Pop

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Dad passed away a year ago today. I miss him, as I know the whole family does. I miss his presence, his grasp of the past, his intelligence, his curiosity, his generosity, his sense of fun. And of course there are a million questions I wish I could have asked about his life, about what he went through as a son, a father and husband, as a man. There’s a lot about him I have never understood and have spent countless hours examining, wondering at, and puzzling over. He was not an easy guy to sound out about what he’d gone through in his life.

The picture above is one from the archives. That’s Dad, Stephen Daniel Brekke, in the arms of his grandfather, Theodore Sieverson. The picture is dated July 30, 1922, and they’re standing outside the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Alvarado, Minnesota (the church, no longer standing, is out of the frame to the right; the brick building in the left distance is the town’s public school, which is still standing, though no longer used as a school). My father’s father, Sjur Brekke, was pastor there. Grandpa Sieverson was a carpenter from a town just outside Frederikstad, Norway, who with his wife, Maren Olesdatter, and six children emigrated to the United States in 1884. Dad’s mom, Otilia, was the first of five children Theodore and Maren had in Chicago.

Pop

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That’s me and my dad and namesake, Stephen Daniel Brekke, back in 1955, when I was about a year or so old and he was 33 or 34. He was not a bad-looking guy, and he could rock a bow tie, as the young people say today. When my parents had this picture developed, they saw something they hadn’t noticed before — that something was amiss with my eyes. They took me to an ophthalmologist, and I was in glasses by the age of 18 months. But that’s another story.

Today’s story is that Dad died about 5 this afternoon, Chicago time. My sister, Ann, and my brothers, John and Chris, were with him when he went. Some of his grandkids had just visited. Chris’s wife, Patty, was there. A Lutheran minister, a fellow Norwegian-American, came in to say a prayer. John says his passing was as quiet, as peaceful, and as gentle as it could have been.

If this were a news story, we’d want to be getting to the cause of death. I think I hit upon the right description the other day: the weight of his ninety-plus years finally bore down on him. He’d had pneumonia. And emphysema. And crippling arthritis that virtually froze his knee joints and robbed him of his mobility. And a form of dementia that denied him the ability to communicate freely. And finally, congestive heart failure. Ann’s husband, Dan–the two of them were my dad’s primary caretakers for the last three years or so of his life and his main lifeline since our mom died nine years ago–reminded me that my dad never complained.

And he didn’t. If you asked him if he was in pain or uncomfortable, he’d come out with some formulation like, “I can’t say that I am.” It wasn’t until a month or so ago that Ann asked him if he was hurting after suffering an arm abrasion and he said, “I hurt all over.”

Bye, Pop. We miss you already. But we’re glad you’re not hurting any longer.

Mom and Dad, Flags, the Fourth of July

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That’s my mom, Mary Alice Hogan, posing with Old Glory. There’s no date on the picture, but I would guess this was the 4th of July and that she was about 16. That would place the picture in 1945 or ’46. A further guess: The picture was taken at her O’Malley-Moran grandparents’ place at 6524 South Yale Avenue in Chicago’s Engelwood district (the family moved there from their Stockyards neighborhood sometime between 1900 and 1910 and stayed through the early 1960s. The house was torn down sometime in the past 15 or 20 years, and there’s a vacant lot there now).

Below is my dad. The picture is actually dated September 30, 1928, when he would have been seven years old (and 14 months before Mom was born). I have no idea why he’s wearing the funny lady’s hat or carrying an American flag or wearing whatever that is around his neck. This would have been about three years after his family moved back to the city from Alvarado, Minnesota, where his dad was a Lutheran pastor for several parishes in town and the surrounding area. They lived on the South Side through 1930, at West 71st and South Ada streets. One other thing I take note of after staring hard at this picture: the suit that my dad’s wearing. That is some serious-looking fabric.

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Mom and Dad, Flags, the Fourth of July

mary070412.jpg  

That’s my mom, Mary Alice Hogan, posing with Old Glory. There’s no date on the picture, but I would guess this was the 4th of July and that she was about 16. That would place the picture in 1945 or ’46. A further guess: The picture was taken at her O’Malley-Moran grandparents’ place at 6524 South Yale Avenue in Chicago’s Engelwood district (the family moved there from their Stockyards neighborhood sometime between 1900 and 1910 and stayed through the early 1960s. The house was torn down sometime in the past 15 or 20 years, and there’s a vacant lot there now).

Below is my dad. The picture is actually dated September 30, 1928, when he would have been seven years old (and 14 months before Mom was born). I have no idea why he’s wearing the funny lady’s hat or carrying an American flag or wearing whatever that is around his neck. This would have been about three years after his family moved back to the city from Alvarado, Minnesota, where his dad was a Lutheran pastor for several parishes in town and the surrounding area. They lived on the South Side through 1930, at West 71st and South Ada streets. One other thing I take note of after staring hard at this picture: the suit that my dad’s wearing. That is some serious-looking fabric.

steve070412-2.jpg