Today is Guv's birthday. He would be 84 if he were still alive. Or 85? At some point, you just quit counting because it gets absurd. ("He'd be 123 if he had lived...")
I'm not sure where the name Guv came from; that was his choice long before I ever came around. He was vehemently opposed to "Mom and Dad," and that might be because that was what he called his grandparents, my formidable Gramma's farmer parents. Guv was a snob--the world opened up for him when he joined the Army, and he served with the Brits (for reasons I am not clear on) in Siam and then served in India. He came back and went to college and earned a master's degree and eventually did all the coursework toward his doctorate (he never finished his dissertation; my brother died). One of his most crushing insults, should he want to insult you (and he frequently did) was to call you a farmer. Or a peasant. Or an "ignorant peasant."
Education, knowledge, all things cerebral; those were important to him. Things of the flesh and of the emotions, not so much.
I think most of the good and bad in me came from him. He was a force of nature, a powerful personality who took over a room, a house, a family, a life with his moods and desires and approval and disapproval.
(I have a friend who refers to him as "Zorba," and that isn't half wrong.)
He bought us books for every birthday, every Christmas. And sometimes, just on whim, he'd sweep up five or six of us and say, "Who wants to go to Kreiman's?" and we'd pile into the station wagon and descend on the downtown bookstore. He brought me there once, on the spur of the moment, because he found out that I had never read "Little Women," and he thought that every girl should read "Little Women." This is a clue: Despite his admiration for the intellectual life, he was also strongly sentimental. I think he tried to overcome that for a while, and late in life he just gave in to it.
It's something he passed on to most of us. It's something my mother does not, and never will, understand.
Toward the very end, his brain tumor robbed him of his power to speak--a particularly cruel turn for someone who loved to lecture us at length, usually after we had put on our hats and coats and were ready to go home. I had been in Duluth helping Trish care for him for nearly two weeks, and I had to get back to the Cities for a few days and see my dogs and husband and go to work for a bit.
Guv looked astounded when I said I was leaving. At least, I think he looked astounded. He was lying in his hospital bed in the living room, and even though he could not speak and could hardly eat, his eyes took in everything; his eyes never looked cloudy or confused, but were as sharp and all-noticing as they had been all his life. He grabbed my hand in his good hand (his right side was nearly paralyzed). And he spoke for the first time in several days. "Goodbye goodbye goodbye," he said.
I'll be back in three days, I said, but he had already turned away. I drove home in strong snow. Two nights later, he died.
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