My father, Roland Burns, died of congestive heart failure this past weekend, August 12, 2012. I want to honor him in this blog. Please forgive its meandering. Below is a flipbook of pictures of him.
Roland was 80 years old; lead a life that was divided into two parts. In his early fifties, he had a brain aneurism that finally ruptured, necessitating brain surgery. Prior to that he had suffered with epileptic seizures, some of which were caused by small bleeds from that aneurism.
Growing up with Roland as my father was difficult because of his beliefs about punishment. Consequently, I don’t believe in spanking, never hit my kids. I let my kids know when I was wrong, made mistakes. I had the dishonorable goal of distancing myself from him. I succeeded less than I thought.
You can see from the photo book that I took pictures of him, usually with my girls. He loved to be around all of his nieces, his daughter Brenda, and his granddaughters. He also had a weakness for those nurses that took care of him. Despite his love of women, when Beverly and he divorced, he never remarried.
Life before the brain surgery wasn’t easy for him. He worked hard as a laborer. He was proud of the work that he did on the Barre, VT hospital. I think of him every time I go by it. He didn’t drink. He was the strongest man that I have ever known by quite a wide margin.
He worked as a custodian for Twinfield, the high school that I attended. One 6’4″ boy who liked to bully everyone decided to harass him. Big mistake there. The boy started haranguing him in the cafeteria. Oops, another big mistake. As the last student left, Dad turned, cat-like, grabbed the boy, lifted him, and slammed him against the wall. The boy was stuck there, suspended, being held by an ancient (45 years old is ancient when we are in high school) custodian. “Do you have a problem with me?” The boy gasped a “No”. “Good, then leave me alone. Now get out of here.” Roland set him down.
We never had any money, despite Mom’s and his best efforts. When we went clothes shopping, Mom had to harass him to buy clothes for himself. These were clothes that he needed, not wanted, work boots.
After the aneurism, life became both easier and harder. Obviously it was harder for him to communicate. He couldn’t easily get around; no more driving. And health problems began to mount up. Still all those responsibilities of caring for us kids were gone. And by then he was divorced. Instead he was frequently with friends. He kept a big garden; I promise you, it was immaculate. He walked daily with Frank Bradley, another man in town.
All of Roland’s kids eventually moved away. I was in Michigan, Paul in Pennsylvania, and Brenda in Arizona. Dad was there in Plainfield with no one to take care of him. He moved back to Colebrook, NH, taking up residence at the Colby Common’s adult care facility. There he was under the incredibly wonderful loving care of his youngest brother and his wife, Hasen and Jeannine. They helped him with his speech, drove him around, got him to the hospital, and attended to his needs. I cannot sing their praises enough.
I really didn’t see him many times over the last three decades. There were a few family reunions. He came down to North Carolina to visit I think twice. The most recent time he walked with my father-in-law, who speaks only Romanian. But they liked each other. He was upset, saddened, when he heard that my father had died.
His relationship with my father-in-law really captures and summarizes the second part of his life; Roland made friends. At the visitation the night before the funeral, all kinds of people turned out; childhood friends, adult friends, friends from Colby Commons, children of friends from Colby Commons (even though their parents had passed on). At Colby Commons, he had made instant friends with people who were worried, shy, and even embarrassed about coming to adult care facility. He comforted them. He planted a big garden there (what a surprise). All the vegetables he gave away to his neighbors. He always had a smile for each person. His warmth and genuine, honest caring made him truly loved. The people that came to show their respects, truly did respect him.
I could do a lot worse than emulate my father. This was a man who cared for, and took care of, me. Despite my distance, I will miss him. I will not forget him. I will try to live my life in ways that honor him.