I’ve been keeping a blog for the past three years. My tagline, HumbleSwede, came from a name some friends of mine in college used to call me. I wasn’t sure then that it fit, but nonetheless it stuck.
This past Thursday, my father passed away, and it hits me now that maybe that name was aspirational. My father was truly the Humble Swede. He was smart. He was funny. He was strong. He was kind. He was gentle. But perhaps the adjective that pegged him best was humble.
It has taken me four days to bring myself to write. I’m trying hard not to be bitter about the way my humble father’s life ended. Alone. I know that in this time, my family is not unique in missing out on goodbyes, and hugs, and hands held, but it gives me extra pain to think about my parents, after 65 years together, not being able to see each other these past five weeks, not being able to comfort each other as I know they would have. My father went to the hospital with COVID in mid November. He was moved five times, from hospital to rehab center to hospital and back. He never made it home. Never was able to have a visitor. But I don’t want to dwell on those five weeks.
I prefer to remember him at our dinner table, when his hearing was better and his mind sharper. I prefer to remember the pre-Google era when he would bound from his chair to grab a dictionary or encyclopedia because he had to find an answer and his plate of food could wait. I prefer to remember him purposely mangling the names of my favorite baseball players, his subtle way of pointing out that there were more important things than sports and sports heroes. I prefer to remember the gauze and tape at the crook of his arm every month for as long as I can remember, the sign that he had given blood…again. I prefer to remember my parents’ friendly debates at dinner. Remember when debates could be civilized? I prefer to remember the wildly unmanicured yard my father cultivated. More jungle than suburban landscape, it revealed his priorities. I prefer to remember his stubborn practicality, the cardboard box that served as the mailbox on my parents’ front door, the rubber bands that held open the shower door. I prefer to remember his views on taxes. He didn’t mind them as long as they were used for “good.” “We have plenty,” he liked to say.
Every dinner at our house ended with my father saying, “Tack för maten,” to my mother (Thanks for the food).
My mother’s concluding words, “Well, that’s all there is,” led to another predictable response from Dad.
He would declare it “an elegant sufficiency,” and then add, “anything more would be superfluity.” It was his favorite line from a favorite book, Brighten the Corner Where You Live. I know he loved that line for its humble sentiment, but just as much for the irony of its high-falutin’ vocabulary.
Yes, my father loved his family tree. He took pride in the accomplishments of his prize-winning grandfather and father, but mostly he celebrated what he had in us. He may not have uncovered the role of an enzyme or discovered a neurotransmitter, like his forebears. Still, quietly and humbly, he brightened the corner where he lived. For that, he will always be famous to me.