We sat down and talked about Dad. From an administrative perspective. Richard produced several forms and pulled a pen, clicked it and began to jot down all the information that we needed to provide. The personal data, his education, his identity numbers. All sort of details which seemed irrelevant at the time but which actually told us something about him. Starting with his birth. Dad was born and raised in Meriden, Connecticut, a small and unassuming town in the middle of the state. He lived on a street called Windsor Avenue, where he belonged to a neighborhood gang of childhood pals aptly known as the Windsor Avenue Gang. Typical childhood conduct, probably coupled with classic childhood antics, I assume. His father was a physician and highly regarded in Connecticut.
I don’t think I remember very much more of the town or that street other than the fact my father vividly recalled the day the 1938 Hurricane (back then they still weren’t named), which is still the deadliest tropical storm on record to strike New England. More than 600 people perished in the cyclone. The center made landfall somewhere around Bridgeport which meant quiet Meriden was placed right in the path of the most destructive winds just to the east. According to Dad, not a single tree on the street was standing in the end. Sounds to me the product of an impressionable 11-year-old’s mind, but it does give you a pretty good idea of the amount of destruction inflicted on the town. Nothing like it has devastated the region in such a way since, it gladdens me to say.
Other than that, and the fact my uncle lived there until he died just about ten years ago, he was a fanatic of the Sunday word jumble puzzles, Meriden meant very little to me. As it did to Dad. Though his family’s plot was just about 15 miles away, he had expressed a desire to be buried in my mother’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa. That pretty much says it all.
During our talk with Richard, I also learned that Dad could also receive some benefits from the federal government as a war veteran. Dad didn’t go to fight, he didn’t watch his buddy have his cheek blown off in his face, he didn’t have to pick up someone’s arm and return it to them. My Uncle Keat, his brother, saw active duty. He was picked up by the navy, ascended to the rank of officer, and served on the USS New Jersey. He didn’t talk much about it, but I remember he said he was unnerved by the enemy shells that had been fired from so far away you couldn’t even see the ship they came from.
Dad, on the other hand, was drafted at the end of World War II and stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, and helped supervise the demilitarization of a nation. Apparently the fort was comprised mainly of Georgians, but why in hell they would ship a Yalie down there is beyond me. But they were unusual times, I must admit. Like so many parts of my father’s past, details were sparse. I know the military asked him to stay on for clerical work, which would have suited his preparation, far more than trying to stick a bayonet in a combatant’s chest, but he declined. I also know he was appalled by the language he heard, all that swearing, words he had never heard before. It slipped out at a time when he was getting a lot off his mind. It just slipped out. It told me a lot about my father, in just a handful of words.
We planned out a bunch of matters in that session. We ironed them out too. There was a lot to do, and a short span of time to perform the task. Pending tasks were: settling on a day and time for the funeral, preparations for the funeral, cremation, viewing or no viewing (and if so, what clothes to bring down), urn, obituary, media outlets, financing by the state, future pensions, insurance, final resting place, people to be notified, people not to be notified, and, of course, who is paying for it and how. No matter how gracious Richard was, and he excelled as a human being, that little issue had to be settled almost before we could walk out the door. It was a matter of custom. It was expected.