“Have a great today + everyday”
Those words were the tag line to a handwritten note that my father in law mailed me (snail style, of course) almost 4 years ago to the day. A handwritten note in this day and age is rare enough but for my wife’s father to write it out and mail it was extra special. You see, I knew that it took a lot of time and patience for him to do such a simple task thanks to a stroke he had several years ago forcing him him to write left-handed; this after being a righty his whole life. I’ve had that hand written note and “rookie card” on my desk ever since reminding me of the little things that are so important in life and can bring so much joy to others.
Steve Totten was a really cool dude. Nothing fancy. Just a nice guy without an agenda other than rooting for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boy oh boy did he love baseball!
Steve’s love for the Dodgers runs deep – he had the cards, the shirts, the posters, the autographs, the blankets, the stickers, the soda cans, the beer bottles, the bobble heads, the bats, the balls, and even his own custom-made jersey bearing the name ‘Pops’ on the back – a gift from an adoring daughter.
And the adoration went both ways. Steve loved his baby girl with all of his heart, every day of her life. His eyes, a fantastic shade of blue (Go Dodgers!), would glow whenever he’d see Adrienne. Steve was always interested in everything his daughter was doing and never failed to ask about her life and anything she was interested in.
At some point Adrienne and I started referring to her pops as ‘Regular Dad’. (Seth McFarlane are you reading this? Maybe you can add another animated dad show to your stable….). We’d generally just shorten it to RD for the sake of brevity in our busy lives.
On Saturday February 7, 2014 we laid Regular Dad to rest at Live Oak Memorial in Monrovia, Ca. He is lying next to his dad and his grandparents are a few feet away from them. Over on the other side of the side cemetery are a few other folks he knows including his great friend (and Adrienne’s uncle) Mark Z.
Regular Dad was never one to rush into anything at all. If a doctor prescribed him a new medication he’d wait to start taking it until Monday (or the Super Bowl or some other random milestone) passed by. In fact, Adrienne and I joked that he’d probably put his own funeral off till Monday if he were able to be there at the planning meeting.
And talk about a creature of habit! RD didn’t like change and did the same things the same way for as long as anyone can remember. Always two hot chocolates in the morning. Always watch game shows on Saturday. Always go to the bank on a designated day. Always shop at the same grocery store and buy the same things. Always pick up beer at the same liquor store on the same day at the same time. (And the liquor store loved his patronage enough to have the cases of beer boxed and ready to go before he even arrived!)
One of my fondest memories is going out to lunch with Regular Dad shortly before I married his only daughter. Adrienne and I drove to SoCal for a weekend of wedding preparations and while she was at a bridal shower, I took Pops out to lunch at his favorite diner, Rod’s. The decor was the epitome of old, nasty diner and the menu was exactly as you’d expect – greasy. I was looking forward to getting married and shared with him that one of the reasons I loved Adrienne so much was that she was always so positive and full of great energy; she has a tremendous aura that is infectious and never-ending. After hearing that, RD told me that sure she has her highs but her lows are really low. At that point I had never seen Adrienne be down but the gravity with which he delivered that information to me indicated a seriousness that I never wanted to see. Unfortunately, those lows Regular Dad mentioned really are low – as I witnessed firsthand as her dad got sicker and sicker and eventually succumbed to his ailments.
The graveside services were very well attended and several people got up to speak and share stories and memories of Regular Dad.
Being a veteran, Regular Dad was sent off with the help of a military honor guard. With a flag draped over the casket, a single bugler began playing ‘Taps’. I lost it right then and there. Up until that point I had done a good job of keeping my head together but the legato notes falling from the horn brought me down that final step to becoming a blubbering baby. I wept openly keeping my arm around Adrienne to let her know I was there for her.
(For the record: Anyone who doesn’t lose their shit when ‘Taps’ is playing just isn’t human).
The honor guard then removed the flag and folded it into the traditional triangle and presented it to Adrienne. “Ma’am, On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
Boy oh boy. Incredibly moving stuff.
Uncle Fred led off family and friend memories with a great eulogy talking about the five roles that RD played throughout his life; son, brother, father, veteran, and friend. It was very touching and well delivered.
Several other friends spoke and shared stories as did other family members. All were terrific and heartfelt providing a great insight into a great guy.
We all listened to Elvis Presley sing ‘Amazing Grace’, a few more people spoke and then, after Adrienne placed a blue and white carnation on the casket, he was lowered into the ground and those who wished could throw in some dirt or momentos. I did both; for momentos I sent the old guy off with two of his favorite flavor Tootsie Pops – grape and chocolate.
Lunch at The Old Spaghetti Factory followed where we enjoyed the company of friends and family and lots of great conversations.
Following lunch Adrienne and I dropped Uncle Fred off at the bus stop so that he could have one last trip on the Metro 78 line – a bus ride he had been making for 45 years or so after visiting his family at their home. We had a nice chat waiting for the bus (“When does the next bus arrive?”. “I don’t know. You have to be pretty zen to take public transportation”) and as we were standing at the buss top chatting, a big rig rolls past and fires off a few blasts of the air horn; it was Paul, one of Regular Dad’s friends on his way out of town to deliver something to Minnesota. A small town in within the big city.
As the bus carrying Uncle Fred rolled away, the clouds rolled in and the air cooled down a bit following what had a been a sunny, mild day thus far. Truly we were experiencing what Adrienne’s dad would consider a perfect day.
Grief never goes away. It changes shape and its power ebbs and flows but it will always be there. Loss isn’t easy and it never gets easier; with time it becomes more common as the people you know age – but life goes on. That simple fact hit home as we had to stop at the gas station on the way back to the house to fuel up our truck.
Regular Dad is missed by many – but he continues to live on in the hearts and minds of those same people who miss him so much.
Have a great today + everyday.