Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Yankee Doodle Dad

I can't get through the 4th of July without thinking a lot about my Dad.

In Robbinsdale, Minnesota, where I grew up, the 4th was the best day of the year. Our town's annual "Whiz Bang Days" festival made you feel like you'd walked onto the set of "The Music Man."

Horseshoe and archery tournaments (both of which my sister Melanie won), a pancake breakfast, a fishing contest...Whiz Bang Days had it all. Attending the traveling carnival unchaperoned was a significant rite of passage for my sister and me. We'd walk to Lakeview Terrace Park hoping that no mean kids would throw firecrackers at our feet. Then, swatting at a swarm of mosquitoes, we'd watch the coronation of Miss Robbinsdale, wistfully wondering if we'd be in the running someday.

My dad's favorite event was the Whiz Bang Days parade, especially the years my sister and I played bad clarinet in the Robbinsdale City Band. He found a folding camp stool at a garage sale one summer, and this became his "PWC" or parade-watching chair. Dad stood at attention everytime the flag went by, not only the first time in each parade, which is what local tradition dictated.

Jack Wigand loved his country and embraced every opportunity to witness and applaud some patriotic pageantry. He was an old-school, flag-waving Army veteran, a credential he encouraged us to invoke as needed. In third grade, when Tim Wilson stomped on my math book, my Dad's response was, "Tell him your old man was a chief warrant officer." As time went on, I used that line a lot, and it actually may have worked once when I was trying to get into an already-filled class in college.

Dad told his army stories as often as we'd listen. One time, in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he and the other recruits were out on the firing range in the hundred-degree prairie heat. The drill sergeant asked if anyone had experience doing paperwork. Because my Dad had been an insurance clerk before enlisting, and because he sensed an opportunity to get out of the sun, he raised his hand. The drill sergeant stuck him in an even hotter trench behind the targets, where his job was to lick adhesive patches and repair the targets for the other guys between rounds.

Usually these stories had a sweet, nostalgic patina. Both Mom and Dad maintained that their days in the service were the happiest of their lives, with one exception. Dad was disturbed and ashamed to recall the day when he and his friends were taught to strangle an enemy soldier with a piano wire.

It was lucky for Dad that he remained stateside.

I wonder what he'd make of the current mess. He always voted the straight Republican ticket. (I think his darkest moment was the day he learned I was a delegate to a Democratic caucus. Well, that and the weekend I came home from college in bib overalls.) But still, I believe Dad would have despised Bush and his henchmen.

A patriotic guy with absolute notions of right and wrong has no time for crooks and liars. And whether they're stealing an election or lying about weapons or commuting sentences for rich fat cat buddies, that's who's running the show: crooks and liars making cynics and doubters of us all.

Anyway, Dad, if you're reading this on some heavenly blog, thanks for lighting the sparklers. And thanks for sitting inside with me when the fireworks got too loud. You were a Whiz Bang of a guy. And I love you and miss you today.


Eric Weslander said...

Probably my strongest memory of your dad was when he gathered up a bunch of kids in the neighborhood and took them on a Snipe hunt, searching for a nonexistent bird. I and other of his grandkids were in on the joke, but we soon had about 10 neighborhood kids involved.

Jas P. said...

Last night on C-SPAN 2, they ran Bill Clinton's speech at the Truman Library from last Friday. It was magnificent, ranging across issues and time and weaving themes like a fantastic web of vision and statesmanship. He was funny, he was moving, and he barely had to glance at his notes, because he lives his ideas. He actually believes things, has a soul and an imagination. My point is, I think if your Dad had heard that, and put it up against what passes for presidential rhetoric out of Bush's smirking mouth, he'd have switched parties.

Beautiful post, Molly. I never knew your dad, and I miss him anyway.

Sally Weslander said...

Thanks, Molly, for this tribute to our dad. You have captured his spirit and his devotion to family. But you forgot to mention that, as an adorable six or seven-year old, you were once crowned royalty at a Whiz Bank Days Celebration. That was another proud moment for Dad -- and big sister Sal.

Mol the Doll said...

For the record, Sally and Melanie stuffed the ballot box to make me queen of Sanborn Park.

I still got to ride on the float, though!

Melanie said...

What a great tribute to Dad on the Fourth of July. He truly loved that holiday.

I remember on 4th when Gee and I were newly married. We were in Sanborn Park watching the fireworks with Dad. When we left to go back to 4258, this strange guy followed us home. Spooky, until we realized it was Uncle Bud!

Molly, you will always be my "Quenn of Sanborn Park."

P.S. I still have the trophies.

Jim Wigand said...

Jack Wigand was one helluva partriot. I cam still remember going to the flagpole with him, a sandwich, and something to drink to sit at the foot of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in full view of the flagpole and eat our lunch. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about you in some way or another. Things you have taught me I have also passed on to our children. Love ya JIM