My father, Paul Anders Anderson, died 48 years ago today. He was born in 1904, and he was 64 years old when he died. He was three months shy of mandatory retirement. He had no plans of what to do with his life once he stopped working.
Dad had worked swing shift in a fastener factory — days one week and nights the next — for more than forty years,. During WWII and the boom decade that followed, he worked ten hours a day, six days a week. I was raised more by my paternal grandparents who resided in the same house with us than I was by my birth parents. It seemed like Dad was always working and mom was always doing something at church. It wasn’t until after my grandparents died when I was twelve that I got to really know my mother and father.
What I cherish most about my parents is they read books and magazines and newspapers, and they encouraged me to read by reading to me when I was little and buying books for me to read to them as I grew. My father dropped out of school in the fourth grade. Although he was born and raised in Illinois and Wisconsin, English was not his native language. His parents, my grandparents, read and spoke only Swedish. Swedish was what was taught in the Rockford school Dad attended (Dad dropped out of school when English became mandatory). Dad learned English by reading books and newspapers on his own.
My mother, on the other hand, was of English and Irish extraction and graduated from both Rockford Central High School and Rockford Business College. She typed more than 120 WPM and knew Gregg shorthand. She was literate and, besides reading many of the classics, read Hemingway and Fitzgerald and popular writers like Maugham, O’Hara, Edna Ferber, Taylor Caldwell, and Graham Greene.
Mom and Grandma Anderson took turns reading me to sleep every night until I was four. Grandma read fairy tales in Swedish and Mom read Beatrix Potter in English.
I learned to read by following their fingers touching each of the words, silently pronouncing those words to myself after hearing the words spoken. My father bought me comic books every week when he went to the newsstand to purchase the Sunday Chicago newspapers. We had home delivery of the local daily newspapers, but Dad bought the Chicago Sunday’s early editions—Daily News, Sun-Times, Tribune, Harold-American—plus the Milwaukee Sentinel at the corner newsstand on Saturday afternoon on his way home from work.
Dad would read me the Sunday funnies and then read the newspapers himself while I read my comic books. When I came across a word I didn’t understand or couldn’t pronounce, I’d ask Dad. He’d get out the big Webster’s Unabridged and we’d look up the words together.
My father and I learned to read in English at the same time.
My mom taught me to write and how to type. And, every other Wednesday, Mom and Dad would take me to the local public library branch and we’d find books we could bring home to read.
It wasn’t until after my grandparents and then my mother died, that my father and I talked. We spent time reading together but we seldom talked to each other. The summer after my mother died, Dad asked me to accompany him on a journey across America—just the two of us in Dad’s 1959 Pontiac—on a 3-week road trip to the west coast. Along the way, we visited Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Seattle, and everything in between. I was nineteen, and Dad and I could talk man-to-man for the first time ever.
Dad came to visit me at Fort Knox when I graduated from Basic Army Combat Training.
Three years later, two months after my daughter Tammy was born, My father died of a heart attack while shoveling the sidewalk on December 28, 1968.
That was 48 years ago now. I don’t know if I will be alive on the fiftieth anniversary of Dad’s death. I thought I should share these memories while I still can.
I miss you, Dad.