper Fidelis--a Latin term meaning "always faithful," or "always loyal." Dad lived the Marine motto his entire life.
It's no wonder he was a Marine, considering the fact he was a survivor. Born in 1931 meant that he grew up in the Depression Era. At age 10, the country entered World War II. Those two factors alone no doubt made for an uneasy childhood. He lost both of his wives--his first wife Jean passed away in 1958. His second wife--my mother--died in 2010. Health issues were common--a knee injury that ended his college football career at Midland College. A torn Achilles tendon that ended his softball playing years. Not one, but TWO double bypass surgeries. Knee replacement and ankle fusion surgeries. Having his teeth removed, and being confined to a motorized chair the last four years of his life.
Then, there was the ordeal of working more than three decades in the cut at Hormels in Fremont--not an easy job. Some days during the winter, he would arrive at the plant in the early-morning darkness, then leave in darkness in the late afternoon hours--meaning he would never see the light of day. And, you thought you had a tough job!
What kept him going? One of the reasons why he persevered was his sense of humor. I like to think that's one of the major traits he passed on to me, and other family members. You could tell he had a sense of humor by his choices of television. He loved the great comedians. He was a huge fan of Jackie Gleason and "The Honeymooners." He loved Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Sid Caesar, Don Rickles, Johnny Carson, Benny Hill, Mr. Bean. He loved all the Mel Brooks movies. I think he and I even watched "Monty Python's Flying Circus." And, I can still hear his laugh from all the times he watched Bugs Bunny cartoons.
That sense of humor translated into some of his famous expressions--some of which were used when one of us kids got into some predicament. Doing some stupid would prompt the question, "Learn something?"
Getting injured would prompt this question from Dad:
"Does it hurt when you do that?"
"Then, don't do that!"
I remember one time when yours truly rammed the family car into the front of another car outside the Dairy Queen in Fremont. This was when I was 16--just before I about to obtain my driver's license. Mother--who was a passenger in the vehicle--was livid, and duly reprimanded me. With remorse and despair, I sat in the den, dreading Dad's return home from work.
Dad's first words as he entered the den after learning of my accident: "Hi, crash!"
There were other expressions. Virtually every member of the family heard about--but never met--his friend, One Shoe Louie. Anyone dressed heavily in winter garb would be dubbed Nanook of the North. And, not until I was older did I understand what a gownless evening strap was.
Then were his impressions of his old Marine Corps sergeant--"You guys are milling around like a bunch of sheep!"
Dad could translate foreign movies. You didn't need to read subtitles. To Dad, they all said the same thing:
"I have a red pencil box...YOU have a red pencil box...we ALL have a red pencil box!"
Another thing you should know about Dad: his love of sports. Dad was proud of exploits at Valley High School, where he played on the 1948 state basketball team. He reveled in his glory days pitching for the Hormel Company softball team. Besides the stories of his Marine days, Dad loved to reflect on his softball exploits at Ronin Field, lead the green-clad Hormels team to one victory after another.
This was verified by at least one person at his funeral. One of his friends wrote me a letter addressed to KMA following my eulogy, calling Dad "a kickass competitor," and recalling what a rock Dad was as the team's pitched. Father made an impression on people in many ways.
When his Achilles tendon injury ended his softball career, he turned to another of his great passions--golf. Valley View Golf Course near Fremont was his Pebble Beach. He enjoyed playing with family members--especially during one trip to Moab, Utah (that's all I'll write about that. I wasn't on that particular trip).
Then, there were all the times watching sports in his den--the famous Media Central. Equipped with three TVs, it was the ultimate man cave. Mission Control in Houston never had as many monitors. It was Buffalo Wild Wings--minus the chicken wings. Walking into the den in his later years, you would notice that one TV would have a baseball or football game on one TV, a NASCAR race on the second TV, and an ultimate fighting event on the third (and, suspected it was always the same two guys beating each other up!)
One time, Dad says he had football games on all three sets--and he swore the quarterback on one TV completed a pass to a wide receiver on the other.
Certain teams were his favorites. He was a lifelong New York Yankees' fan. From Dimaggio to Mantle to Reggie to Jeter to Judge, Dad stayed true to the Bronx Bombers--no matter how bad the pitching was!!
Then, there were the Huskers. Really, what would our lives have been like without the Big Red? Growing up in Fremont, many a fall Saturday afternoon was spent sitting with Dad in the den (pre-Media Central) listening to the legendary Lyell Bremser broadcast the Husker games on KFAB.
From those Saturdays spent sitting in the knothole section of Memorial Stadium in the 1940's and 50's, Dad was a devout follower of Nebraska football through the Devaney, Osborne and Solich eras. He tolerated the Callahan, Pelini and Riley eras. When the Huskers lost, he suffered through the team's slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune. When they won, though, there was no other fan happier.
Dad was overjoyed when Scott Frost was named coach in late 2017. Prior to his passing, he had expressed hope that he could hang on a little longer to see whether the Huskers would ever be successful in the Big 10 Conference. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. Regardless, that's why I'll always remain true to the Huskers--no matter how bad things get. Nebraska football forever is a link to my father--one I will treasure the rest of my life!
Another thing about Dad was, you never knew what he was going to do next. One minute he's playing softball, the next minute he's golfing. Then, he's singing with choir at Fremont's First Baptist Church. Then, he's singing with his sons and grandsons--and later GREAT grandsons-- in the Peterson Family Singers. Then he's Sunday School superintendent at the Baptist Church.
One time, Dad had to dress up in some costume for a Sunday school skit--and had to walk across a parking lot to get from one class to another. It was a costume with a white shawl--one not created for warmth during the winter (that's all you need to know). I remember him telling about it, then adding--"If you would've told me 20 years ago I'd be doing this, I'd tell you you're crazy!"
Besides being a Husker fan, another thing I think we all got from Dad--and Mom--too was the love of animals. Perhaps his fondest memories was with the first dog he and Mom had--our big black Labrador, Dutchess. Dad loved talking about the times he took old Dutch to the dairy bar for an ice cream cone (oh, the rest of us got one, too!). In his later years, Dad enjoyed taking his dogs to Fremont's dog park--and meeting other people, and their dogs. It was a pet lovers' Nirvana.
The house was full of other pets over the years. Other dogs followed Dutch--Snooksie, Buffy, Suzie, Elkie, Max and Cody. And, of course, there were three cats--including one infamous Siamese feline. So many stories have told about that cat over the years that's he's worthy of another blog, for another time.
Perhaps the most important thing you need to know about Dad is--he loved his family. He was immensely proud of all of us--his sons, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren. One look inside Media Central--with all the family pictures plastered all over his entertainment center--told you all you needed to know about Dad. Dad was there the night I received the Jack Shelley Award from the Iowa Broadcast News Association in 2011. An unforgettable night.
In addition to his family, he also had an extended family--people he befriended at church, his softball and golfing friends, friends that he made at Hormels and at the Fremont Mall--where he worked for nine years after retiring from Hormels. There was also the staff at the Village Inn in Fremont, where he enjoyed many a breakfast in his later years, and his caregivers--who became surrogate daughters.
So, who was Rudy Peterson? A survivor, a humorist, a patriot, an athlete, a singer, a sports fan, a pet lover, a loving husband, a father and a grandfather. He was all these things. And his passing leaves an incredible void that's impossible to fill. But one of my brothers put it best in a phone conversation right after Dad passed away--instead of being sad about his passing, we should remember all the good times, and the great things he did for us, and for the entire family.
We can also take comfort that there is a great reunion taking place. Somewhere up there, I firmly believe Dad is now seated at the table with my mother and all the other family members who passed before him.
Dad, we love you, we miss you, but someday we will see you again. Until then, tell mom to keep the spaghetti sauce boiling. Semper Fi and Go Big Red!!!