Our father passed away on August 19th, 2011 at 12:40 pm. After living in hospitals since October of 2010 he was never able to go home. His decreasing health from diabetes caused many other issues: a heart that only had 10% use with a full-time pacemaker, and then after contracting MRSA (pronounced "mersah"), a high bacterial infection that is highly resistant to most antibiotics, this caused many other issues that eventually put him on a kidney dialysis machine. Last week while on that machine, he stopped breathing and arrested. Although we knew he was in bad health, he was doing quite well even the day before he passed as the nurses said he was up and lively and had a good day. I'm glad that he had that day.
My wife LeeAnn reminded me recently of a saying when we were growing up as kids: “If I have candy, everyone has candy.” When you grow up without much, you also grow up appreciating kindness from others. Less fortunate souls tend to share what they do have because they understand what it’s like to have nothing.
My father was a lot like that. He had a tough childhood with ten years in the orphanage from the age of 3 to 13, an experience which he shared with his slightly older brother Marshall. They didn’t have much in their younger lives, and I believe this set the path to the people they became later in life. When Dad had something, he liked to share and spread the good time to everyone, strangers and friends alike.
When the five of us were kids Dad was a lot of fun, sometimes tough, and he made life interesting. Sunday night was a favorite for the family when Mom and Dad would make sure we had a half quart of Neapolitan ice cream and sit in front of the TV for the World of Disney hour. Vanilla was my favorite. Between seven people, the quart was pretty much licked clean. And I do mean we split the box open and scrapped the insides with our spoons, unless we had a dog at the time, and we’d share with him or her. In those days we only had four or so channels to choose from. The choices were very limited, and TV stations still went off at 1 or 2 in the morning. Going to the movies was rare, so we had to plan our nights based on what were our favorite TV shows. The Disney hour was always great family spent time together. You take those moments for granted when you’re growing up, and you know what? You should. Be glad that any of us have them, whether it was then, or later in life.
We lived in Oregon for four years. We took two weeks to travel there in 1970 and two weeks to come back to Georgia in 1974. Then there was the four years in between. We found a whole new world out west and met some interesting characters. We lived across the street from Harry and David Orchards for three years in a huge house with a lot of acreage. I wish I had that house today, it was something, and it had pear orchards behind us as far as the eye could see. We were allowed to eat as many pears as we wanted. Mom made everything from pear preserves to upside-down-pear-cake. And of course we just ate them off the tree. Anytime I see a stack of Bartlett pears in the store, I go back to those days… if just for a moment… and think of biting into a pear, with the juice running down our chins.
At the age of ten I remember one curious day during the Christmas season at this big house. Mom and Dad told us to take the kids out for a while, away from the house, and out of sight. This was odd, but of course we did. When it had been awhile I went to see if it was okay to come back. When I came around the corner I saw several cars in our huge, circular, driveway. There was a line of people passing things from cars up through the front door. I didn’t know what was going on, but I had an idea, and by Christmas morning it all came clear. The gifts we received from Santa around the tree were odds and ends of previously used toys and stuff. I got a set of golf clubs, with balls that were clean, but obviously used. I don’t remember what else was there, but we did each get a new toy that was wrapped up under the tree, along with some new clothes, with fruits and nuts in our stockings. The other kids never knew. The fact that Mom and Dad made sure we had a Christmas was a Christmas present itself.
There was the time Dad and I stood outside John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn’s dressing rooms when they were filming Rooster Cogburn up in Galice, Oregon. They weren’t there at the time, but we were close. We were leaving to come back to Georgia, so we couldn’t wait around for Hollywood to show up, but that was pretty cool for an eleven year old. I mean, John Wayne! Mark and I did carry groceries to the car for actor, Anthony Zerbe, who was also in the film. Dad noticed him in the grocery store one day and pointed at him. Zerbe put his finger to his lips, as to not draw any attention to him, but he waited for us as we left our grocery line. He was very kind, and even signed an autograph for us. Dad quizzed him about trying to get his kids in the film. Not a movie that needed kids, but dad tried. Dad always tried.
There was the time Dad saved Mark’s life.
The last year in Oregon, we lived up in the mountains off the Rogue River, one of the largest and strongest in the US. We were at the local park next to the river. As we were swimming in a safe area, Mark must have gotten too close to the edge–all of a sudden– he was gone. The current took him under. As we were screaming for Dad, he immediately took action and dove into the river. As we, and the crowd of people there, were waiting and crying, Mark popped up a little ways down the river, gasping for air and getting to the side. This is a strong and dangerous river and now it had our Dad under there somewhere. I was eleven at the time, and although Dad had always had me stand up as the oldest, this was one of the most helpless moments I can remember. Not long after, Dad popped up too… and got to the side. Dad somehow found Mark trapped under water and wrapped around a log, where the current held him there, taking in water. Dad was able to dislodge him but not without getting caught there himself and eventually getting loose. I’ll never forget that day. Dad was a hero to all of us kids. He saved not only Mark, but his whole family by keeping us safe.
I wish I could have done the same for him.
You see as we kids got older, we noticed that Dad didn’t always relate to the adult world very well, and the adults that we were becoming. This is something that took a long time to sink in. As kids Dad could relate to us easily, but as adults we began to notice things we didn’t understand. About ten years ago it came out that Dad was diagnosed with schizophrenia. This hit me like a lightning strike. All those years of trying to understand where he was coming from, of connecting the dots that would never form a sane picture at times. My life with him flashed before me as the realization that the disease he had was not his fault. I had a difficult time trying to understand him as an adult before. Dad was a good man. He loved to laugh, tell stories, and was a social being – at least as long as you were listening to him J. He also gave to the VA Hospital by donating his time for the last ten or fifteen years. Lois, who works at the hospital, told me recently that he would come in to help those in need “even when he was sick or feeling poorly.” He didn’t let us kids in much in the last couple of decades. Wouldn’t answer the phone, etc. His brother Vern got to the point if he wanted to see him, he just had to drop in at his home and hope that he might be there. Vern tried many times to get him to call us, and he even gave me his schedule when he was at the Butler VA Hospital to try and catch him.
There are many stories with our Dad, obviously too many to put down here. And these are just my memories. My siblings and I could write a book about our times together with Mom and Dad. I wanted to share a few stories that would form a glimpse of our father, our “Dad.”
I have one last story…
About thirty years ago I was sitting in the living room watching a movie when my dad came home very late that night. I was surprised how late he was getting home. He said, "have you ever heard of Bruce Springsteen?" I said, "well sure dad, he's one of the hottest rock stars on the planet. Why?" He said he was downtown at the Omni (a concert hall and shopping area in downtown Atlanta, now the CNN building) walking around and he noticed there were all these people attending some concert. He said he was just standing there, looking at the venue, when he noticed something sticking out from under his foot. He bent down, picked it up, and saw it was a battered but unused ticket to Bruce Springsteen. It was "The River" tour. I just sat there looking at him amazed. I said "you just came from the Bruce Springsteen concert?" I think I asked him again in disbelief. He pulled out the now "used" ticket and handed it over to me. He said it was "one of the best nights of his life and man could this guy put on a show." Wow I thought, my dad got to see Bruce Springsteen, and years before I did. Good for him.
In June this year my sister and I spent a week here in Butler and visiting with him at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, and we're glad we were able to spend time with him. The last time we saw him, we waited to the very last minute that we could afford… and then we stayed even longer. We got in the car and headed to the airport, back to Atlanta. As I turned on the radio "The River" by Bruce Springsteen was playing.
To this day I still have Dad's ticket.
Mom and Dad were both good to us growing up. We were a lucky bunch.
I’m so proud that our mother is here with us today to share in the life and memories that was Lloyd Hinchberger.
All of us would like to personally thank Vern and Jeanne Hinchberger for looking out for our father during the good times, but especially during the medical issues he faced in the last year. His last time on this earth was better because of their efforts. Their love and concern for him through the years is a testament to what “family” really means. Even when dealing with our Dad during some frustrating moments, they never gave up. Learning by their example is something I hope I can aspire to. The love and appreciation that I and my brothers and sister feel is beyond measure. We have always been fortunate to have you in our lives.
Thank you for being there for our family all these years.
We love you both very much.
Jonathan Hinchberger (in memory)