He died as he lived, quiet and easy, without a lot of fanfare. After a long struggle, he just closed his eyes and went to sleep. It’s the kind of passing a man of his simplicity would have wanted for himself and what each person desires for someone they love.
Andrew Segedi was the man who gave me life and taught me how to live it fully. It had nothing to do with material possessions, since our family didn’t have an abundance of worldly goods. It was a richness of heart and good humor he passed on to his daughter that sustained me through the trials of life.
Daddy wasn’t a traveling man, but that’s not to say he wasn’t always on the move, active and alive with new ideas. He was a tinkerer of things and had great imagination, coming up with all sorts of inventive projects.
Physically, I got his short stature, button nose, and skinny legs. On the plus side, I inherited his athletic ability and off-the-wall humor. For instance, every Christmas he erected a huge wire tree in the front yard made up of hundreds of green lights with one lone red bulb. Then he’d sit on the porch and wait for the inevitable comment from passersby. The dialog was always the same: “Mr. Segedi, do you know there is one red bulb in with all the green ones?” “Yes,” he’d reply. Nothing more, just “yes.” It really got them, knowing they had taken the bait and ended up in his trap.
In 1976 he was the rage of the neighborhood when he painted the Bennington flag on the roof of our house in honor of the Bicentennial. Small aircraft constantly buzzed overhead, trying to get a better look and snapping photos of the bright red, white and blue rooftop embellishment.
Daddy was a Pennsylvania steel worker who got tired of that line of work, and shoveling snow, and moved his family to south Florida, where he became a Borden milkman and later a middle-aged entrepreneur, starting his own roof painting business.
He was the first person I ever knew who actively practiced random acts of kindness, giving stranded motorists a couple of gallons of gas, reminding them to “pay it forward.”
He took me to church every Sunday and practiced his faith by living an honest life with high moral integrity. When thunderstorms scared me as a child, he’d hold me on his lap on the porch swing and tell me lightning and thunder was just a spectacular light show from God and nothing to be frightened of. To this day I still love a good thunderstorm!
He taught me how to ride a bicycle and drive a stick shift car. He painted 50-yard dash markers on our street when I was running high school track and timed me with a stopwatch. He played catch and kicked a football endlessly with his tomboy daughter and never complained that I wore Levi’s instead of dresses. He taught me how to fish and the earliest memory I have of the sport was around four years of age, out on a lake in a small boat with him, hauling in perch!
Every December as I was growing up, Daddy drove Mom and me around to look at the Christmas lights. I always sat in the back seat, perched between them, oohing and aahing over the colorful decorations. As an adult I went back to Florida for the holidays and, although at the time my dad was very ill, I talked him into driving us around to see the lights. Sitting in my usual childhood spot and riding down familiar streets, an emotional memory welled up and suddenly I was twelve years old again. A lump formed in my throat and I had to sit back in the seat so they wouldn’t see hot tears streaming down my face. As it turned out, it was the last Christmas we’d spend together, so that moment will always be treasured.
When he died, my mother asked if there was anything of his I wanted. I chose his high school athletic medals, a wooden carpenter’s tool box containing all his hand tools, his old green tackle box, and a flannel shirt I had given him that still had his scent lingering on it.
We buried him alongside my baby sister, high on a hill overlooking the small Pennsylvania town where he was born and raised. It was autumn; the trees were in full color and the crispness in the air told of the changing seasons. I drove back to Virginia bereft, with an emptiness inside so great I thought I’d never recover. But time has a way of smoothing down the rough edges of grief until all that’s left are sweet memories.
I am much older now and realize what a special gift my father gave me throughout his life, the precious gift of his time. That’s all children really want, you see. Not the big-ticket items money can buy, but the very thing it can’t … a father’s tender love.