And again there is a post of sadness. A week ago Monday, my grandfather, my dad's dad, died after a brief and quickly escalating illness. It was stunning to face this loss so quick on the heels of losing my other remaining grandparent. It is a season of loss, that is for sure. One I hope has reached its end.
Through it all, though, it's been reassuring to be able see the blessings that life has brought to me. To be entering my fortieth year and still have grandparents I have welcomed into my home, shared my children with, that is amazing good fortune. To have had their passings be relatively easy and peaceful, and largely without regret? I am so grateful. But our family continues to be sad, and we are tired of sadness. I was not nearly as close to this grandfather as I was to my grandparents on my mother's side, a factor that added its own weight of emotion to his passing.
My Grandpa Shaffer was a kind man, one who raised an amazingly wonderful man, whom I am so so proud to call my dad. Whenever I would see Grandpa, he always held on to my hand, pressed two palms on either side of my face, and gave me an amazing smile. I have fond memories of exploring my grandparents' house so full of interesting knick knacks and decorations, pretending to sing and play their player piano, and searching out all the hidden ceramic animals in his perfectly groomed backyard. I have no doubt he had great love for me, and was exceedingly proud of my dad and his family.
I want to share the words my dad shared at his memorial service. They give a good portrait of the hard working strong man that he was, one with an inimitable sense of style, who was able to overcome more than his share of difficult times.
Who was Quentin Blair Shaffer?
by Gary M. Shaffer
To the Shaffer side of the family he was always Quent. To my Mother and her side of the family he was Blair. His friends and those he worked with usually called him Blair or sometimes I would hear him referred to as Shaff. It was a little confusing at times. He preferred Blair. In the last year or so when he was dealing with medical issues Doctors and nurses would call him Quentin. I would ask him “why don’t you tell them to call you Blair?” He would say it was just too difficult to correct everyone when all the paper work says Quentin anyway. He was always one to go with the flow and not try and make any waves.
My sister Cathy and I always called him Dad; except for one time when I was about 8 or 9 years old I called him “Fath” which a friend of mine used when referring to his Dad. I was quickly told that he was Dad and would always be Dad. I didn’t make that mistake again.
My Dad grew up during the depression and as with many of his generation things weren’t always easy. To make matters worse his Mother died when he was 3 years old. Even though my Grandfather remarried, my Dad always said his sister Genny raised him. She was only 3 years older than he. His Dad had a small farm and operated a coalmine and to help keep things going my Dad quit school in the 9th grade. I believe his early years made him a very resilient person that carried him through many obstacles during his long life.
During my Dad’s late teens and early 20’s he worked in the Steel Mills of Johnstown, PA. He started as a laborer and worked his way into doing maintenance on machines. When WWII came along, young men were joining the military. My Dad was told he had a perforated eardrum and couldn’t serve. I think he always felt bad that he couldn’t serve his country. He supported the war effort by working in the steel mills. He always told me he was proud of me for serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam era and I treasure the way he made me feel.
To get out of the mills he learned to be a welder, most of which was self taught. He did have the help of his brother Gale who was also a welder. They both worked for Thiele Body Company. He built all types of truck bodies from dump trucks to soft drink delivery trucks.
Even though Dad worked hard all day at Thiele’s he strived to make things better for his family and would work every other week in the evening from 6-11 at my Uncle’s service station. Some of my best times with my Dad were when I was in high school and I would work alongside him at my uncle’s service station. Dad always loved cars and he passed that passion on to me during the time we worked together. This service station experience also had an impact on me. My first real job out of college was with Texaco Inc. selling petroleum products to service station retailers and distributors.
Dad had his way of teaching you things and it wasn’t always hands on. Shortly after I got my drivers license I was continually bugging him about getting my own car. He would tell me that I needed to pay for my own car, and more importantly that I needed to learn how to take care of a car. The next thing I know I have 2 cars, both 1953 Chevrolets. One is wrecked in the front end and the other is wrecked in the rear end. He said, “If you can figure out how use the parts from each car to make one car, you will have a car.” That was quite an experience and a valuable learning experience. I managed to put together a drivable car.
Dad loved classic and antique cars. We often would go to car shows together. He would stop and spend time talking to many of the owners. My son Adam would sometimes go along when he was younger, but he at times would grow weary with all of Dad’s conversation. One time Adam just went to the car and took a nap until his Grandfather finished talking to an owner of an old Plymouth.
No one ever had anything over on Dad in terms of being a dapper dresser. He always looked sharp with pressed shirts and pants along with polished shoes. My brother-in-law Steve once said he was the sharpest looking truck driver he had ever seen, even while out on the road.
Dad was always trying to figure a way to improve his work environment. He figured a way while working at Thiel’s building truck bodies to become part of a travel crew that would transport truck bodies to truck manufactures and install the bodies. He learned to drive the tractor-trailers to the sites to install the bodies and return. After a few trips he was hooked on the truck driving. Through a friend he landed a job with Swank Refractory transporting circular brick used in the steel mills. He had reached another milestone in his life and became a full time truck driver. I would sometimes accompany him on his trips while in Jr. and Sr. High. I truly enjoyed those trips with Dad.
While I was a senior in high school, Swank Refractory sold all of their trucks and my Dad lost his job. Even though he was discouraged, his tenacious spirit prevailed. He found a lower paying job delivering oxygen and acetylene tanks for a welding supplier. While making deliveries in Bedford PA he would stop at the Eastern Express terminal and ask if they had any truck driving jobs. Finally he was told he could have a job in Columbus, Ohio if he was interested. Dad took the job.
Dad had the courage to pick up his family and move 300 miles away from a place he had spent his whole life. I remembered that courage when my wife Sally and I were faced with a move during my first months with Texaco to Ironton, Ohio. Our daughter Erin was born in Ironton, Ohio. Poor thing, for the rest of her life she has had to state that she was born in Ironton, Ohio. We ended up living in Proctorville, Ohio and really liked it. Dad, thank you for showing me the courage.
Dad spent the next 23 years of his life working for Eastern Express and Roadway Express. He loved driving the highways and byways even though his schedule was very unpredictable. He often said he felt bad because he wasn’t home more and was on the road.
After Dad retired he spent a lot of time working in his yard and flower gardens. He and my Mother had some beautiful flowers.
Dad had some health issues over time. When he was 60 he had a quadruple heart bypass. When he was 75 he had a triple heart bypass. When he was 88 he had a complete knee replacement. He always had the will and fight to come back. He instilled that fight in me when I fought back from cancer. During the last few years Dad was dealt the blow of some pretty significant hearing loss. He would often deal with it by just shaking his head or grinning in hopes that you would acknowledge that he heard everything you said. In fact he would get a little angry if you laughed a little knowing that he didn’t hear you. My wife Sally, daughter Erin and son Adam now call me Blair when they know I didn’t hear something. Once again my Dad has taught me an important lesson, don’t laugh at someone who is hard of hearing and figure out a way to correct your hearing when the time comes. That time is near.
Dad was never a hovering parent. His way of parenting was to set an example by the way he lived his life. He was committed to his work to support his family no matter how difficult it may be. He was loyal to his employer and everyday that employer got more than an honest days work. The example he set I believe was engrained in my sister Cathy and I. Our careers spanned several decades with commitment and loyalty to only a couple companies each.
Dad was the hardest working person that I have ever known. His work ethic was unparalleled. I like to think that he passed that work ethic on to me.
This last month has been difficult for Dad. He had multiple health issues and a lung problem being the must severe. He finally reached a point where he wasn’t able to absorb oxygen into his lungs. I was with Dad last Sunday and explained to him what his doctor’s appraisal was of his condition. Dad understood that he wasn’t going to get better and he said he was ready to go. I am sad that he is gone, but happy I was able to spend time with him toward the end of his life and that he died peacefully in his sleep.