My apologies to Five for Fighting for stealing their song title for this post, but it was the first song I heard while I was running on the treadmill this morning and thinking about the life of a very special person who was laid to rest yesterday.
Nicholas Robert Kukich was born on January 8, 1916, and he died on January 25, 2015. He lived for 99 years and 17 days.
He was my kids' grandfather, my ex-husband's father, and my father-in-law for more than 30 years.
But I could never bring myself to call him my "ex-father-in-law."
After Nick Jr. and I divorced and both of us remarried, I stayed in touch with his parents, Rose and Nick Sr., by then better known as "Deda" because that's what his grandkids called him. Doug and I occasionally visited them, especially around the holidays to bring them a tin of Christmas cookies.
At Deda's funeral yesterday, his oldest son, Bob, talked about his parents' 67-year marriage, which can best be described as loving but contentious. The two of them could--and did--argue about anything. On one of our last visits to see them in their own home several years ago, we were chatting in the kitchen when Deda, at that point about 93 years old, disappeared. Rose immediately got annoyed.
"Damn it," she said, "he's always doing that--people come to visit and he just walks away."
Five minutes later, Deda came up from the basement, bearing a bottle of his homemade wine for us.
No one left Deda's house without a gift--tomatoes and zucchini from his garden, a dog-eared book, a bottle of wine. Supplies for a building project. Cherries from a tree in his back yard, where Deda fought an annual battle with the birds for the tart fruit that made wonderful pies.
Deda was born in a coal mining town in Ohio and grew up during the Great Depression. With just an eighth-grade education, the military was his ticket out of poverty, and he became a hero in World War II as a member of the OSS.
Deda was a reluctant hero, always believing that his lack of an education disqualified him from being put on a pedestal. But he educated himself, reading and studying philosophy, history, religion.... And, as Bob said at the funeral, there wasn't anything the man couldn't fix.
Deda also never forgot what it meant to be poor. When he and Rose purchased their first house in Delaware in 1957, he was determined to burn the mortgage as quickly as he could. It took five years of working extra shifts and eating baloney sandwiches, but by 1962, they owned the house free and clear. They ended up living there for 55 years.
Shortly after moving to Delaware, Deda noticed that there wasn't much for kids to do in their community. But instead of complaining, he got busy and started a Little League program in Claymont. He organized, raised money, cut grass, coached, and did whatever it took to make the league successful.
Decades later, when my two young athletes started playing sports, Deda and Rose were always there on the sidelines cheering them on. From baseball and soccer to lacrosse and field hockey, they sat in the bleachers, ate hot dogs from the concession stand, and bought gift wrap and candles for fundraisers. Christine even credits Deda with her lifelong love of soccer--she was a reluctant recruit at the age of six, but her interest perked up considerably when Deda started paying her for goals scored.
Christine's current savings account is still a little fatter than it would have been without Deda. When the kids were small, he gave them a dollar each time he saw them. Later in life, when he came into some unexpected government compensation for his war injuries, he gave the kids a raise too--the singles turned into twenties.
Yesterday, the man who took in refugees, gave away tomatoes, cheered for his grandkids, and made candles for his church was laid to rest with a military ceremony. There wasn't a dry eye in the room when the flag from his coffin was carefully folded and handed to his widow.
And my eyes weren't dry this morning, when the second song Pandora Radio served up for me was the late Hawaiian singer Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwoʻole's medley of "What a Wonderful World" and "Over the Rainbow."
Rest in peace, Deda.
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