Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Darwin J. Smith

My blog page has evolved into a potpourri of who knows what, but I haven’t made a post in weeks, in large part because of a tragedy to Darwin Smith, my father-in-law. He took a walk from his independent living home and never returned. We searched frantically from Tuesday night (the day after Labor Day) to Sunday night before conceding that either a) he was a victim of foul play b) he had a medical catastrophe or c) he was safe and sound either unable or unwilling to contact us. It ended up being the medical issue—a heart attack—which is what we suspected all along. He was discovered in the middle of a woods three days after the official search had ended. He had passed away somewhere between the Tuesday evening that he had left and early the following Wednesday morning and was found eight days later.

Let me say that tragedies like this are a strain on a person’s faith in God. I’m sure He knows this obvious fact. I had a few unhappy heart-to-hearts with God during the week. And just when I was wondering why I and hundreds or thousands of other praying people were so unimportant to Him, He pulled off a miracle, answering our prayers. The body was found “coincidentally” in a place the County Drain Commission was clearing brush and trees for the first time in seven years. A worker actually got lost in the woods where he discovered the body. There was closure. It doesn’t change the grief of losing a father, brother, grandpa, friend, and for me, a father-in-law. He was a fantastic man—someone for whom I had great respect…someone for whom I have fantastic memories. Below are a few of them:

1.       I’ll never forget the nervous meeting I had with him when I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He told me if I take her, I couldn’t give her back. He asked me if I had any idea what I was getting into. I felt compelled to defend my love for her before he started laughing and told me he would be honored for her to marry me. He teased everyone, and somehow it made him more likable. He was always having fun.

2.       Darwin had a unique way of saying goodbye. I remember one time after my wife and her sister and brother had investigated some places for him to move into, he told me that he wanted a “house with a restaurant in the basement.” Well, when we moved him into his third floor apartment at Genesee Gardens, the dining facility was on the first floor where we ate dinner with him on Labor Day. His house had “a restaurant in the basement.” When we’d officially moved him in and said our goodbyes for the day, he did what he always did. He walked us to the door and stood there in plain view, waving as we drove away. That’s the last time I saw him—he disappeared the next afternoon—but it’s how I’ll remember him.

3.       He had a stroke on Good Friday. After his stay in the hospital, we chose to put him in the same convalescent home for temporary rehab that his wife lived. She has Alzheimer’s; he had a difficult time speaking sensibly. I was visiting him with my wife, and we took him to see my mother-in-law. She likes to walk, so he grabbed her hand and held it as the four of us walked around the facility. It was such a sweet thing to see, sad as it was at the same time. But Darwin loved Bonnie—he told people before he left his apartment that he was planning on visiting her—and their hand-holding is the picture I’ll always remember.

4.       Both of my kids played three sports in school, and Darwin loved to come watch them play. However, he never got there on time. I can’t even fathom how many times we had to save seats for him and my mother-in-law, watching the doorway for him so we could get his attention. He’d been out to eat, of course. He rarely ate a meal at home, so rarely in fact, that we took to checking the dates on everything in his refrigerator before we’d consider eating it. He’d inevitably call my wife at least three or four times, asking us about the schedule (which we’d always given him), letting us know he was coming, checking where we were, telling us he was parking—it was a constant routine that seemed old at the time, but seems endearing now.

5.       Holiday celebrations were a constant in the Smith family. We’d meet on Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween night after the kids trick-or-treated, and Christmas (which will be a memory all its own). We met at the cottage for Labor Day, Memorial Day, and watched fireworks from a pontoon boat in Silver Lake on the Fourth of July. Meals were always organized and we spent lots of time laughing and sharing around the table. I’ll never forget the time for Thanksgiving that he was responsible for the turkey, and he purchased turkey in a can. He never lived that one down. All the family traditions will be remembered fondly and will be continued in his honor.

6.       Darwin was a handy guy. I am not. He could build or fix anything. I break permanently anything I try to fix. My wife just resigned herself to my ineptness, and she would call her dad. He whistled while he worked. Actually, he whistled while he walked, drove a car, and cooked. He whistled while he moved would be a better description. It was nice to hear because if he wasn’t around fixing our broken things, I would have been destroying them. I once broke my porcelain toilet, trying to change the toilet seat. He installed the new toilet. Another time, I had finally resorted to a hacksaw to remove a doorknob before my wife and sister-in-law removed it in about six seconds. If a dollar value could be placed on my father-in-law’s home fix ups, it would be in the thousands. What am I going to do now…maybe if I took up whistling my success rate would improve?

7.       He played the organ for his church, but he played our piano nearly every time he visited our house. I bought Jennifer a piano one Christmas. He’s played it more than she does. Even just a couple of weeks after his stroke when his mind was on the mend, he could still play the piano perfectly. Over the last five months as he struggled to get back to his old self, he continued to smile, laugh, and play the piano perfectly—never the same song twice. Our dogs would curl up at the piano bench when he played, sometimes even licking his legs. I’ll always think of him when I hear piano music.

8.       The newbies of the family have taken to calling the Smith Christmases “Smithmas.” Well, Smithmas is the single biggest thing I’ll remember about my father-in-law. Christmas in my family lasted about twenty minutes, not counting cleanup. Oh, we played with our nice gifts and had a fantastic meal, but the presents part was a shedding of paper and thank you’s at the end. My first Christmas with the Smiths ended with me opening my last gift 17 hours after arriving at my wife’s grandparents’ house for breakfast and round one. Three meals, numerous snacks, three separate gift-opening sessions, and about fifty gifts later, I collapsed into bed after midnight. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I was stunned and exhausted. There have been minor changes in the celebration considering the passing of the grandparents, growth of our families, and the changes in our economic conditions, but the enormity of it all has never changed. What a generous, happy man Darwin Smith was, and his family was raised just like him.

Teasing, waving goodbye, loving his wife unconditionally, being with his family, family traditions, handiness and helpfulness, happy whistling, piano playing, and Christmas—those are things I’ll never forget about my father-in-law. He’s in Heaven now, teasing his brother, waving goodbye to friends he is making, keeping an eye on his wife, spending time with his mom and dad, watching us carry on his legacy, laughing at me break things, whistling a perfect tune, singing praises while playing the piano and organ, and fellowshipping with the One who is the reason for Christmas. He’ll be missed, but we’ll see him again.