Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Remember

In loving memory of my Dad,  J. Robert Smolenski, who died two years ago today. 
He was 91 years old.   12/17/1918 - 2/12/2010 
(Thanks to my sister, Jane, who put this video together.  She's the one singing with my Dad.)

I will always remember you, Dad.
I’ll love you...
for the rest of my life.

The way you taught me to sing Hello Dolly, just right.
The way you held my hand when we walked to church, wrapping your pinky around the back of my wrist, just so.

You were proud, leading your entourage, weren't you?
Listening to you sing and recite prayers so loudly.
You seemed closer to God that way, I thought.

Always the life of the party,
your silly hats and vests...
making up funny lyrics to old familiar songs...
You, the Judge, yet a writer... a poet, of sorts ...
I'm seeing that for the first time, just now.

Oh, how you loved to teach us songs.
Loading up the VW Bus and taking us to the Fisher Theater in Detroit
for the musicals... and how the The Sound of Music was our favorite.
You would line us all up to sing wherever we went...
just like the VonTrapski Family Singers.
I loved how you danced with me.
No one could follow your crazy dance steps,
but I always felt swept off my feet when we were dancing (literally.)

I remember the night I threw up asparagus all over my plate,
right next to you at the dinner table.
You were disgusted and sent me to my room.
From then on, I hid my asparagus (and every other vegetable)
on the ledge under the table.
It was hard work remembering to dispose of that food after all the dishes were done.
I still hate asparagus.

I buried my fearful tears into the back of your thick green corduroy coat
as we raced down the icy toboggan tracks, I never opened my eyes once.
I held on to you for dear life, Dad.
I still can't open my eyes on a roller coaster...
and I use Lamaze breathing techniques until the ride is over.

You were so proud (and hardly ever patient)
pulling us water skiing behind that 35mph Evinrude.
And the way you made us haul those docks out.
You, in those boxer shorts we all snickered at.
You got mad easily.
But you laughed at yourself easily, too.
Maybe you wished for all sons instead of daughters.
We never knew it, if you did.

We tried to be brave and strong for you.
We buried stinky garbage.
Burned the trash.
Hauled those gas cans.
We shoveled, raked and mowed.
We learned how to roll up our sleeves and lift heavy things, together.
You yelled at our sports endeavors and pretended like you knew how to coach us.
None of us ever liked to golf with you.
On Sundays, we donned our best and looked like girls.
We so tried to please you and we knew when we didn't.

You were tough, Dad. You expected so much of us.
They didn't call you "The Hanging Judge" for nothing.
I remember that day we were walking to church
and I mentioned I was "sort of " dating an older guy.
I was 18. He was 24.
You didn't think that was such a good idea.
Until you invited him on that ski trip with us
and you liked him as much as I did.
The best part was watching my sisters' jaws drop in disbelief.

I remember my worst day with you. 
Our big confrontation two days before my wedding.
I needed you to understand why I refused
to sign that document the priest had presented.
The one that said I would promise to raise our children in the Catholic faith.
I was a panicked 21 year old and my wedding was about to be cancelled, by a priest.
I didn't want to lie to the priest or to you and I cried hard.

I upset you... disappointed you... hurt you... with this revelation of mine.
I didn't believe the Catholic church was the only right church. Oh… how. you. disagreed.
You wondered where you went wrong. I wondered why I was defending my faith.
I assured you that we would raise our children in a christian home, not necessarily the Catholic church.
It was of no consolation to you.
You, the Judge, told me to sign the damn document... case closed.
It was a rough night.
The wedding proceeded as scheduled after I signed that paper…
with God as my witness, I lied.
You gave me away that day, and I let go of you.

Most importantly,
I remember your loving touch, 12 years later.
The deep knowing of our resolution...
brought about by a Catholic priest, of all people.
Very few words were used.  There was no re-hashing.
We were both older and wiser.
Rich and I settled in our non-denominational church.
Raising our children with the hope that they would grow into a relationship with Christ.
The tension of the denominational issue had softened over the years,
and my faith had stood the test of time.
Visiting you and Mom, we all went to your church for Sunday Mass.
We listened as the priest read from Romans 10:9 ...

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved.

Right then and there, the priest actually said that Paul never mentioned 
what church you had to go to, what holy days you should observe, or how often you should go.

I sat frozen in the pew, and peered at you out of the corner of my eye, wondering if you'd heard it.
You did... and just then, you reached your arm around me
leaned close and whispered "That's right, Patty. He's right."
You patted my shoulder.
That was it. Everything was alright.

I remember how you called me "Patty."
I remember your lovepats, Dad.
I remember your strength and conviction.
I remember singing with you and all the fun you made for our family.
I miss you, Dad.
Can't wait to sing with you again.
Soon and very soon...


  1. I feel the great love you had. I feel you. I miss my dad every day. I will love him forever just like you... I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Oh, Pat(ty) - Thanks so much for this glimpse into your life with your father. Such powerful forces in our lives, these dads of ours. I am glad that he became reconciled to your faith decisions - and so glad that it was a priest who helped him to say so. This is really lovely - what a treat to read. Thank you.

    1. Diana... thank you. Isn't amazing how God used that priest to help resolve? I am still amazed by that! Mostly, I was feeling oh, so moved to purge and get it all down after seeing my sister's video. Needed to get that all down for my kids... I know it wouldn't pass any short story competition! ; )
      p.s. do you get notified when I reply to your comment?


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