Tuesday, October 16, 2012

my father

Elmer Shigo 1928 - 2012

My father as he was in college. The photo sat on a bookshelf in my grandmother's house for as long as I can remember, eventually coming to me when her house was dispersed and she came to live near my parents in a nursing home, short-term memory shot, living in a past that eventually faded. My dad and mom when to see her twice a day, taking turns feeding her in the morning and evening, getting her to talk about the things she remembered, making the most of what remained, five years passing before the end.

It is hard to sum up a man in a paragraph or two. He was 6'4" and called Slim as a young man, built my grandmother's house with his own hands, served in the Korean War and studied science in college. Working for USSteel after marrying my mother and starting a family, he traveling the world, consulting and running plants - making 'cakes' as he called it - before the steel industry collapsed in the 70's; taking early retirement and obtaining a decent pension at the age of 55, which you can't do anymore. Living until the age of 84, he had significant heart problems which started in his mid-50's. Modern medicine, however, kept him alive with 18 stints, 40-odd trips to the hospital, open heart surgery and a defib-pacemaker. Yet even with serious health issues, he was an intensely creative man; making stained-glass lamps, collecting Tiffany, fountain pens, crafting beautiful silver jewelry and furniture. His talent for taking disparate elements and creating beautiful objects was inspiring if occasionally hilarious (logs in the backyard made into a dinosaur with bejeweled eyes and fangs comes to mind). Had he gone another way, he might have become a full-time artisan.

Tiffany Studios 

His five children ended up alright, which he would point out at family gatherings with an air of thankful wonder - not exactly taking credit. That he championed his gay son's husband in his own quiet way was part of a life pattern: he always did the right thing even if it initially confounded him. He made things right.

I remember him joyously playing the guitar and harmonica, getting everyone to sing camp songs, working with one-pointed concentration in his workshop, lost in the art of making art, asking me if I was ok after a car accident in a preternaturally calm voice, telling me how proud he was after  hearing me sing and caressing my head when I was eight. 

My mother survives him as does his two daughters, three boys, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 


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