October 29. My Dad’s birthday. Had he lived to today, he would be 100 years old.
Unfortunately for me, he did not live to see his 90th birthday. Dementia and its attendant barriers weakened his mind and body to the point that he just ran out of energy and the will to live. He took to his nursing home bed and did not rise again.
Dad and I used to make an interesting conversational connection between his natal day and the great Tuesday, October 29, 1929, a major day in the collapse of the American Stock Exchange. As today’s installment of The Writer’s Almanac recounts the day:
On this day in 1929, more than 16 million shares of stock were sold off in a panic in the stock market crash known as “Black Tuesday.” Thirty billion dollars disappeared, 1,300 banks closed within a year, and almost 30 percent of the workforce was unemployed. Within four years, 11,000 of the 25,000 banks in America had failed, and the Great Depression was in full swing.
Not a great birthday for anyone.
He was, on that very day, a senior in Charleston High School in the city of the same name, the capitol of West Virginia. I suspect that he and all his classmates were wondering a similar question. “What will become of us?” Very few, giving their ages and appropriately optimistic outlooks, could have foreseen the domestic sufferings of what was to become the Great Depression.
It was the custom in those days to write a few lines by the classmate’s picture and description of course of study with a few lines. Bob Norcross’ words were these:
“Industrious and frugal; one who has already made a start in the world.”
No question about the industrious frugality. He made stuff and saved some money. That early start in the world became an economic necessity as he was to drop out of his freshman year at the University of Cincinnati to help bring in a paycheck for the struggling family.
Many people have wondered about Bob, beginning with me who called him Dad and his grandchildren who called him Papper to of course his wife (my mother) of over 60 years who often could not figure out what was going through her man’s head.
In spite of his public appearances, Dad was painfully shy, a total introvert. Never mind that he wound up as a lobbyist for the coal industry in his home state of West Virginia, forcing him to meet hundreds of people and say the right thing to each one, and to press the flesh on behalf of an industry that would make any thinking person hesitate. But he was stuck in a job that demanded that kind of work, at least when the state legislature was in session. Imagine if you will the inner conflict of a man who must be a legislative lobbyist who would have given anything in those days to have been home with a good book or out walking a mountain trail.
There is so much of him in me, and I grow more aware of that closeness every day. Like him, I can put on an act when necessary, but doing so wears me out and I must seek solitude to recharge my strength.
I’m sure he was a puzzled by me, his only birth son, as I of him. At some level he wanted me to be a normal, red-blooded, athletic, strong, popular all-American boy. Until age 14 I was a weak runt, perhaps Momma”s boy, afraid of dirt and cold and water, more sick than well. Somewhere at about puberty I got enough of being held down by all that infirmity, and made up my mind to be healthy. Band music was my savior. I’m sure Dad breathed a sigh of relief and thanked his God and lucky stars (both) that I just might turn out ok.
I sure didn’t choose a profession that would have made him proud. I’ve often wondered whether his lack of chosen profession might have put him in a position to live his hoped-for life through me. We never had that conversation, and many others.
I trust that you rest in peace, Dad, and that if there is a life beyond this one, you find happiness and contentment and joy and full acceptance. Perhaps we shall meet again, and if so, oh boy it will be wonderful to see you.