That's him third from the left front row - he was the 11th child and the 7th son
My parents would have been married 53 years this past August 11 and I take comfort that for the first time in years they were together on that day.
They were living in Miami Beach, FL and got married in 100+ degree heat by a justice of the peace in her home. They stopped on the way to dinner in front of this beautiful church in St. Petersburg to take pictures and not a soul was around to take one of them together! Mom's bouquet was yellow roses, shasta daisies and baby's breath.
So in honor of this anniversary of my dad's passing I am posting the remembrance I wrote for his memorial services (one here on the Cape and one in Connecticut which to him was always "home").
When Dad passed away, I was blessed to be there, holding his hand. I played his favorite Johnny Cash as he crossed over and began his new journey. He was there one moment and then gone the next.
Because of his congestive heart failure, his hands had swollen a bit from the bony, weak looking hands of these last few months (they were not weak – just looked that way). As I held his warm hand and closed my eyes, I realized that his hand once again felt like the strong supportive hand I had clung to as a little girl. As he squeezed my hand to let me know he knew I was there with him, I remembered all the times he had squeezed my hand as a child to silently tell me everything would be okay.
As I lay in bed that night trying to process the day, I could still feel his warm hand squeezing mine and I thought about those hands. One of my earliest memories of him was his hands pushing our car. When I was very little, we lived in Mill Ridge (Danbury, CT), and we had an old car that had a starter button. If it was cold, or wet or a month with an R in it the car would not start. There is some way with older standard cars that you can get it to start if it is rolling forward (popping the clutch). So to get me to my babysitter and my mom and himself to work, my mom and I would get in the car and my Dad would open the driver side door and with his left hand on the door frame and his right on the steering wheel he would push the car working his way up to a run as we reached the corner before the steep hill by our house. Then running alongside the car he would jump in, slam the door and start trying to get the car to start, swearing and praying it would start before we reached the intersection at the bottom of the hill. Fortunately, it always started.
I remember growing up watching my Dad’s hands form amazing picture frames for customers out of barn siding or simple wood molding that he would rout and stain to become something as beautiful as the art it framed. His hands were always so strong, and callused from opening and closing paint cans as he matched colors with an eye for hue and shade that would be the envy of any artist and then later from making precision tools accurate to a millionth of an inch. Yet those hands were the same hands that gently cared for me when I was ill or stroked my head to go back to sleep after a bad dream – my first words were “Daddy” and it was Daddy I called for at night when I was sick, scared or just needed a drink of water (and no - Mom never complained!).
His hands seemed to be able to fix anything - plumbing, electricity, cars, toys, whatever. He and I remodeled the kitchen in my house 10 years ago and he built the butcher block style counter top on my island by hand as well as laying all the tile work on my counters. Yet 12 years ago, as Mom lay in ICU slowly dying from a hospital acquired infection that was misdiagnosed, my Dad was devastated because he could not fix my mom. I can still see him sitting next to Mom with those same strong hands holding her hand for hours at a time, only leaving her when we convinced him he needed to eat or sleep.
Over these last few years, it has been me with the strong hands which he reached for when he was weak or unsteady. It was “Gale” that was called at night when his Parkinson’s caused him to stiffen up and would not allow him to roll over. I cut his meat for him when his arthritis and Parkinson’s made that task impossible for his hands to do any more. Yet in his final days his hands were strong enough to communicate by squeezing my hand to answer questions – like asking him the Saturday before he passed if he wanted some Johnny Cash and when he didn’t respond I said "I guess you don’t" – thinking he just wanted quiet – and then he squeezed my hand so hard to correct my mistaken thought that it hurt. On his last Sunday, I told him I loved him and that everything would be alright and Chauncey (our dog) and I would be alright. He squeezed my hand several times until he became too weak to even do that. As I lay in bed that night, feeling his hand still in mine, I realized he finally knew that everything was going to be okay and wanted me to know that too.
Dad holding me at about 4 months old
Halcyon (Rocky) Rockwell 6 July 1927 - 23 August 2009
Love you Dad!
Love you Dad!