Friday, July 12, 2013

Remembering Dad

Ronald G. Hite 
February 29th, 1932 - May 17th, 2013

Dad was born February 29th 1932 in Rochester, New York.  This date tells us a lot about the person he was.  As a leap year baby his birth made the local papers, a showman from the start! But being born in the middle of the great depression would not be easy on him.  His father “Ross” left Dad and his brother’s Bob and Jim and his mother Agnes when Dad was very young.  Dad spent much of his youth in chaos. His mother Agnes struggled to hold down a job. He spent time in foster homes and even ran away with his older brothers for an entire summer when he was around eight years old. 

Dad proudly retold the story of living off the land that summer, camping on the banks of the Genesee River, smoking cigarettes and foraging for food. The boys would get so hungry that they resorted to stealing vegetables right out of the back of farm trucks. They’d stand on a bridge near Avon, NY with a grappling hook dangling on a rope and when the veggie truck drove under the bridge they’d fish for sustenance.  One time while pulling up string beans Dad got the grappling hook caught on the back of the truck and pulled the tailgate right off and all the sting beans came pouring out.  You could say he had an early start spilling the beans.

I tell you this story to give you an idea of where Dad came from. Ultimately he found a home living with his grandmother – Lizzy Duffy and his grandfather Frank Moran in Avon where he worked as an adolescent at the Avon Inn. He spoke so fondly of his grandmother Lizzy attributing his love of home cooking and fresh vegetables to her.

When I think of the archetypical Dad I think of hunting, fishing, and power tools you know, the macho stuff. But Dad did not enjoy any of these things. Dad valued good conversation and learning new things. I spent many years of my life being upset with him for not filling the traditional father roles I thought he should have been playing with me. But now, when I think of Dad’s life, what he went through to put himself through college and law school all without a father I can’t help feel more and more proud of him.  Despite all the obstacles he faced Dad was able to develop a unique personality and sustain an unbridled optimism.

Dad had such a passion for being alive. A child-like sense of curiosity and positive attitude filled him with fervor for sharing new information. If Dad read a stimulating article he would have copies made at his office here on Cherry Street in Jamestown and pass them out to people. People he loved and people he just randomly encountered. A Democrat to his core Dad believed whole-heartedly in the earnestness of the common person. I always admired and will for the rest of my life strive to accomplish his skill at communicating with total strangers. He struck up conversations at bus stops in the airport or at the bakery with anyone who would smile back at him.  Though we have photos there is nothing that will replace Dad’s smile.  A genuine smile with rosy cheeks you always knew he was about to say something clever.  

Dad was larger than life. He stirred the pot and rocked the boat all while making you think.  More than just a pun-master he was a great weaver of stories.   On Tuesday nights when I was a boy Dad would come home from choir practice here at Saint Pete’s (as he so affectionately called this place back then) and walk up the stairs to my room where I would pretend to be asleep. He’d walk in and sit on my bed and begin to tell me about the day’s excitement. Eventually I would beg him for a story. Maybe an old standard like his rendition of Robin Hood or the old Irish folk-tale - Billy Beg and the Bull. But often I’d request a completely new story improvised on the spot. I would even give him a breakdown of what I wanted “one part scary, two parts science, one part camouflage and two parts adventure… please.” Dad would sway for a few minutes sitting on the bed with his eyes closed; his bottom lip pulled up high then he’d begin to unfold the most marvelous tales you could imagine.  There were kingly feasts served on red silk table clothes pulled right out of a bull’s ear, a mad scientist who saved the world with his magic camouflage camel, and a little boy who ran away into the woods only to return home heroic but sleepy.  I romanticized these stories the most; running away into the wild, living on what nature supplied, making a bed out of heaps of dry pine needles. It was not until much later that I realized the personal origins of these stories for Dad.

As I get older I become more and more grateful for the gifts he gave me while he lived.  First and foremost he gave me an education.  But more important than the means to attain an education he also instilled in me a deep-seeded appreciation for education in general and a drive to continue learning as long as I live.  Many nights when I would visit home in my twenties I would walk up those same stairs to his room sit down on his bed with him. I’d scratch his back and we would start talking about politics, or world history, or Cornplanter, Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull.  If we got to a point in the conversation where neither of us knew much about the topic at hand I’d go get the appropriate Encyclopedia volume and we’d read together about the Etruscans or the Danube River, or the Andromeda Galaxy. 

I was lucky to have thirty years with Dad and to have such a close relationship with him. When I look at my voicemail history I see that the vast majority of the messages were from Dad. He loved to chat and stay in touch. This will be the biggest change for me, loosing not just a supportive and loving father but also a great friend.

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