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Mom’s Party

Sunday, my mother held a 30-year commemoration/celebration of my father’s life. She invited anyone she could remember had been a colleague or friend, back to childhood. She didn’t know how many would come but invited as many folks as she could, and sort of let go of it all. She also placed an ad in the local paper for their childhood home, and invited folks to write a letter with any memories they had of my father. She really wanted to put together the puzzle pieces for posterity, and particularly for my brother who doesn’t remember my father very well. The letters trickled in for weeks and then we had the party. Some folks brought a letter to the party as well, and one person brought some reel-to-reel tapes of my father’s voice, which mom will have put on CD soon.

In the end, it was a lively crowd. Perhaps as many as 50 people came, but surely at least 30. A cousin of mom’s came (they all grew up together in rural Minnesota), one school friend from when dad got his PhD at University of Minnesota (that friend flew in from NYC for the day just to come), a few neighbors from when I lived at home, many associates from Michigan State University… in particular several students who got their PhD’s under dad’s advising, and a few folks who were professors with him, sometimes with their spouses, and late colleagues’ widows in two cases.

It was quite wonderful to listen to Dad’s students talk about how well he prepared them for their PhD and beyond. (Most of them became professors, one went into market opinion research in the private sector and later the census.) Half of the words they use (mostly regarding statistics, from what I could tell) have five syllables and mean nothing to me, but they all understood one another just fine as the rest of us listened and nodded politely. It was so good to see these people who were such a big part of my growing up.

Dad was an advisor for PhD students, in Communications which was a very new field. There were very few places one could study this subject, so people came from all over the world to study at MSU. My father’s students were always welcome in our home, and so I got to know them well.

What an amazing smart and interesting group it was! Most of us hadn’t seen each other in 30 years. The man who was dad’s friend at Univ. of MN hadn’t seen me since I was a toddler. I was glad I was on my side of that situation, it’s so hard to see someone you knew as a kid, “all of a sudden” be an adult.

The biggest treat was someone we didn’t know would come. Joe Rota was my father’s “right hand man” (his assistant) at MSU at the time of his death. Joe was an international student (originally from Catalonia in Spain but he grew up in Mexico), which meant that he didn’t have friends or family in the US at all. Dad always invited international students to our home for any holiday. So for the last several years of Dad’s life, Joe was at every holiday meal at our home, usually staying very late into the evening. He was really family to me. We love him deeply, still.

When mom said she wanted to do this party, I said the only ones I really wanted to see were the international students, because we really did get to know them best. The other prominent student in my mind was from Israel but we lost track of him and think he went back to Israel. But Joe, mom had kept up with him for a while and heard that he was currently in Ohio.

She found his address and sent out an invitation but didn’t hear back. She didn’t say anything to my brother and I because she didn’t even really know if she had the right address. So when he drove six hours yesterday one way, and showed up at the house, we were beside ourselves. The one person I wanted to see, who I thought was lost to us, was right there. I am so grateful (little tears of gratitude are in my eyes as I write this). I was so happy to hear his voice again.

Last I saw him he was a young single man. Now he has two grown daughters and is a grandfather of one. He still looks the same to me. Some people I didn’t recognize as they came up to the door. Joe I knew in an instant, and I first caught a glance of him from the back. I just knew it was him.

It was an intense day but just wonderful. Mom had Brian and I perform a few tunes a few times for the changing crowds. After the party/open house, She had dinner for 10 folks who were either family or out of town people, and that was even more intimate and lovely.

Oh, my father’s best friend (Hidy Kumata) who also was a professor with him in the Communications Department, died the day before Daddy died. Their funerals were both held the same day. The losses were very hard on a small department at that time. Yesterday Hidy’s widow Lillian, a very fine woman who is accompishing much in her own right, chose to join us for part of the event incuding dinner. She’s a gracious and elegant woman, and I love it when I get time to talk with her. (I also remember from years ago, that she’s a really good Japanese cook, yum!)

What I remembered from spending time with these colleagues and friends of my fathers, was how well they treated me as I was growing up. I must say that the children at school were unkind to me much of the time, and I was almost a loner (yes, this social butterfly you know now, had years without many friends). Yet I always felt accepted by the adults in my life. And spending time with them yesterday, when they would say things like “Do you remember when we built your father’s study in the basement, Eric was hammering nails and you were bringing tools to whoever needed them?” Well, I knew that my memories were right. These people really did love me and think well of me. It was good to talk with them again.

Brian took pictures while I was socializing, and he’s at work with his camera so no pics of the event. (The photo here is Dad’s high school graduation photo, I don’t seem to have any other suitable later photo of dad to show you.) Photos or not, trust me, I spent a day with some very fine human beings. I did almost nothing to help mom prepare for this event and she did an amazing job.

I slept in until around noon today, I was so tired. What a luxury that I could do that. Now I plan to finish that scarf for my friend who is moving out of town. All that is left is working in the ends (and it’s striped so there are many).

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