I have not written the past few weeks because our family has experienced a painful loss. Just before Christmas, my father died unexpectedly.
As I put these thoughts together, flowers from the funeral sit on the table next to holiday poinsettias and sympathy cards are stacked next to Christmas cards. It’s difficult, but I want to share a few memories with you.
His name was Norman Rittenhouse and he was one the most energetic and charismatic people I’ve ever known. At 74, he was going strong, and even rode his motorcycle the day he died. He frequently claimed he would live to be 100; many of us believed him.
So, when I received a phone call with the news he had died from a heart attack at his Fairbury home, I was completely stunned. It was 25 years too early.
I searched my memory for the last phone call, the last visit. Had we said anything of importance?
In late November, I took a day off work and went to see him. I’m so glad I did. We spent a satisfying afternoon together, just talking.
He was an extraordinary person. Gifted and hardworking, he had 14 U.S. patents and owned 10 businesses ranging from transportation to retail to manufacturing.
At the visitation, I lost count of the number of people who told me he had given them a job or helped them in some way.
“He could fix anything,” numerous people said.
“He purchased an old motorcycle from me that I thought was beyond hope,” said one man. “He fixed it and gave it away. Who would do that? Norm would.”
Nothing was impossible in dad’s mind. Repeatedly, he took on challenges experts said couldn’t be done and proved them wrong.
He sold televisions, repaired player pianos, flew helicopters, designed propulsion systems for riverboats, built engines for the U.S. Navy and drove race cars, jet skis and motorcycles at speeds I’m reluctant to print.
He played the banjo, ukulele and piano, and had a passion for Broadway musicals. I especially liked when he sang Harold Hill’s lines from “The Music Man.”
He took us on outings to the Museum of Science and Industry, Conklin's Barn II Dinner Theatre and the Chicago Symphony. One day he even delivered me to junior high school in a helicopter.
He taught several people how to fly, including attorney F. Lee Bailey.
I never knew what dad would do next, from bungee-jumping to singing in a New Orleans karaoke contest.
He lived life to the max.
But along with the genius, there was the potential for conflict and intensity. He and my mom divorced when I was 7. Being dad’s daughter meant forgiving his sharp edges and focusing on his many positive traits.
He was a generous and surprisingly sentimental person and kept every thank-you card or note people sent him.
These are some of the memories I have reflected on the past few weeks as I stumble about my house, mourning the loss of a father who was like no one else I’ve known.
It’s hard to believe that never again in this world will I see my dad or hear his wonderful belly laugh.
“I feel broken,” I told my husband.
“You’re not broken,” he said, giving me a hug, “just badly bruised.”
Years ago, my dad and I went to see a movie musical version of “A Christmas Carol.” In it, the redeemed Scrooge celebrates and sings, “I like life, life likes me…”
The lyrics rang true for dad, and he bounded out of the theater, singing the words and jumping up to kick his heels together. He continued clicking his heels and singing all the way down Madison Street in Pontiac.
He loved life, and he loved me, too.
I’ll miss you, Dad. Love, Susan.