Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll lost her father this week. She remembers DADDY:

My dear commenter community: It is my weekly task and honor to try to lighten your loads and brighten your Fridays. I get a lot of wonderful feedback for so doing. Today will not be such a day.

On Sunday, September 19, 2021, James Baumbach, my Daddy, was called Home to be reunited with his beloved Dorothy, his wife of 71 years. And to see his brother, Leland, for the first time since 1942. He was Last Man Standing on both sides of the family in The Greatest Generation. My heart is broken, but it would be unseemly and ungrateful to think for even a minute, “Why me?” when I was privileged to have a Daddy until I was two weeks’ shy of 75 years old! Everyone should be so lucky. I know several people who lost their fathers as young children, and some who had no father at all.

I had seen him for three weeks in April and May and we had had a lovely time. In our last phone conversation when we signed off, I said, “I love you, Daddy” and he said, “I love you more.” For at least the last ten visits over several years, I believed I would never see him again. I would sit in my car in the Assisted Living parking lot and weep. Once, I even heard Brad Paisley’s heart-wrenching “Last Time For Everything” on the radio. But, I was always wrong. He took a turn for the worse in late August and we did not think he would quite make his 96th birthday a week later. He did. Of COURSE he did!

Born in 1925, he had just barely turned 21 when I was born. He survived everything his beloved country had endured – the stock market crash in ’29; the Great Depression, World War Two, the Sixties, and all the cultural convulsions. And he had survived a lot personally as well – near-fatal meningitis in the Navy, prostate cancer, diabetes, 7 broken ribs, a broken hip, and, of course, COVID-19 which swept through his Assisted Living facility a year ago.

Until the very end, he was still ambulatory at 95, using a walker, but not a wheelchair. And though he sometimes forgot what era he was in – did he just go pheasant-hunting with his brothers? Did he need to get down to the drugstore he had sold in 1974 to “check things out”? – he was mostly lucid, most of the time.

He was two years younger than his beloved older brother, Leland, the Marine killed in action in February of 1945 in the South Pacific. Like all little brothers, he worshiped his older brother and tried to follow him everywhere. Grandma told me that his earliest sentence was, “Neenan, wait for me!”

Once when they were 4 and 6, Leland and his friends were hiding from him in a rotting old shed on their property, and Daddy got his father’s World War One bayonet and started stabbing it through the wood. Ah, boys will be boys. For his part, Leland had once knocked Daddy into a hole being excavated for a new house and broke both his collarbones.

Daddy survived all four of his younger siblings by several years. He outlived all his adult friends, some by half a century. At the end, his best friends were my classmate and best friend, Bonnie, and her husband, Wayne, who lived in Alexandria and visited him when I could not. He delighted in hearing of the ebullient Wayne’s deer hunting adventures. I owe a karmic debt of gratitude to these people that I doubt I have enough time left to repay.

Even more of a debt is owed to my brother, also a Jim, who really carried the load for my sister and me, who live far away. Jim lives in the Twin Cities and made the 260-mile round trip to visit him every week and took care of all his paperwork and financial issues. He buoyed his spirits and cleaned up his room and usually brought him a vanilla milkshake to boot. A better son or brother would be tough to find. Like Daddy, he is also a Navy vet. His wife, Martha, treated Daddy like her own father and was always there for him with love and good humor.

The staff and caregivers at Edgewood Vista cared for him like a beloved, if somewhat difficult, grandparent, particularly Head Nurse Sheena Nelson. Their love and care meant the world to my family and me. The people who care for the elderly are living saints.

Like most of America in his generation, Daddy was a small-town boy through and through. Except for his Navy training and service which followed, he never lived in a city. He and Mom lived in a teeny tiny trailer when I was born, but never in an apartment. His hometown of Bryant, South Dakota (pop. 500) and its Heartland values shaped him forever.

Having just turned 18, he joined the Navy on the first of November, 1943, as an Aviation Radioman 3rd Class V6, training and serving in the Great Lakes, Bowling Green, Memphis, Miami, San Diego, Hutchinson, Kansas, and Jacksonville, Florida. I know that he got deathly ill in San Diego and was in the hospital for many weeks. I do not know if that is why he did not see combat – he also had a lifelong heart murmur — but he was tremendously proud of his service and would not leave home without his “Liberator” Navy cap.

Returning from his short pass for his Marine brother’s memorial service, there was a blizzard and his train was late. Unlike grenades or the game of horseshoes, the Navy did not consider “almost on time” to be close enough. It was war-time. There was no screwing around. He spent some brief but unpleasant time in the brig for being AWOL even though it was beyond his control. When the war ended we lived in barracks at SDSU in Brookings and he got a degree in Pharmacy on the G.I. Bill. I believe he graduated second or third in his class.

He taught me to ride a bike, to bait a hook, to hit a baseball, to take inventory at the store, to count change back into his hand (a totally lost skill now…). He held me to the highest academic standards. Never once did he indicate there was something not expected of me or something I could not do or achieve because I was a girl. He had a fierce temper and was not always the easiest guy to get along with, but I always knew he would protect me, would have my back in a tough world. That is an invaluable thing for a little girl to know. When I was an idiot leftie, we had some epic screaming matches. And, to our mutual delight, I came around to his political viewpoints for the last 20 years of his life.

He was a proud and dedicated small businessman, working 6 or 7 days a week, often 12 hours a day in the drugstore that bore his name. One of the most galling things Obama ever said was “You didn’t build that.” As the daughter of a small business owner, I knew that he damn well DID build that. We had one family vacation my whole childhood because he could not get away. He gave the world an artist, a male nurse, and a comedienne in the form of his three kids who, in turn, gave him 5 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.

He was an accomplished trumpet player, playing in the Navy as well, and one of the great joys of my life was when I got to open for Doc Severinsen and introduce Daddy and Mama to Doc at a little private gathering after the event. Doc, by the way, is a sweet down-to-earth guy who could not possibly have been more gracious to my parents or to me.

The loss of my last parent, obviously, makes me an orphan, like probably 99.9 percent of people my age. It still came as a shock because Daddy had come back from adversity so many times that we all began to think he would simply live forever, especially after COVID failed to take him a year ago. When I told our son that Grandpa’s time was short, he said, “He’ll recover.”

When I came into this world, I had all four grandparents, a feisty great-grandmother who was the bane of my grandmother’s existence, and 6 sets of aunts and uncles. They are all gone now except for Aunt Carol in her early 80s, my uncle’s widow and not a blood relative. I am the oldest person in my immediate family, the Matriarch, a very odd situation. I hope to use my new power only for good! Just as soon as I stop crying which I hope is soon. Often, I don’t even realize that I am crying; my eyes just leak. Grief is astonishingly exhausting.

RIP, Daddy. Your race is run. Please tell Mama that if I told her I loved her 50,000 times, I wish it had been double that. And that I won Life’s Lottery when I got you two for parents. Fair Winds and Following Seas until we meet again.

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