Tim Russert Remembered
By Bruce Weik
In tribute to Tim Russert, who died on June 13. Reading his book encouraged me to write this letter. Thank you, Tim.
I read Tim Russert’s book, “Big Russ and Me,” some time ago. His new book, “Wisdom of Our Fathers,” contains letters from sons and daughters, sent to Russert, by readers of his first book. Having missed the deadline, here is my letter to my father.
Big Orval and Me: My father died two weeks before I graduated from high school, in 1966. He was 46. A sudden heart attack. Forty-six seemed old to an eighteen year old. I’ve come to understand how young it really is.
By most counts, my father would have been considered average, normal, an everyday kind of guy. He graduated from high school, went into the service during WW2 for four years, got out, married, had one child, me, went to trade school and became a plumber, became president of the plumbers and pipefitters union, was commander of the local Legion, on the town board, and held the record for the 100 yard dash in the local high school for 20 some years. He drank a little too much, liked spending time with his male friends bowling, shooting pool, and playing golf. He loved to play softball, which he did the night before he died. He was a Democrat, not into church-going, lived cigars, and always wore a cap, the kind we referred to as a “cat hat.”
The evening he died, I had just returned home from a baseball game. I was eager to tell him that we won the district title, and I drove in the winning run. I never got the chance. My mother called asking me to come to the hospital, that my father had a heart attack. She didn’t want to tell me he had died until she could do it in person. “I’m sorry, dad died. He didn’t suffer.” Hard words for her to say and for an 18 year old to believe. Words you are never prepared for.
Eighteen years is not a long time. Still, my father gave to me some things that remain with me today. One of the first things he taught me was to be respectful of anyone older than myself. That lesson came while we were shopping for a new ball glove for me. I ran through the door at the store, bolting right in front of an older couple. When I turned around in the store, no dad. I went back outside, there he was talking to this couple. He was apologizing, not just for me, but for himself. He was sorry for the inconsideration, as though it was both of us who had stepped in front of them. I was all of 8 or 9. He told them, and me, that he hoped that would never happen again. It hasn’t.
One of the things my father and I did together was go to the tavern on Sunday morning after I was out of Sunday school. While this wouldn’t be highly thought of today, it was a tradition for a German town in 1959. Boys had to learn what a tavern was. One particular Sunday morning a black man, probably 60-65 years of age, came in for a six-pack, I assume on his way fishing. I was playing a pinball machine. He went up to the bar to pay, and the guys at the bar told the bartender not to sell any beer to a “nigger.” As though it were yesterday, I can see my father getting up, walking over to the gentleman, paying for the beer, and escorting him out. When he returned, no one said a word. He never said anything to me, or his friends, or made anything of the incident. But I got the point.
Since I do have limited space, one more story. I was probably 6 or 7. We were living in an apartment that had only a bathtub in the bathroom, which was shared with another apartment. My father and I would go down to the power plant, where they had public showers. I can remember those trips as a special time with my father. I don’t remember any special stories or lessons to go along with these trips, only that they stand out in my memory as special times, when my father and I, naked as jaybirds, enjoyed a shower together.
Since May 10, 1966, I have missed my father. I wonder how things would have been between us, how our relationship would have developed, what he would think of me. How he would have dealt with a daughter-in-law and two grandkids. He would be 88.
Anyway, sitting here on the back porch, thinking about him, tears running down my cheek, I hope he realized how much I loved him. Some would say I should get over it, but I would prefer not to. When those tears come, I somehow feel close to him.
I almost died myself at age 52. Now I realize how young he really was. My father never laid a hand on me, never yelled at me, never called me crazy names. He taught me to be responsible, to give, if not your material things, at least your time and energy trying to help those less fortunate, expecting nothing in return. Emotions were not shown very freely in our German community. I remember seeing my father cry twice, one at the death of a good friend, and the other at his fathers death. I don’t remember him saying “I love you.” Nor do I remember me saying I loved him. I waited way too long to say, Dad, I love you. Thanks.