By Jessica Anderson Cronenberger
It was a really long, crazy day at work and just when I thought I might get a bit cranky – I do that sometimes – my best friend called and said, “Hey, I think I see a picture of your Dad in the West Seneca Bee!”
My heart skipped a few beats and I then knowingly smiled as she went on to tell me that it was a 1942 photo of the Gardenville High School graduation class – all 11 of them. She said he was easy to pick out because he looked just like my younger brother. I was eager to see this because the earlier snapshots of Dad’s life are pretty meager.
Ten minutes later, my friend’s husband walked in with the paper and made my day. It was a great shot. The short article explained that the lack of males in the photo had a lot to do with the attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier. There were nine girls and two guys in caps and gowns; Dad was front and center. At 17, he actually looked the same as he did in his wedding photo six years later – handsome, youthful and happy. And it’s just the way I remember him, too.
He lived less than 30 years after that school picture. Thirty years filled with duty, love, devotion and joy. I wonder if he would have done anything differently if he knew how short his time was on this Earth.
Would he have risked his early adulthood in the service, which he did as soon as graduation was over, enlisting in the Navy like all of his buddies? Would he have fallen in love and married the girl of his dreams, knowing he would leave her a widow before their 25th anniversary? Would he have encouraged the addition of five children to their lives, children who were dumbstruck when he was taken from them so quickly and needlessly, hundreds of miles away?
Yeah, he would. He would’ve still done it all. That inside information would have been stored somewhere and forgotten. He just wasn’t one of those guys who did anything halfway. He couldn’t contain that quiet, calm zest for life he had, that need to connect and perform and tackle one project after another. His life was one good example after another, and to this day, all five of us can recall a slew of special moments that burrowed into our souls and created stirring memories and lifelong inspiration.
He wasn’t just a good father and a good husband, he was a genuinely good person the world smiled upon. This past July, I watched in wonder at the overabundance of fireflies in our backyard, knowing he would have just loved that sight! Dad found joy in everything, taking little for granted.
I’m sure it has changed my perception, too. I try never to refuse an invitation, to miss a great show or a grandchild’s event, or to neglect my blooms that are so pretty in the backyard. All of the things precious to me make my world seem much nicer than it probably is.
That’s one of the reasons I get the gift of a Buffalo Zoo membership from my kids each year. Seeing my grandkids running amok, delighting in the animal antics, digging for fossils and getting sticky from cotton candy – well, that’s all part of enjoying what’s right in front of you. I want them to appreciate the world around them. We make sure they help us in the garden, and take in the beauty of butterflies, sunsets, rainbows and rain clouds. They love hiking at Burchfield park, climbing at Panama Rocks, collecting beach glass and catching those fireflies.
As long as I am able, I want to share with them the joy of life that personified their great-grandfather. So, with this most recent remembrance staring me in the face, I’m just reminded again how much of a treasure life is, how often we can influence others in our simple, everyday actions, and how one man, one person, can create a legacy of the love of life by just living it with gusto and respect.