Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Remembering William Ashley Chapman: December 22, 1919--March 26, 2010

Half Moon Bay on a late Saturday aftenoon in about 1955. Even in the summer the Pacific is really cold and my Dad is probably trying to warm me up.

It was three years ago today that my father died. The days around his death were the hardest of my life: he was in a coma and I could no longer comfort him. But I was able to spend the last year of his life helping him. That was a blessing and a privilege and I am thankful every day for that time.

As he lay dying, I knew in my heart it was only a sad time for me. He was 90 years old and very ill. My mother had died a few months before. But I was selfish and wanted him to stay a little longer.

Because I write about him frequently--his accomplishments are pretty amazing, even to an accomplished person like me--people often say to me: "You must have been a Daddy's girl."

I hate to tell them this was not true. My mother and father were two spectacular people who did not invest a great deal of their emotional energy in the people outside their marriage. That's just the way it was for them.

Late in his life, my father did take some extra time to begin writing me, which he had never done, and I loved exchanging letters with him. After he died, I learned he wrote these letters at the urging of my mother, who proofed and edited all of them. Still, when he was writing me, I didn't know this and I loved having what I felt was a special correspondence with him. Maybe some of it was. We never can know these things.

I know I hoped I would one day accomplish something that would cause him to say: "Wow. That's amazing, Robin. And so are you." How hard a person will work for this! Dreaming of recognition from him turned out to be a great motivator in my life. He may have even known that about me.

In his last year, with his sturdy body now falling apart and his brilliant mind not working correctly he said some very kind things to me. But his mind was so mixed up. I decided to take the sweetness as I found it and to discount the rest. Sometimes it is best not to question. 

That last year was a fascinating time. I was trying to calm him down one day when he was recovering from a fall and in nursing care and I started to ask him about when he built our first house. The memories began to relax him. We talked about our apricot trees and how we used to make ice cream at the end of long, warm summer days. Finally he smiled: "Those were Halcyon days," he said. I came home and told my sister and we looked up Halcyon in the dictionary. Whatever was wrong with him that last year did not impact his vocabulary!

After he died I did find one encouraging clue: on a yellow legal notepad he had drawn a timeline in pencil in his neat engineer's hand. I had to look at it carefully before I figured out what it was. It showed the days of my flight as a reporter in 1991 to Kuwait and Bahrain at the end of the Gulf War. He had tracked where I was each day and what I was doing. We were living far apart then, and I never knew he was interested. But I was able to discover it. Finally. 

None of us knows what heaven is like--life after death is the "undiscovered country" as Shakespeare called it. But on this anniversary of his death, I try to picture him now on some heavenly planet (there are so many out there we know so little of, it could be a planet, couldn't it?) On this wonderful orb, my father has joined the people he loves who went before him. The pumpkins he grows there are as big as tractors. And there are always airplanes to fly.

My father on his first job, post World War II, as an engineer at Cessna. That's heaven for a flyer.

My father and the pumpkins he grew when he retired. He never did anything small.

Col. William Ashley Chapman
December 22, 1919--March 26, 2010

If you want to read some of what I have discovered about his work with the 38th Engineers on Ascension Island during World War II, click here:  Ascension Island Wideawakes

Add to 
Google Reader or Homepage
Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

No comments: