Pat Artz – “Dad Died”

Dad Died Last Night

I had gone to bed angry and woke up angry. I don’t remember what about, but I remember holding a grudge. Nobody was going to talk me out of it. I’d show them. I’d be mad all day.

Everyone was at the breakfast table, all seven kids plus Mom. This was unusual. Mom tried to gather us in the evening for supper together, but breakfast normally was survival of the fittest (and the biggest). My older brother sometimes used a mixing bowl for his cereal bowl. It was important to stake your claim to the sweet cereal and the cold milk. Latecomers might end up with shredded wheat and a pitcher of non-fat milk from powder and water that hadn’t chilled enough.

No one was bickering. I sat down and Mom said, “Your Dad died last night.” I didn’t see that one coming. He was supposed to be getting better at the VA hospital. He had sent me a postcard recently. I helped him learn to say simple sentences again after another stroke had reduced him to hello and goodbye and swear words. He was going to coach the American Legion baseball again. I would be the batboy. He had promised. I had a lot of questions, but it didn’t seem a good time to ask. We ate cereal with a sort of mechanical repetition and then just sat there and cried a little. I forgot to be mad.

“You don’t have to go to school today,” Mom said.

“Oh, it’s okay,” I told her. Truthfully, I wanted to go to school. My Dad had just died and everyone would think of me as special. Of the 29 baby-boomer kids in that overcrowded classroom, I’d be recognized as special.
“No, you stay home today. Your cousins will be here soon.”

I remember playing catch with my older cousin in the back yard while the adults gathered in the house. He brought Juicy Fruit gum like he always did and let me keep the whole pack. I figured he was rich or something. We didn’t sing the Minnesota Twins fight song, though. We just played catch and let the adults clean the house and talk with my Mom and figure out if we had enough nice clothes for everyone for the funeral.

“I heard your Dad died,” a neighbor kid shouted from the alley.

“Yeah,” I said.


Pat Artz – “Dad Died” — 8 Comments

  1. A well written piece. I still remember my Mom telling me that your Dad had died and how emotional she was about it. It is my first memory of knowing someone who had someone close to them die. I remember telling Anne that I was sorry her Dad had died, I was so young I don’t think I really understood what that meant.

  2. Beautifully done. There is so much one could comment on, but what really struck me was the willingness to go to school because you knew you’d be special. How really heart-breaking that is, for I think you capture so poignantly how desperate we often are to be different, special somehow, even if that uniqueness comes from pain endured.

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