Karen’s Blog

Thoughts on a changing profession and life

Dad

with 3 comments

I took this picture of my father in Michigan about 1975 with an old Nikon FTN.

I got the phone call that I’ve dreaded for years.

My father had a stroke.

Though he was 84, and I knew he wasn’t going to live forever I could never visualize a time when he would not be here.  He was vital, active and living a full life with my mother until the moment of the stroke.  After struggling to live for several weeks, he finally died peacefully at home, comfortable and without pain.

For his family, those weeks were harrowing, with tensions that can occur in even the best of families.  But that’s not what this blog is about.  Here I want to remember my father.

During World War II he joined the Navy.  That was his ticket off the family farm in Michigan.  Just 17 years old, he was sent to the Pacific and built airstrips in the Philippines.  After the war he returned to Michigan, finishing high school and attending college.  But he was restless and started thinking about the Navy again.  His girlfriend didn’t like that, and gave him an ultimatum—“the Navy or me.”  Luckily for my siblings and I, he decided to set sail.  I sometimes wonder what happened to that woman.

The Navy opened the world to him.  His enlistment stretched to 30 years.  He traveled through the Far East, served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.  In the 1950s, he was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan.   There he met Emiko Fukumoto, a cute, smartly dressed 19 year old who worked on the base.  They got married and nine months later I arrived.  My three siblings soon followed.

Our life was that of a military family.  Dad was frequently at sea.  Without email, video conferencing, or Facebook, those long months when he was gone seemed to last forever.  We loved opening the packages he sent, filled with gifts from places we barely knew existed. He had purchased a Nikon S rangefinder (yes Nikon did make a rangefinder) while stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base.  He photographed everything in his world during that time including his young family.

Dad used an old Nikon S rangefinder to take this winning picture of Nikko Lake in Japan. He took it on his honeymoon with my mother in 1952.

On my parent’s honeymoon he photographed Lake Nikko, north of Tokyo.  The image is a stark one, framed by the bare tree limbs of winter.  The scene must have reminded him of rural Michigan, where he spent much of his childhood.  He was very proud that the image took first place in the “Far East Photo Contest.”  He became an avid amateur photographer and shot rolls of vintage Kodachrome 25 film.  When he was home, we’d spend evenings watching slides or super 8 film clips of his travels. I’m sure my own love of travel began during those evenings.

Dad loved tasting different foods.

As an enlisted man with a growing family, he had to moonlight to make ends meet.   But on payday, he would often bring home a box overflowing with enough goodies to make a Polish grandmother proud; huge cream puffs, delectable cheeses, flavorful sausages, firm and chewy breads.  Since our normal fare was Velveeta cheese, Wonder bread and canned pork and beans, that box was a magic treasure trove.  Growing up during the Great Depression, such treats were out of reach for him.  He wanted his children to taste and experience what he never could in his youth.

Dad was also an early “foodie”, before anyone used that term.  He ate locally, whether he was stationed in Japan, Vietnam or Boston.  By then we lived in Norfolk Virginia.  I would get his letters filled with tales of grilled seafood, chowders, and a strange noodle soup called “Pho.”   Despite being a port city, Norfolk was not much of a culinary center in those days and my knowledge of “unusual” foods was confined to his letters.

Now I live in the Washington D.C. area and finding a bowl of Pho is almost as easy as going for a burger.  When my parents came up to visit, they’d time their arrival for lunch. We’d head over to the “Four Sisters” a popular Vietnamese place that my parents enjoyed.  Dad always ordered the grilled pork cooked with lemongrass. They timed their return home so they could stop for lunch at Pierce’s Barbeque in Williamsburg, Virginia.  My father loved pork.

In a way, I’ve become my father.   Like him, I’m a photographer, a traveler and a “foodie.”

As my life unfolded, I started a career similar to his.  Instead of the military, my ticket to the world was National Geographic Magazine, where I worked as a contract photographer for twenty years.  My husband always knew where I had been by the style of food I’d cook soon after returning from an assignment.  Coming home after a trip to New Mexico, I made posole using peppers I purchased there.  It may be I added a tad too many.  My father dutifully forced down a few bites and then screamed out in protest for water!!!   I loved bringing back foods, recipes, and different liquors for him to taste so he could experience my travels through food and drink.  He was such a sport, tasting everything even if it meant a night of running back and forth to the bathroom.

Dad in late 2009, patiently being my subject while I test two Nikon SB-900 speedlights.

He was also my willing victim when I tried out new photography gear, patiently sitting through photo sessions.  Last winter, his knees were aching, but he stood patiently outside until I finished testing a couple of new strobes.

What I inherited from him that I treasure the most was his curiosity and engagement in the world.  He was an avid newspaper reader.  He not only read the news but thought about it.  He had a great sense of morality and justice, which he passed on to me.  When a topic engaged him, he wrote letters to the editorial page, many of which were published.  He instilled in me a sense of humanity, to judge a person not by the color, religion or ethnicity or what they might pontificate on but rather how they actually lived their lives.

My most enjoyable times were the long phone calls we often shared.  Some lasted for hours, as we solved the world’s problems.  The last one was the Monday before the stroke; ironically, we were talking about the need for health care reform.

I will miss those lively phone calls and the joy he took in the small pleasures of life whether it was working in his beloved garden, tasting a perfectly cooked steak or sipping a Manhattan that I took pleasure in making for him, adding a extra drop or two of cherry juice so it could be perfect.  Not that he would ever complain if it weren’t.

I was testing the Nikon D2X when I took this picture of my mom and dad on a walk through Maine’s Acadia National Park in 2005.

Written by kasmauski

April 3, 2010 at 5:52 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Karen, thank you for sharing your Father’s story. You successfully made him a real, 3-dimensional, fascinating man with your words. My Dad lives in Indiana and is turning 82 on April 20. He has survived 4 bouts of different cancers, yet keeps on with life, rather unconcerned with health questions. He too served in the Army & went to Korea, married Mom in 1951 and I arrived in ’52, followed by 3 brothers. He, too, is my go-to person for all things political, financial, spiritual and edible – I’ll never forget his introducing my brother, Michael to fried grasshoppers at the BonTon deli in Terre Haute when we were about 10 and 9! Your Father’s choices have been a blessing to his children – the eyes to see a world that is the (2nd)best gift God gave us, right from the beginning of time. I will grieve your loss and remember your family in my prayers this Easter weekend. Remember – He lives! this world is but a shadow of what is to come. We who are left behind for awhile mourn, but joy comes in the morning.

    Angela Gambill Neese

    April 4, 2010 at 2:58 am

  2. This is beautiful. What a loving tribute.

    Cheryl Zorn

    April 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm

  3. This is so beautiful, Karen. Sounds as if your dad lives on through you. Now that’s what I call a wonderful life. Thank you for this lovely post.

    Jeanne Marie Laskas

    April 13, 2010 at 5:36 pm


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