Copyright © 1999 David C. Hay
On February 26, 1999 Charles C. Hay died in Loveland, Colorado. He was 90 years old and the father of David Hay. Here are David's words from his funeral.
Man of the Twentieth Century
The day Dad was born, in 1908, the Wright brothers presented their airplane in Paris, proving to the French that not only had they done everything that had been reported, but their understanding of aerodynamics was clearly superior to anything in Europe.
Last year, in 1998, the first pieces of a space station were placed in orbit around the earth.
What a lifetime!
It is amazing to think about the history he saw. When he was born, the Model T was introduced. His parents were among the first to drive automobiles – on roads that were, let us say, not exactly up to interstate standards. Who could have predicted then that the automobile would become so imbedded in modern life?
Just three years before, Einstein's theory of relativity had just been published. Picasso had just introduced modern art.
Dad was born into the very beginnings of the modern world.
And the wireless radio was only a few years old. Dad grew up as radio grew up, and he participated as it went from a toy to the fabric of our lives.
He once said to me that back in 1949 was the last opportunity he or anyone had to know everything there was about electronics. It's been pretty well hopeless since then.
His life has been a struggle
Dad's life has always been a struggle. He worked harder at life than anyone I've ever known. This is ironic, since my life has been blessed with more good fortune than any four people deserve. I have often wondered why that should be so. Who knows? Perhaps he deposited the happiness he should have had in the bank, so I could draw it out.
The problem was that he was mostly struggling with himself. He was intelligent, but nothing was easy for him. He was both affable and charming – and impossible to get along with. I once saw a poster in the sixties that quoted "Yeay, though I go through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil – for I am the meanest … in the valley. It reminded me of dear old Dad.
It wasn't easy being his son when I was little.
To his credit when I was born he moved to three acres outside Grand Junction, where I had lots of space to play and build things. I was free to do pretty much whatever I wanted there, and my psyche has definitely benefited.
But he could be very stern and very unpleasant to a kid . . . and he and Mom were always fighting. So much so that when Mom told me that the divorce was over, I was actually relieved.
I was angry for what he did to Mom, though, and his being gone clearly left a void. This was further complicated by the fact that I was becoming a teenager, and his rigid conservatism found that a little tough to deal with.
Things got worse when I went off to college in Southern California. This was the late 60's, and the world he understood was under attack. I was of course infected with liberalism and tended to frequent peace demonstrations and rock concerts. I'm afraid that Dad and I didn't have much to say to each other during that period.
Things got worse still when I graduated and moved to New York City. This wasn't exactly his definition of Hell, but you could sure see it from there.
But a year or so later, a strange thing happened. When I broke up with my first wife in New York, I hitched a ride with a friend who was driving west, and went back to Colorado to lick my wounds. Once I got there, though, I suddenly realized that I couldn't afford the plane ticket back to New York. After considering my – somewhat limited – options I decided to take the bus.
Now, I should explain that to have taken the bus from Western Colorado to New York City is something everyone should have in his collection of experiences. If it was only possible to add it to your collection of experiences without actually having to do it . . . Kansas, for example, is a very large state, when the bus you're on is required to stop in every, single, small town in the place.
Anyway, after what seemed like years on that bus, the itinerary took me through Copper Hill, Tennessee, along the Georgia-Tennessee border. This happened to be where Dad was working as an engineer for a copper mine. I got off the bus at about noon on one day with the intention of taking the next bus at noon the following day. This gave us twenty-four hours together, in a remote corner of the deep south, where there wasn't much to do but look at each other.
He was staying in a rooming house in the town of Blue Ridge, deep in the Georgia forest. The big social event each evening there was when the 9:22 freight train came through.
Well, we talked awkwardly through the evening, until he made one of his particularly asinine remarks. Now my patience was worn pretty thin by this point, what with the break-up of my marriage and the eternal bus ride, so I confronted him, saying, "Dad, I'm twenty-four years old. Why is it that you're always still treating me like a child?"
"Well," he said, "its because you're always picking up these enthusiasms."
Suddenly a light went on in my brain.
"Enthusiasms!?" I said. "Let me see if I have this straight. You, who've never held a job longer than three years in your life? You are talking to me about enthusiasms?"
For the first time in my life, I got to see my father look sheepish.
"Well," he said, "a father can always hope that his son will do better than he did"
From that moment, he and I have been friends.
Indeed, I finally figured out that a lot of the obnoxious things that he had said to my sensitive adolescent soul were simply his clumsy attempts at humor. As long as I returned as good as I got, we got along fine.
I have to say something about Sarah. When Dad first left Mom to marry her, I was angry. I hated him and I hated her.
It has taken the years between for me to realize that she is the closest thing to a saint that I have ever known.
I don't know how to put this gently, but my Father was not always the easiest man to get along with.
But she put up with him! With amazing grace and patience. Not only that, she loved him and gave him strength and self-confidence that he never knew before. In recent years, he even – dare I say it – mellowed. He stopped being quite as opinionated. He even said nice things about my mother.
For this we have to thank Sarah from the bottom of our hearts.
Speaking of thanks, for all the irritation I have felt for Dad over the years, in fairness, I have to acknowledge what he has done for me.
As I mentioned, for my childhood he gave me the world's best playground. I was able to dig holes, build roads for my toy trucks, build a four-story treehouse, and try to build a helicopter. He never told me that what I wanted to do was a hare-brained idea.
He always let me figure that out for myself.
I never learned to be afraid of anything, and I never learned to not try things that looked interesting. These lessons have served me well all my life.
By the time I was in High School, I didn't see much of him. He lived in Denver while I was in Grand Junction. He really wasn't much of a part of my life. My Senior year I got a major part in our school play, "The Mouse That Roared". Imagine my surprise at the end of the first performance when, who should I see coming back stage, but Dad! He had driven all the way across the mountains – in the winter – to see the play, and then went all the way back when it was over.
When I was in college, I got a check for $50.00 every month of the four years. That was a lot of money back then, and I now understand what a financial hardship it must have been. But he never missed a payment.
And he was a story teller. The truth of his stories was often suspect, but that seemed never to be an issue. What was important to him was that they were good stories. He loved to tell them. I fear that I may have inherited that particular trait.
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Copyright © 1994-2001, David C. Hay
Last modified July 12, 2000