Today marks three years since my father’s last birthday, his 80th.
Where Memories Meet is two stories in one book. It is my memoir of losing my father to Alzheimer’s, and Dad’s account of the defining moments of his life. My story begins at the end of Dad’s life and proceeds backwards in time. Dad’s narration begins with his birth and moves forward in time. Eventually the timelines, or the memories meet.
These two excerpts concern Dad’s birthday. The first is his account in Part 1: “The End (2013) & The Beginning (1933).” The second is from Part 2: “The Last Year (January 2013 to January 2012) & The Early Years (1933 to 1950)”
January 18, 1933
I came in on the 18th day of January 1933, at 715 Manier Avenue, Piqua, Ohio. My Aunt Agnes said that my dad’s mother, my Grandmother Smith, insisted on naming me Jeremiah after my Grandfather Smith. Agnes claimed my Grandmother Wirrig was angry about that. And I might have been named after Jeremiah, but the name on my birth certificate is Jerry Allen Smith. Not Jeremiah.
When my dad was young his father, my Grandfather Smith, was mean to him. My dad was always in trouble and not very controllable. He was in a mental hospital around the age of 17. My mother never knew about that until much later.
My Aunt Agnes said my mother and my father met at a funeral. The first I know about my parents was when they were on top of the Hazell Maria apartments on North Wayne. They had dancing up there. My dad always was a dandy. He liked to dress up. He was a pretty good-looking guy when he was young, and he was quite a good dancer. My mother liked to go to dances on the rooftop. I don’t know if they had a live band, or radio, or what provided the music up there. I didn’t come along until a little bit after that.
My mother was living with her folks on Manier Avenue. They were a devout German Catholic family. And my dad was living with his folks, a devout Irish Catholic family, on Cottage Avenue. In those days the Irish and the German Catholics did not see eye-to-eye. So there was a bit of family discord from the beginning.
My dad wasn’t going to marry my mom, but her father, my Granddad Wirrig, went over and made him, I was told. My granddad, he wasn’t happy about it at all. There was a big fight over there. I caused a lot of trouble. Lots of trouble.
I’m the product of all of that.
My parents got married in September of 1932, and I was born five months later in January. I have no idea if a midwife helped my mother. I was present, but I don’t have a recollection. Uncle Paul said it got a little exciting around the house.
When I was at the age where the likelihood of that happening to me was a real possibility, my Grandmother Smith told me that I shouldn’t be messing with girls. She told me that’s where a guy could get in a lot of trouble—messing with a female.
I didn’t know anything about it when I was just a kid. I had one guy on my paper route call me Shotgun Smith because he knew that my dad had to get married, and he knew whose fault that was. I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about when they called me that. I don’t remember how I found out about that. Things happen. You don’t get a time stamped or nothing, you know.
January 18, 2013 – Happy Birthday
Mom was buried the day after her funeral Mass, on the morning of Dad’s 80th birthday. We didn’t take Dad with us to the cemetery. It was too long of a drive back to Piqua, and it was too cold. But we plan to celebrate his birthday this afternoon.
Dad likely wouldn’t have known it was his birthday today, except for the birthday bulletin board in the hall and reminders from the Walnut Creek staff. Dates have been a problem for Dad since the very beginning of this. Even though we are emotionally exhausted, we decide to celebrate his birthday in the afternoon when we return from the cemetery.
It all works out for the best. Dad’s adult grandchildren are still in town from the funeral, so we have a pretty good group to celebrate his birthday. We bring a bowl of vanilla pudding for the birthday candles, instead of cake.
Dad’s sister, my Aunt Marilyn, is with him in his room when we arrive. Dad is reclining in his bed. Aunt Marilyn is excited. “Your dad can read, Happy Birthday,” she says. “He’s said it two or three times.” She holds a small balloon with the words printed on it. “What does this say, Jerry?” she asks.
After a brief pause, haltingly, his voice barely above a whisper, and his words shaky and creaky, my father says, “Happy birthday.” It is the last time I will ever hear his voice.