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Write what should not be forgotten - Isabel Allande

Month: June 2016

My Dad

Dad collage


 

Swirls-Design-6

My Dad was kind, humble and patient. There are probably a hundred other adjectives that I could come up with to describe him – but I think these are most important.  This is the 24th Father’s Day since we lost him.   His death was sudden and unexpected, I was 18, a Freshman in college.  He had a heart attack on a Friday and  waited to all of us to get there and died peacefully surrounded by his wife and children on a windy, raw Sunday morning in March.  For many years I avoided Father’s Day, it made me too sad.  15 yrs ago when our first son was born I began to enjoy the day again as I watched my sweet husband being a Dad.

James Norman McGee (Jim) was born to J Norman and Madeline McVay McGee on April 3, 1930 in Warsaw, NY.  He was their only surviving child.  He was the only grandchild on his mom’s side and only 1 of 2 on his dad’s side. Growing up, both of his grandmother’s lived with him.  I think it is safe to say that he was doted on!  The family moved to nearby Batavia, NY where my grandfather worked and that is where my Dad grew up.  He graduated from Batavia High School in 1947 and went to Geneseo Teachers College to study Library Sciences. He left Geneseo and joined the Air Force and was sent to Chanute AFB in Illinois. He was Honorably discharged in 1949/50.

In 1950 my Dad was in a serious car accident in Hornell, NY. He was a passenger in a car that collided head on with another.  In total 7 people were injured, he was one of the more seriously injured with several broken bones.  He came back to Batavia for a long recovery. It sound like he did some soul searching after that and explored several different avenues.  There are several letters from his father to various colleges asking about requirements and advice  The most surprising to me was that he was looking into to going to college in Chicago to become a Chiropractor. I had never heard that.  Eventually he settled on Alfred College which was only a couple of hours from home and he studied photography.  He moved to Kentucky and worked as a studio photographer. He didn’t stay in Kentucky for very long, his father died very suddenly in March of 1952 and he came back to Batavia to care for his mother.

He met my Mom Kathleen Marshall (Kay) and after a few months of dating they were married on September 11, 1954.  They moved into an apartment down the street from my mom’s parents.  They quickly became parents (about nine months after they were married). My oldest brother John, was born in June of 1955, Mike followed shortly after in 1956, and my sister Eileen in 1959.  My Dad worked at Varden Studios in Buffalo as a photographer. They bought a house right across the street from their apartment and fixed it up.  It became our family home for the next several decades.  It was a great neighborhood – in a time when the kids were sent out the door in the morning and didn’t come back until dinner time. My siblings have some wild stories about happened in between breakfast and dinnertime!  My father was built to be a Dad. I came to them later in life, they were in their 40’s and my oldest brother was in college.  When he wasn’t working he was involved with his church and community.  He once ran for city council, he didn’t win and probably never thought he would.  My siblings have always said that he did it just to show them what the process was all about.  My brother’s were both stand out athletes and he took great pride in supporting them in football, baseball, basketball, and track.  The McGee girls however did not inherit the athletic gene!

Growing up I knew my family dynamic was different from the other kids I went to school with.  I missed my first week of Kindergarten to be the flower girl in my brother’s wedding, and I was an Aunt at 7.  One of my brother’s and I have never even lived in the same town.  The great part of growing up that way is that my parent’s had more time and money to spend with me, they also had a deeper appreciation of how fast kids grow up.  We took a lot of trips, out to dinner and went to plays, they took me everywhere they went. When I was young we used to camp a lot. I remember staying in my bunk in the mornings just listening to my parents talk to each other over their morning coffee.  It never mattered what they were saying, I just remember that feeling of all being right with the world. My dad was a very quiet disciplinarian.  My best friend and I got caught skipping church in high school once.  We came home and he was waiting for us, he gave us just enough rope to hang ourselves with and then he very calmly told us how disappointed he was in us.  To this day we still talk about what an impact that had on us.  We felt lower than low, it was worse that any yelling he could have done.

Two of my dad’s favorite things to talk about were politics and sports. Sunday’s in our house were strictly for football. My dad would sit in front of the tv and yell at it all afternoon – that is the only time he ever raised his voice. He and I shared a love of hockey and we went to many games and watched many, many more on tv.  He was a staunch Democrat and I’m sure thought himself a failure as a parent in raising 3 Republicans and an Independent!! Every evening we would watch the evening news together and talk about world events.  He was always so patient and took the time to explain them.  He would tell me what he thought but always present the other side.  I didn’t realize it at the time but he was teaching me to see both sides and make my own decisions.

My Dad raised me to learn to know and respect people based on who they were, not based on color, religion, or political affiliations. He was compassionate and always open to new people and ideas.  There were only a couple of traits that he absolutely didn’t like, he did not like if a person couldn’t show humility or be humble and he did not like excuses of any kind.  That drove me crazy as a teen but now is one of my biggest pet peeves as an adult.

My dad was pretty forward thinking and he was a sucker for gadgets!  We had one of the first computers in the neighborhood.  It was a Commodore 64 and was cumbersome to use, he loved that thing and would talk about how someday people would use computers for everything.  He built us a black and white darkroom in our basement.  He taught me how to develop film and make prints.  We spent a lot of time doing that together.  I still remember him telling that someday we wouldn’t use film for photography.  I thought he was nuts!

For a long time I was focused on all the things we missed out on with each other, but eventually I made the decision to be grateful for the 18 beautiful years we did have together. He was my most influential teacher and I am an infinitely better human for having him in my life.

When I was in High School he gave me newspaper clipping of the following poem.  I still keep a copy and try to live it.

 

The Station

by Robert J. Hastings
Tucked away in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long, long trip that almost spans the continent. We’re traveling by passenger train, and out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hills, of biting winter and blazing summer and cavorting spring and docile fall.
But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. There will be bands playing, and flags waving. And once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true. So many wishes will be fulfilled and so many pieces of our lives finally will be neatly fitted together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering … waiting, waiting, waiting, for the station.
However, sooner or later we must realize there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.
“When we reach the station, that will be it !” we cry. Translated it means, “When I’m 18, that will be it ! When I buy a new 450 SL Mercedes Benz, that will be it ! When I put the last kid through college, that will be it ! When I have paid off the mortgage, that will be it ! When I win a promotion, that will be it ! When I reach the age of retirement, that will be it ! I shall live happily ever after !”

Unfortunately, once we get it, then it disappears. The station somehow hides itself at the end of an endless track.
“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.
So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot oftener, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.

 

Norm McGee

Norm


 

As I research different people, I develop a sense of them.  I usually find myself drawn to one thing or another about them.  It never fails that a sense of pride begins to bloom as I discover them, maybe for their job or community involvement or for the family they raised or the people they cared for.  In researching Norm, I was struck by it all.  He was a caring father and son, an athlete, a businessman, a friend, a respected and involved person in his community.

My paternal Grandfather was born John Norman McGee on December 22, 1894 in Warsaw, NY the oldest child of William and Martha Flynn McGee. At the time of his birth his father was 38 and his mother was 29.  He was called Norm throughout his life.

Norm graduated from Warsaw High School in 1913, while there he was a good student and a baseball player.

He had a brother William(1898-1927) and a sister named Nora(1903-1932).  William died at the age of 29 after suffering from a long illness (still working on that one) he never married.  Norm and his sister Nora were close.  When they both married, the relationship continued there are several pictures of the 4 of them together.  Nora died of TB in 1932 at the age of 29, it must have been really tough on Norm.  She left behind her husband and a 6 yr old son.  Ironically her son also died unexpectedly at the age of 30. By the time by Grandpa Norm was 37 he had lost both siblings and his father. His mother, Martha lived with Norm and his family for the rest of her life.

In 1918 at the age of 23, Norm joined the military during World War I.  He was assigned to 105th , Photo Section of the 1108th Aerial Squadron.  He was a military photographer and was stationed just outside of Paris for the duration of his military time. He achieved the rank of Sgt. 1st Class and was honorably discharged in 1919. After completing his military service Grandpa returned home to Warsaw.  

After the war, Norm went into Banking.  In 1921 he moved to New York and worked for Dillon, Reed, and Co. which was a large investment house at the time. He stayed in New York City for 2 years before coming back to Warsaw in 1923 to work as a cashier for the Pike Bank. Coincidentally he and my Grandmother married in 1923…

My Grandparents most likely knew each other their whole lives.  Warsaw is a pretty small place and they graduated a year apart.  I have a photo album that belonged to Norm’s sister, Nora and there are many pictures of My Grandmother (Madeline) before she and Norm were married.  

My Grandparents were married on a Wednesday morning October 17, 1923, with a luncheon following at My great-grandmother’s house.  I am including the wedding announcement because I really just love to read them!  I am hoping that some of my new-found McGee relatives can help fill in the blanks in the picture.

Norm worked at the small Pike Bank in the early 30’s until they closed in 1931.  They went to New York to visit Madeline’s Brother and her mother.  Norm was trying to find work, it was obviously a tough time for everyone and work was hard to come by. They ended up back in Warsaw and Norm was offered a job in 1932 in nearby Batavia with the Genesee Trust Bank. Norm worked for the bank in Batavia for the rest of his career.  He was elected Vice-President in 1934 and President of the bank in 1938 and remained in that position until his death in 1952. He was very involved in his church and community. He was elected President of various organizations including Kiwanis Club and the Little League. He was also very active in banking organizations statewide.

My dad was the first born and only surviving child of Norm and Madeline.  He had an infant brother, William who died at birth in 1934.  By all accounts my dad had a great childhood. He was doted on by both of his parents. As he got older he remained close to his parents.  There are several copies of letters in which my Grandpa was advising and helping my dad make decisions about his future. There are a couple of letters that Norm wrote to different Universities inquiring about things my dad was interested in and what advice they had to give. I was especially surprised to find out that my Dad was interested in becoming a Chiropractor at one point – I had never heard that!

Norm died of a massive heart attack at home on March 29, 1952 at the age of 57.  It was very sudden and unexpected, he and my grandmother had hosted friends at their home earlier that evening.  The funeral took place at St. Mary’s in Batavia and he is buried next to his infant son at St. Michael’s in Warsaw.

None of my siblings or I ever had the chance to meet our Grandpa Norm.  However there are probably more pictures of Norm and his family than any other relative I am researching.  The bad news is that most of them aren’t labeled…It is just one of my many projects to work on!  The amount of pictures is surprising because of the time period – it wasn’t like they were all carrying cameras in their pockets.  The are especially great because they are all so candid and not posed.  I have to say that they look like my kind of people!  They were always smiling and goofing around plus there is usually a dog in picture. In almost every picture of Norm he had a pipe in his mouth They look like a close family and that they enjoyed hanging around each other! I am especially proud of my Grandfather and wish I had the opportunity to have know him in person.

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