Our dad liked old movie palaces, stately passenger trains and the rewards of devotion.
He liked happy endings.
Our dad Alfred Hoekstra, Jr. died April 8 at JourneyCare Hospice in Barrington, Il. He was 94 years old. He was fortunate enough to see most of the 20th Century.
One of my last memories of dad came a week ago when we were moving hospital equipment in and out of his bedroom. A sepia toned wedding picture of dad and mom had fallen behind a mountain of gauzes, blankets and bottles of water. Dad saw something was missing.
He looked up from his pillow and suddenly asked what happened to the photograph.
Mom and Dad were married 65 years.
He always kept his eye on Mom.
They spent their final months together wheelchairs locked side by side watching the Turner Classic Movie channel. Mom has been in home hospice since August and dad understood every moment was precious. They were as tight as a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Our dad has a gentle soul. He raised beds of roses, he showed me how to open doors for women, he conducted himself with dignity and humility.
You hear stories of passages but now I have seen one. We got a call late Wednesday afternoon that dad had taken a turn for the worse. Our caregiver got mom in the car and we made the drive from Naperville to Barrington to see dad.
We settled in the room that was softly playing New Age music like Kim Robertson’s “Alayi.” Mom leaned over in her wheel chair, took dad’s hand and gave it a gentle kiss. We left them alone. Mom left the suite to return home.
Within the hour dad had transitioned.
He was waiting for her before he boarded his train.
I am proud of our dad. He was a Chicagoan to the core. Dad was born in Logan Square. His father Alfred, Sr. came to Chicago from the Netherlands where he opened a dairy delivery company. Dad spent his youth taking the trolley down Milwaukee Avenue to spend entire days in the vaudeville houses and movie theaters of the Loop. He loved to talk about the 1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago and somehow the calypso ballad “Yellow Bird” emerged as one of his favorite songs.
In 1939 he found work as a messenger boy in the Union Stock Yards that led to his 40 plus years as a purchasing agent at Swift & Company. My favorite story/life lesson from my father was his recollection of the foreboding goat on the livestock ramps that led sheep to slaughter. This strategy avoided deploying men with whips and other potentially gruesome tactics. Union leaders nicknamed the goat “Judas.”
My dad’s advice: “Don’t be like the sheep.“
His career was interrupted by a call from Uncle Sam. Dad was in the U.S. Army 106th Infantry Division from March 1943-January 1946.. The division was nicknamed “the hungry and the sick.”
Dad was awarded four battle stars on his service ribbon including the Battle of the Bulge. On Dec. 11, 1945 the division suffered 8,063 casualties—416 were killed, 1,246 were wounded and 7,000 were missing. Since dad knew how to type, he was in an office unit nicknamed “Typewriter Commandos” and was in an office during the battle. He credited the typewriter for saving his life.
Still, the war is what got him in the end.
In recent years dad dodged bullets of diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease and heart surgery. But Dad told the oncologist he started smoking when he was given free packs of cigs while in the Army. He quit smoking cold turkey by the time he was 50, but his cause of death is listed as lung cancer.
Swift & Co. transferred dad around the country; from Chicago to New Jersey to Columbus, Ohio and finally back to Chicago in 1967 where we became one of the “early suburban settlers” of Naperville. During a 1966 visit to Chicago to look for a new home dad took me to my first major league baseball game—White Sox-Yankees at Old Comiskey Park. His roots in the stock yards likely made him a Sox fan. I was captured by the 1969 Cubs and dad seemed to enjoy subtle pleasure in tweaking me about the White Sox 2005 world championship. I believe my love of newspapers comes from dad bringing home four Chicago daily newspapers after his commutes on the old Burlington-Northern railroad.
Until a few months ago, dad was full of discovery. My mom told us she wanted to see Bob Dylan before she died, so in August, 1989 we drove to the Illinois State Fair to see Dylan in concert. Dad had some trouble with the heat, but once we returned home his critique was, “He’s good, but he’s no Debbie Reynolds.”
At age 94 he was on his computer daily, either looking up online bargains for his beloved grandson Jude or Googling about his latest ailment. We teased dad about the mysterious things we might find under his secondary account of “Naper Man.”
At one time Dad was a Republican and I recall getting into heated debates with him about the mysterious things of President Nixon. Dad abruptly left his conservative ways during the Reagan administration and never looked back.
I inherited my pack rat nature from my dad. I brought some of his old correspondence to the hospice. I forgot he had subscribed to Michael Moore’s Mailing List and I found a 2002 article he sent to my brother and myself. He wrote, “Boys, this is touching.”
Moore composed an essay about the sudden death of his mother. He had planned to show his mom a copy of his new movie. He wrote: “As the end credits would roll, she would get to see what she has seen at the end of all my work; her name along with my dad’s in that list of credits, and it’s the only real credit that ever mattered—because without them I would not have the life they gave me, the way they raised me…it is all a privilege I will never cease being thankful for.”
I’m thankful I saved that e mail as I write this in the early morning hours after my dad’s passing. I feel my dad. I will see him in the promise of the beacon of a train or the romance of a dark theater balcony. He shed light on all that is decent and happy.