Tuesday, June 16, 2020

My Father Is...My Father Was


Dear Readers,
You have not heard from me for a while and I wanted to let you know that I am fine. Or will be in a little while.
Shortly after his 88th birthday, my father suffered a massive stroke. His wife and I have spent the past few days in a hospice by his side in Florida. He passed away peacefully on Sunday.
If you don't mind, I would like to tell you a bit about the man he is...the man he was.

My father was born in Mannheim, 1932 in Germany. He grew up through the horrors and destruction of World War II,  through the lean years that followed. It marked him deeply, made him abhor all military conflict and made him a firm believer in the European Union.
He was proud to have been of the generation that had maintained peace in Europe and tore down borders. Lasting peace, he said, could only be maintained without borders separating people.

Learning and reading were always his escape from the bleakness that was Germany in the 1940s. In the 1950's, he completed his engineering diploma and started working, first at Büssing, and then at Mercedes.

During that time, he was introduced to my mother by a common friend. He asked her hand in marriage two weeks later. He was a man who knew what he wanted.
At the beginning of their life together, they had nothing but his Vespa, a tiny rental apartment and a few pieces of furniture.

Their life became easier in the 1960s, when my father accepted a job at Michelin, the French tire company. In those days, employees were still valued for their loyalty and contribution and at Michelin, there was a real culture of camaraderie amongst the engineers. He embraced the opportunities offered by the company, and remained with Michelin for more than thirty years.

We were living in Karlsruhe in those years, during which he traveled all over Germany. There were also many trips to Clermont-Ferrand, France, where Michelin was based.
In 1970, he was offered a job in Clermont-Ferrand and, without hesitation, moved us there.
Those were probably some of the most interesting years for him. He traveled all over the world, from Australia, to Africa, to the Middle East and North America.
His most remote voyage brought him to the Khyber Pass, at the boarder of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It was his job to solve problems when huge tires on earth-moving equipment blew out during major infrastructure projects or mining sites.
He never failed to send a postcard with exotic looking stamps back to his family in France.
I still have many of them.

It was during that time that he and my mother bought an old 1866 stone farm house that he renovated little by little whenever he was back with us. That old house is still in the family, and we return to it every summer.

In 1975, Michelin offered to transfer him to their offices in the United States. It was a dream come true for him. Already as a child, he had admired the G.Is who were stationed in his home town. They had given him his first taste of chocolate, cigarettes for his grandfather, and always had an easy smile on their faces.
As a kid with only one old pair of tattered shoes, he once got a hold of a 1940's U.S. Sears Catalog, Here were pages and pages of new shoes to chose from. He was astounded by the choice.
The United States meant endless opportunities to him and he accepted the offer to move us there without having discussed it with my mom.
When he asked her if she would agree to move here, she took one critical look at him and asked:
"You already said 'yes', didn't you?" And, of course, he had.
So started a new chapter in his life, first on Long Island, New York, and then later in Greenville South Carolina.

When my mother passed away in 2003, he was lucky to find love again and spent his last fifteen years with his wife Ursula, traveling, entertaining...and laughing. It was wonderful to see how much fun they had and how they both appreciated each other's company.

My father was interested in many subjects. He continued learning throughout his life. When he did not know something, he asked or researched the subject. He spoke three languages. He was generous and he was the life of many parties. He was not perfect, but the older I became myself, the more I realized that i could learn many things from him.

He loved me and my sister, but was a more patient grandfather to his four grandchildren, which he adored. He considered it one of the greatest gifts to be part of their lives and to nurture the next generation.
In the last three years of his life, he had the great joy of meeting three great-grandchildren and learned that another little one was on the way. He appreciated how special that was.

This past Christmas, he insisted that we should all spend the holidays together. I am happy he did. Perhaps he had a premonition, perhaps he was just realistic at his age. It was the last time we were under one roof as a family.  The memories and the videos taken will have to last us forever.

I learned from my father
-that family is the most important thing in one's life.
-that friendships need to be cultivated, never taken for granted.
-that life needs to be lived to the fullest, to the end.
-that one should say 'yes' to new experiences at any age
-and most importantly, that one should always give from a warm hand.

I will miss him so very much.


Georgia said...

My condolences, Katia. Thank you for sharing his life and experiences with us. Very sorry to hear of your loss.

Frederic said...

Beautiful story, Katia. What an amazing life your father had!
This is the life of our parents' generation and we should always thank them for creating the EU and all these years of peace in this part of the world. Hope our kids and grandchildren will always maintain and remember it.

Martine Bisagni said...

Love to you and your family, Katia. Thank you for sharing his life. Apples don't fall far from the trees, do they? My thanks to him for the values he gave to you. LOVE...

nancy said...

In this surreal of times life becomes so precious and precarious. Losing a parent, and l ,a sister, makes us wish for times past when everyone had a place- a role in the family. We are now in a new role, as mourner, and historian of our family. the torch goes forward and soon we will welcome a new baby to the Kelly family. We will rejoice, but turn our heads over our shoulder and smile and whisper, 'You did good.' to our fathers and our sisters. And we will soon toast 'L'Chaim- To Life'

Dawn said...

My sincere condolences to you and your family Thank you for sharing your memories with us and giving us a glimpse into the amazing life he lived May be rest in peace

Jo said...

Wonderful picture you painted of your Dad. So sorry for your loss

arielred said...

my deepest sympathies Katia. to you and your family. may all your memories sustain you until time eases the pain of your loss. 💙

Timothy Reed said...

My condolences. Thanks for sharing his life with us.

Kassie said...

So sorry Katia. Thanks for sharing his story. Such an adventurous international life!

Anonymous said...

My deepest sympathies for your loss.

May your family and the happy memories of a life well lived provide comfort in this diffiuclt time

May he rest in peace.

Stephen (from Union St.)

Jim P said...

Please accept our sympathies, Katia. Thank you for sharing your reflections on his rich life experience. He was a fortunate man, and it's wonderful that you were so close.

Margaret said...

A beautiful tribute to your Father, Katia. Beautiful pictures of him, and of the two of you. You can see the bond, and the likeness. And thank you for sharing the lessons you learned from your Father, lessons for us all. Heartfelt sympathies for you and for your family. Love and a big hug dear friend.

Laura said...

I'm so very sorry, Katia. It sounds like your father lived a very full and fulfilling life. My dad is gone 26 years today and I learned some of the same things from him that you learned from your dad. May all your memories of your dad and the things he taught you carry you through your sadness.

Laura Eng

Tim G said...

Sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

What wonderful lessons to take forward from him.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to a very special person. Thank you for sharing and for everything you share with us on this blog. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. A beautiful tribute that must have been heartbreaking to write but also a great celebration of a life well lived. My condolences to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss Katia. Your dad seemed like a great person. Xoxo

Mike Vacheresse said...

I’m so sorry for your families loss.

Unknown said...

I'm so sad for you. I'm glad you got to spend a good amount of time with your father and you came to appreciate all the things he brought to the table. My condolences.

Alec S. said...

My condolences. Beautifully written.

Geoff said...

My condolences. Thank you very much for writing this about him.

MrsSam said...

I’m just reading this post, and on all days, Father’s Day.

Condolences on the loss of your father! Thanks so much for such a beautiful tribute! As with your travels reported in your blog, it’s as if we knew him personally. His essence, as you describe, come through the photographs. I know it’s a great loss to you, but remember the good times! You were a wonderful daughter, you got to enjoy him and he lives on in your soul!

Jim said...

Nice homage. Very sorry to hear about your dad.

Angus said...

Oh, Katia, I am just reading this. I am so sorry to hear of his passing. You wrote a beautiful tribute to him, thank you for sharing it. My heartfelt sympathies to you and your family.

Katia said...

Thank you so so much to everyone for your wishes. I feel truly lucky to have so many friends and neighbors.

Triada Samaras said...

Katia, what a beautiful tribute to your father. The values he left you with can be felt by all of us who are lucky enough to be in your circle of love, light and extraordinary community vision! I thank him for this. May he RIP. Many hugs, the COVID-19 elbow version I guess.

Katia said...

Thank YOU, my friend! So glad you are in my life.

Cynthia said...

Hi Katia - I'm a long time reader of your blog and took the evening to catch up on all that I missed and just came across this. Just wanted to say Im so sorry for your loss. <3

Katia said...

Thank you so much, Cynthia. This means a lot to me.
Yes, it has been a very difficult year, but I know I am not the only one to feel a bit overwhelmed in 2020.