So as people “believe” in many THINGS……
This I Believe….
I believe in my FATHER, Charlie . Because in him, I see a man who so embodied the cherished qualities of compassion, service to others and true love, that I need not need look else ware for something to believe in more, than simply the man, who once sat at the head of our kitchen table. For my father gave freely of himself to the many, and thus created such a ripple effect that he will be quietly felt for generations to come. For he was the definition of the good and honest public servant as well as the prime example of a loving father and devoted husband. He was the true leader of our grateful community who even named a bridge after him and thankfully did so, while he was still alive to enjoy it for many years. Some of his many loves included being the mayor and councilman of our community for over 26 years, serving his country by military service as well as civilian service to two Presidents. He participated in numerous civic and charitable organizations, was a leader in his church and most importantly he was a loving husband, devoted father of seven children and the patriarch to a vast and loving family.
He instilled in us, his love of education which was born out of the opportunity his poor immigrant parents could not give him. He was fortunately selected for scholarship to a prestigious prep school with an admissions interview that is hard to imagine from today’s headmasters. During that interview, he was asked only 3 oral questions: “Son, do you drink? Son do you smoke? And son can you raise a hundred dollars during the summer?” Proving to me, that the headmaster was not merely looking for a scholar/athlete, but rather he was looking for an “investment”. An investment, that would someday “pay it all forward”. And my father did that in so very many ways, that few today achieve.
Raising that hundred dollars was no easy task in the late1930s. But to a kid who dragged driftwood up the steep banks of the Connecticut River to heat his house, because he didn’t think it was right to cut down other people’s trees, hard work was no stranger. And so he went on to graduate, Kimball Union Academy, Middlebury College and MIT, slowed only by the interruption of WWII.
Thus we his children, came to intimately know his personal ethic of hard-work, as he wisely used the countless opportunities, as the “tools” that would shape our character. For there was always a lot of “character building” going on in our family life. Dad’s most notable project was what we affectionally called “The Wall”. It was the 15 year-long manual construction of one single gigantic stone retaining wall to hold back the Sugar River and which still stands today as a testament to him and his family. For dad ascribed to the mentality: “If you can do it by hand, than do it by hand. And if you can do it by machine, than do it by hand”. For all those long years of working on “The Wall”, had to be “fit into” our daily chores of living in our “Mom & Pop” grocery store and running 30 apartments and his “regular job” and constant community service.
Years later, as we were leaving for a party, my wife said to me, “Fred tonight, could you NOT tell people about how you were brought up? When I asked “why”? She continued, “Because most people can’t relate to growing up in a LABOR CAMP!” And although I came to see that she was right, those people with “normal” childhoods, still seemed genuinely fascinated with my many tails of childhood toil and my Father’s expansive love.
As a craftsmen myself, I look at my Dad’s life now through that prism, and see myself still, a mere apprentice to that “Master”. And I see now, certain realities about him and his life’s quiet work. I see that each of us remaining family members, have more than a few “chisel marks, from my father, the “Master Sculptor”. But these are not marks that were made in aggression like those from a hammer striking marble, but rather gentle and loving impressions, pushed into the soft, malleable clay of our spirits , before being fired in this furnace we call life.
My father recently passed away. And before the wake, I returned to “The Wall” after all these years, and like an open wound I found a hole within that wall. And I reached deep within the heart of that wall as if it were my father himself, and I pulled out one single stone from The Wall. I brought that stone to the funeral home and had all our family members sign it. And knowing there was room where my father’s leg once was, we gently placed it there to be with him. We were all very proud to carry our father that day and were somehow comforted by the task of carrying one last rock for “the Old Man”.
And at the end of my eulogy to that packed church, in our small mill town, I requested one last gesture from the community that he gave so unselfishly to. I asked all present to give my father, Charlie Puksta, one last standing ovation.
One final “That a boy, Charlie!” for a job well done, and for a life well-lived.
And all I had to do was ask. And our community rose with enthusiasm and gave back to my Pop, with generosity and Love. And I felt the warmth of my father’s spirit once again, and continue to each day, – I Believe.
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