NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.
You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY… MAY 29
On this date, Memorial Day weekend 1994, at age 81, my father, Emmert Jenneke, passed away. It was a sad time, of course, coupled with relief, and guilt at feeling relief. He had been in ill health and pain for many years and had expressed his wish that it would be all over. An elderly aunt had died suddenly several months earlier of a heart attack and Dad said, “How can anybody get so lucky?” I think my mother’s emotions were the same as mine, sadness and relief.
The arrangements were made, a wake at the Lester Prairie funeral home, church service at St. Paul’s Lutheran church, and internment at Fort Snelling National Cemetery per Dad’s wishes. He had served in the army during World War Two. Dad and I had our differences, like many fathers and sons. Ours were political and lifestyle. I embraced a counter-culture attitude and veered far to the left. We had our battles, but eventually settled on a tenuous peace. In his latter years his face would brighten with happiness when I showed up to take him fishing. That’s what we did in the summertime, fish and listen to the Minnesota Twins on a portable radio. Two safe topics, fishing and baseball, that put us in sync with each other. He had taken me fishing a lot when I was a kid, so it was there our worlds most easily came together. It’s my favorite memory of my father, of him and I sitting quietly together on a lake.
Dad had a good sense of humor and whether fishing was good or bad, it gave him a chance to use it. Once we were having a good day catching fish. I said we’d have to remember this spot as I tried to triangulate our position with landmarks on shore. Remarking that would be easy, he said, “We’re about a hundred feet north of where those ducks are swimming.” Another time, after fishing, he suggested we go get a beer. We were sitting in a beer joint when what was obviously another father and son came in. Both father and son were respectively ten years older than Dad and I. The older man, well into his eighties, was a bit unsteady. He had trouble getting up onto the barstool and his son had to assist him. Dad leaned toward me and whispered, “When I get that bad, for god’s sakes don’t bring me to a saloon.”
For me the wake was just part of the ritual I had to get through. I had been to more than a few of them so knew the procedure well. I’d stand around and nod gratefully while townspeople and relatives said kind things about my father. At one point my mother, who was more than a little unconventional, and I were looking at Dad laid out in the casket. Probably a moment when something touching should be said. Instead my mother looked around to make sure nobody was listening, then whispered to me, “When you think about it, funerals are pretty bizarre, aren’t they.” I had to laugh. That was my mother. I intend to write a blog post about her some day.
The wake was well attended, for my father had been a respected man in our small town. He was an elder in the church and a member of the school board. So I spent the evening accepting, along with condolences, words of praise for my father. But then a man I knew as one of the town reprobates approached me. I’ll call him Henry. He was sober, an unusual condition for him, and had made an effort to be presentable. Henry was the only man there in a suit, the world having gone more casual by this time. The suit was perhaps four decades out of style, and ill-fitting. His tie was poorly knotted, and he had missed a spot while shaving. But he had made the effort. Henry walked up to me, put out his hand and I shook it. Then as he tried to speak his face began to contort. I realized it was with emotion, which caused my emotions to flood to the surface also. He released my hand and we both looked away in embarrassment. He turned away without saying anything and before I could give it more thought someone else grabbed my attention.
Later in the evening Henry approached me a second time. I could see that his jaw was set as he made an attempt to compose himself. “I just have to say this,” he said. “I know I’ve never amounted to much, and people in town don’t think too highly of me, but whenever your father saw me he always treated me with respect. So I had to be here tonight.”
I can’t think of any better measure of my father as a person. Of all the tributes paid to him that evening, that is the one I still carry with me.
ABOUT GARY JENNEKE
At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.
You can reach him at email@example.com.
We’d like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:
* Lead-In Image (National Cemetery) – Scruggelgreen / Shutterstock.com
* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com