My father and I at a road side park on one of our adventures. It's my favorite photo of us.
I am my father’s daughter. I know this to be true. I don’t have many memories of him, but the ones I do, really reflect who I am as a person.
I have only written three sentences and I am already crying. Why is that?
My father died of pancreatic cancer when I was 10 years old and I have never gotten over it. To this day I cannot tell my own children, who are now grown women with children of their own, any of my memories of my dad because I immediately start crying and it is truly uncomfortable, and almost unbearable, for all involved, so I keep those memories to myself. It is very hard not to share them, but also too painful to talk about him at the same time.
My dad had to leave school after the eighth grade because my grandfather forced him to work on a neighboring farm and give his earnings to him. I never knew my grandfather, but from what I gather, he was not a nice man and that is an understatement. My father was one of eight children and I am sure my grandfather was the same to all of them. I know at one point, my father found his youngest brother, who then was only sixteen, living in a car on the street. He had come home from school one day and his parents had just up and moved away, so my father took him in. Even with his atrocious upbringing, he was a compassionate and loving man who adored his family.
Even though he had only limited formal schooling, he was a man of great intellect, reading two newspapers a day, and owning the gas station in the little town we lived in. His gas station was the place where lots of high school boys worked after school, where people could pay their electric bills, and where menfolk would gather to talk about the day’s events and have some pop out of the big chest cooler, just like at Wally’s on the Andy Griffith show. You not only got gas there, you could also have your car repaired, have it washed, and get new tires. He had a back room with lots of different tires. I still am fond of the smell of new tires. This would have been in the 1950s and 1960s. He had known that he had to make his own way and he did in a spectacular way. He had ambition and drive to succeed. I’d like to think I have a little of that too.
He also was elected to our town council. Not too long ago, I was going through his wallet that my mother had given me, and there was a newspaper clipping in it. It said that one of the committees he sat on for the town was oversight of the library. I have sat on the boards of the Friends of Venice Library, the New College Library Association and the Ringling College Library Association, as libraries are also a passion of mine.
Even though he was a short man – 5’3’’ – he was very athletic, playing golf, baseball, and of course, bowling. He loved the Detroit Tigers baseball team and so do I.
He died in May 1968, the month between the April murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the June murder of Bobby Kennedy. I felt like the world was ending.
The next few years, my mother, my four-year-old sister, and I tried to function as a family, but I never felt whole again. All I wanted was a complete family. I married my husband, two months after I graduated from high school. As I look back at it now, I know I was looking for that complete family and I found it. My husband is just the kind of father to our daughters, that my dad was to me and they adore him, as do our three grandchildren. I am very lucky to say I have had a “complete” family now for 37 years.
Now about those memories….here are some of my favorite ones….whenever I need comfort, I remember the feeling I had when I would sit nestled next to my father, tucked under his arm, in the pew at St. Cyril’s Catholic Church every Sunday morning. I can see and almost feel the fabric of the tweed overcoat he wore and feel safe and secure. Another memory is that just he and I would go for a walk after dinner every night down to Ackett’s drug store and sit at the soda fountain and have a cherry Coke. I still drink cherry Coke every day, though now it's diet.
My dad used to like to go on adventures. One that we took together when I was eight years old was to walk the railroad tracks from our little Michigan town to the next town about five miles away. My mom packed us a paper bag lunch and off we went. The tracks went over a small river and I still remember how scared I was to cross it, looking down and seeing the water beneath the slats of the track, but my father just kept encouraging me to make the crossing on my own, not knowing that he was preparing me for the future to do so many things on my own without him.
One of those things I did on my own, was to walk down the aisle by myself at my wedding. I was not about to have anyone stand in for my dad on that day. I went down the aisle alone, with his spirit by my side.
So now, 44 years after his death, I am still trying to make my dad proud of me. People always ask me how I accomplish so much and do all that I do. I don’t usually tell them the truth, but it is because I have to do enough for the both of us. I have to make Henry Joseph Fedewa proud that I am his daughter and that, even though he was with me for only a few short years, I have turned out just like him.