As you know, my father was a journalist. In that role, he was a storyteller: he relayed information about lives and events that readers could use to make informed decisions about how to live their lives.
What occurs to me is that what we remember about my father were HIS stories — stories that serve as signposts illustrating a truly amazing, well-lived life.
There were anecdotes about growing up during the Great Depression — with which we would tease him about by saying, “we know, dad, they cut up your little red wagon for firewood when you were a boy” — that provided a background for the person he became.
And there were stories about growing up around Medford, stories he would bring to life for us when he’d show us around that area and point out how things had changed.
And of course, there were the stories from his time during World War II…stories that are all the more amazing to me for having been lived when he was just 20 years old. Pleasant stories such as:
- Christmastime in 1944, and being so close to a German patrol that he could hear them singing Christmas carols, or…
- Teasing a newly-arrived-at-the-front soldier by saying they used their bayonets regularly. After pausing for effect, Dad and his buddies showed the newbie how the bayonet was the best tool with which to open a can of food
And of course there were the not-so-pleasant stories such as describing the horrors of tree bursts in the Hurtgen Forest and the horrible weather conditions that winter and the horrors he’d seen.
But there were a lot of other stories — incredible stories, to my mind — that maybe some of you haven’t heard. I’d like to share a couple of them with you.
While a student at Dartmouth Dad met poet Robert Frost, who was in residency in Hanover at the time. Dad told Frost that he didn’t particularly care for poetry and when Frost asked why, Dad said it was because he didn’t like professors dictating what a poem meant. Frost asked for an example and Dad cited Frost’s poem “Birches.” Dad said he thought it a wonderful description of a joy he had enjoyed as a poor boy having fun in the woods, but the professor insisted it was about the poet’s latent desire to commit suicide. THAT got Frost’s hackles up and he gruffly told Dad, “Don’t tell me who that was or I’ll kill him.”
When we kids came along, Dad read us the poetry of Robert Frost.
Some of my favorite dad stories were ones he told about meeting Ernest Hemingway, his writerly idol, in Cuba in the 1950s. Dad was there on business and was introduced to Papa at the famous bar in Havana where Hemingway held court. Dad described a specific location where he’d fought in the war, an obscure spot that Hemingway also knew, and the two bonded. Dad ended up hanging out with Hemingway for the rest of his stay in Cuba.
Years later, Dad would pull a Hemingway volume off the shelf some evenings and read us passages from his work.
And then there was a story that prompted a nickname for my father used by several of the boys who played hockey for him:
While coaching the 78th Division hockey team in Germany after the war, Dad was told to show a visiting Russian man how the team trained and played. Dad said he had long discussions with the man, and diagrammed and demonstrated drills and plays the team. That Russian man turned out to be Anatoli Tarasov, the so-called “Father of Russian hockey” who created the Soviet Union’s dominant hockey culture of the second half of the 20th century. So my father at times would say that he could lay claim to being the founder of Russian hockey.
Some of my teammates and I took to calling Dad “The Founder.” It’s a name that stuck so well that one teammate Tim Caddo, who unfortunately couldn’t be here today, brought it up again in an email exchange this week.
There were many other stories Dad lived and told…to me, to my siblings, to you. I would ask that you remember those stories…and live and tell your own amazing stories.