Family Magazine

Remembering My Dad on Father's Day

By Rvbadalam @Nimasema
Remembering My Dad on Father's DayI stood there in stunned disbelief as my father’s car shot back out of my driveway and across the street into the neighbor’s driveway. Dad slammed on the brakes and the old Chevy station wagon screeched to a halt only feet from the neighbor’s garage door. I watched as dad struggled to shift out of reverse, then stood rooted to the ground as dad’s car shot forward back across the street towards me. I could see dad’s look of terror clearly through the windshield. He turned the steering wheel hard right and managed to steer the car away from me, across the lawn and then, miraculously, around two large pine trees and back onto the street. But that ‘83 Chevy had too much inertia going forward to turn onto the straightaway and it hurtled through a flimsy chain link fence and dived nose-first into an irrigation canal, hitting the bank with a loud ‘crunch!’ The hood snapped up and the old car turned over like a wounded whale and fell into the canal.The investigating officer at the scene later told me that the floor mat had slipped up under the accelerator pedal and caused the pedal to jam when dad depressed it. Well, he didn’t just depress it. That ’83 Chevy was a little like dad, it took a bit to rev up its engine after sitting for a while. Dad always gave it a little extra gas to get it going. With the accelerator jammed to the floor, gas splurged into the four-barrel carburetor, jump-started the big station wagon, and caused it to take off like a rodeo bull raging out of the bucking chute. I’ll never forget the look on dad’s face as he fought to get the car under control.Only minutes before he stepped on that accelerator dad was laying down a perfect meld and once again beating me at his favorite card game, Gin Rummy. That morning he’d been to visit a friend’s mother in the rehabilitation center, and the day before he’d been out to the cherry orchard to check on the crop. He was looking forward to gleaning fruit again this year, something he’d been doing each of the 12 years he and mom had lived here in Washington.I remember sitting by dad’s bed in the Intensive Care Unit of Kennewick General Hospital. He’d been sedated when the ER doctor intubated him in order to provide respiratory support. The ventilation unit hummed away and dad’s chest rose and fell as the machine breathed for him. As I watched the unit monitoring dad’s vital signs I thought about the last six months of his life.Dad’s wife, my mom, Nella died in November of the previous year and dad initially had a tough time dealing with her loss. He worked through the pain and loneliness and tried to concentrate on living life each day. I admired his determination to maintain his regular routine, keep in touch with friends and neighbors, and stay busy. Still, I remember him telling me on many occasions how much he missed Nella and what a wonderful woman she was.
I held dad’s hand there in the hospital and reminisced. Steve was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 1, 1906, the second of five children. His father and mother, Vincent and Marion Badalamente, emigrated from Sicily in 1898. Steve was a great storyteller and often talked of his early years growing up in New York during the depression and the many jobs he held to earn money to help support the family, ranging from standing inside steel tanks holding an anvil-like object against the inside seam as the tank was riveted from the outside (dad called the job, ‘bucker-up boy’) to unloading boxcars of 100-lb sacks of potatoes. He was 12 or 14.The family moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1921, where Steve met and, after a two-year courtship, married Nella Nelli, who was to remain his wife until her death of congestive heart failure in November 2005. During the last years of her life, Steve was Nella’s primary caregiver, demonstrating in addition to his deep and abiding love for her, strength and endurance that were truly remarkable.Steve was an avid fisherman and when he could get time off during the season he’d take off for the High Sierra’s and fish the many pristine lakes and streams in the high mountains. Eventually, the whole family got involved and even after the kids were on their own, Steve and Nella continued to enjoy fishing together, often traveling and living in Steve’s Clark Cortez Motor Home. Steve was an excellent driver and drove his “rig” all over the place, including Manhattan, with Nella sitting nervously by his side expecting the huge vehicle to scrape the sides off the buildings they passed.After 70 some years in California, Steve and Nella moved to Washington in 1994 to be close to Richard and his family. Steve was very taken with Eastern Washington’s orchards and vineyards and became passionate about gleaning fruit. After growing up in a home where, as he put it, “an orange was a treat split five ways,” he couldn’t stand to see fruit go to waste. Steve’s silver 1983 Chevy Station Wagon with Steve behind the wheel and Nella in the passenger seat was a familiar site in the cherry, peach, and apple orchards during the summer and fall. The neighbors in the Canyon Lakes Village where Steve and Nella lived seldom wanted for fresh fruit.Dad died June 10, 2006, at Kennewick General Hospital as a result of the injuries he sustained in the auto accident. He was 100 years old, a man full of vitality, who inspired others with his generosity and love of life. To say that the life of a man 100 years old was cut short sounds absurd, but certainly in the case of dad, it is true.Of course I think of dad and mom every day, but on Father’s Day I am especially mindful of how lucky I was to have such a great dad. And I miss him even now.Love you, Dad.

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