Holiday season brings back memories of lost loved ones

Tim Howsare

The holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving and ending with New Year’s Day, is typically a time of celebration.
And for many of us, including me, we also feel some sadness thinking back to past holidays, particularly those from our childhoods. They often bring back memories of loved ones who have passed on.
Christmas always brings back memories of my parents. My father, Stacy, died in 2000, and my mother, Margaret Anne, died in 1995.
My father would have celebrated his 94th birthday on Dec. 1. He was a World War II veteran, having served in the infantry in North Africa and then Italy. In Italy, he was shot in the leg and sent back to a hospital in the United States, where he recieved) received the Purple Heart.
Over the weekend, I stumbled across a newspaper archive website with editions dating back to the early 20th century.
Of course, to actually find anything more than the first sentence, I had to pay $19.95 to access the full versions, but it was definitely worth it.
By searching “Stacy Howsare,” I found several articles that had my father’s name, both in Pennsylvania where he grew up, and Valparaiso, Indiana, where I grew up after our family moved from the Pittsburgh area to Northwest Indiana.
My father was a steel worker, moving up into a supervisor’s position in Indiana.
I found two articles dated in 1945 when my dad returned from the service. I also found an article from 1952 when my Aunt Dorrie, the oldest of his three sisters, got married and my father walked her down the aisle. I also found an article in the Valparaiso paper that had my dad’s name when he was called to jury duty.
By searching with my dad’s name, articles that were actually about my mother also popped up because in those days married women went by their husband’s name with the prefix “Mrs.” in front.
For about a year, my mom was a Cub Scout den mother, so there were a couple articles about luncheons for the local den mothers. I also found articles about myself participating in music contests and my sister taking part in dance recitals.
Getting back to my parents. My father was very tough and an authoritarian.
He probably wasn’t much different from a lot of other men from “The Greatest Generation.” He came back from the war, went to work and started a family. He never talked about his experiences from the war, keeping everything bottled up inside.
My mother, though conservative and also strict, was much more gentle and sympathetic.
She was an amazing cook and baker, having learned everything from her mother, who came from the “old country,” which is present-day Slovakia. My maternal grandmother emigrated to the U.S. in 1918, coming through the port at Ellis Island.
At Christmas, my mom always baked dozens and dozens of fantastic cookies, many from Eastern European recipes. She was one of Tupperware’s best customers.
Because of my dad’s stern nature, he wasn’t a very social person and was usually distant even from his immediate family members.
He once told me that the real reason we moved from Pittsburgh to Indiana was not so he could get a better job — which I had believed throughout my childhood — but to get away from his family.
Then on a Christmas Eve in the early or mid 1980s, I finally got to know my dad. I was in my 20s. My dad was not religious, but would sometimes go to Mass on Christmas with me, my mom and sister.
After we got home from Mass, my dad and I were watching TV while drinking beer.
I can remember us arguing for a while, and then as the hours waned and the empty beer cans piled up, my dad told me why he was so detached from people. It was because of his experiences in the war. In particular, he watched one of his best buddies from boot camp die after he got shot in the stomach while standing next to my dad. He said after that he didn’t want to befriend any of his fellow servicemen because he didn’t want to grieve for someone that he became close to.
He also told me about how he shot and killed a German soldier a split second after the soldier had raised his hands to surrender. Realizing too late that the soldier, a teenager just like him, was surrendering, my dad said he never forgot the look on his face as he stared at my dad, collapsed to the ground and died.
After that night, my dad and I had a much better relationship, and, in the last three or four years of his life, we became very close.
Finally, in my late 30s, we had an “Oprah moment” in which we hugged each other and he said, “I love you, Tim,” and I said, “I love, Dad.”
I will always cherish that Christmas Eve from so many years ago. I also will cherish the newspaper articles I recently downloaded that have articles mentioning both of my parents.
I hope that as all of you celebrate during the holidays, you will reflect on precious memories of loved ones just as I do.