My dad was an epic story teller. So, on the 5th anniversary of his death today, I’d like to tell you a story about him.
It was in southern California. I was, maybe, 10 years old and a terrible softball player. The kind that was stuck out in outfield as the rover, where no balls went (hopefully), left to entertain myself by pulling the flowers around my feet – while, of course, when hits ACTUALLY came my way.
So my dad had it in his head to train me all summer long, to make me a better player. One of those days, as we headed out to the softball field to practice, we passed by an old, worn-out truck (think, bad paint job, dented fenders all around, and even more dents on the body) on the shoulder of a very busy road, with two guys, dressed in shabby clothes, checking out the trunk. Smoke was billowing out from the open hood – it didn’t look good.
‘Dad, let’s pull over to help them’
‘Nah, honey, we need to get to the field. There’s a ton of other cars on the road, someone will pull over to help them’
As we drove back down on the same road, two hours later, the same truck was there, sitting on the shoulder, smoke long gone, with two dejected looking guys looking out on the road as they sat on the truck’s back fender.
My dad slams his hand on the steering wheel: ‘oh seriously, no one pulled over to help then? For crying out loud …’, as he turns the steering wheel to make a u-turn (a feat given we were in California traffic), pulls up behind them, gets out of the car and walks up to them.
I watch from the car. I see him gesturing with the two guys (they didn’t speak English). He checks underneath the hood and pokes around in there, again gesturing with them. Then he walks back to our car, shaking his head, gets in and pulls over to a gas station a few miles to use their phone. (yes, I lived in a time before there was cell phones) There, he called a tow truck and paid to have their truck towed to a garage and fixed.
He later tells me, ‘It was the right thing to do. They’re people, like us. I can’t believe no one stopped to help them.’
My dad and my grandparents were war refugees. My dad was also a die-hard Republican. But first and foremost, he believed in kindness and honesty, in respect for others, regardless of their status in society, their wealth (or lack thereof), their educational status – to him, everyone had something valuable to contribute. Everyone. He also believed in being fair, in open communication – he made sure when people spoke to me, as his deaf daughter, that I understood. That I mattered.
So my dad helped two illegal immigrants that sunny day in California, when no one else would, because it was the right thing to do. And as I observed from the sidelines as a child and later as a teenager, he continued to do the same, for others, for his family, for me. That in of itself is a powerful lesson to pass down onto your children.
In some (very few) ways, I’m glad my dad isn’t around to see what was happening to this – his beloved – country. He would have been pissed – ‘oh for crying out LOUD!’ Regardless, five years later, he’s very much missed and loved. And I try to continue his legacy – I don’t always succeed or follow through, but I like to think I try. I hope that he’s nodding his head in approval, ‘that’s my girl, Jenna’ with a ghostly pound on my back, or forgives me when I fall short, wherever he is now.
Es mīlu tevi, Dad. Man tevis pietrūkst, always, and forever.
p.s. because of that summer, I made it to the All-Stars team the following fall. The flowers survived that season.