Can you imagine what life would have been like in 1911? That's the year that my dad, Joe Billheimer, was born. He worked hard from the time he was a kid growing up on the family farm until he suffered a stroke when he was 90...nearly 91. The cancer that was running rampant inside his body hadn't become evident to anyone yet until he was hospitalized for that stroke in the spring of 2002. About six weeks later, he would pass from this life, into the next. We hear all the time about how the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Lord was surely at work here. You see, the stroke my dad suffered had robbed him of his speech. Anyone who knew him would also know that just wouldn't work for him. Not only was he not able to do what he loved to do almost more than anything ...talk ...and whistle...(he did both all the time), he knew that the weakness that had taken over the one side of his body would also keep him from taking care of Mom, his princess. His queen. His precious bride of nearly 70 years. Now, if there was ever anyone who wouldn't consider herself anything even remotely close to royalty, that would be Mom. It didn't matter though. She was everything to him. We didn't know it but the cancer had already progressed to the stage where his time left would be only be a matter of weeks. I actually feel like the cancer was a blessing in disguise. Really? How could I possibly think that? How could we imagine Dad without a voice? How could we imagine how totally helpless he would feel not to be able to do his day to day tasks, and most importantly, take care of his beloved life-long mate?
One thing I always remember about him were his hands and how big and strong they were. Remember the popular song, "Daddy's Hands"? I think about him everytime I hear it. One of the lines in the song says "you could read quite a story in the callouses and lines, years of work and worry had left their mark behind". That would describe them perfectly. If you ever shook his hand you would know what I'm talking about. My dad was a strong man and he had big ol' hands and fingers! They were as rough as sandpaper due to the fact that he was always doing something with them....they were rarely idle. They were either working at his regular job, where he was tool and dye maker and machinist, repairing something broken, tending to the garden or they might be helping a friend's ox out the ditch, so to speak. I remember that tough skin came in quite handy when it came to lawn mower blades. One of the few times my dad ever stepped foot into a doctor's office or hospital was when he nearly cut off three of his fingers at one time when he was working on a lawn mower ...getting in the way of the blade...OUCH! Many times he would just come in the house, put bandaids on them and go back out and continue what he was doing. He probably would have lost those fingers had they not been so strong and tough.
I remember as a small child, his hands making mine look so very small in comparison. But even though the outer surfaces of his hands were sandpaper-like, there was a softer side to these hands of his. The way he "handled" his wife is a great example of what I am referring to. It was like she was made of glass, the way he would gently touch and embrace her. She might be standing at the kitchen sink, preparing food or something and he would walk by, giving her a soft kiss on the cheek, a little squeeze or maybe pat her ever so lightly on the behind. It was a scene that we witnessed almost on a daily basis. His gentleness towards her was constant and I never heard him raise his voice to her. Now, that was a slightly different story when it came to his children. I would describe him this way - his bark was worse than is bite. I don't know how much or how severely he disciplined the older kids...I will admit I've heard a few stories :) I am guessing he mellowed quite a bit through the years since I don't remember him putting a hand on me (in that way) or anyone else after I came along.
These other lyrics from that song tell the rest of the story:
I remember Daddy's hands, working 'til they bled
Sacrificed unselfishly, just to keep us all fed
If I could do things over, I'd live my life again
And never take for granted the love in Daddy's hands
I remember Daddy's hands, how they held my mama tight
And patted my back, for something done right.
There are things that I've forgotten, that I loved about the man
But I'll always remember the love in Daddy's hands.
Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin'
Daddy's hands were hard as steel when I'd done wrong.
Daddy's hands weren't always gentle but I've come to understand
There was always love in Daddy's hands.
I really kind of doubt they celebrate birthdays in heaven but just in case they do, Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you!
You know, sometimes...I swear I can still hear him whistling :)