HE KNEW ME BEST AND LOVED ME MOST.
FOR ME, FATHER'S DAY....IS EVERY DAY. I LOVE YOU, DADDY.
For years, the framed picture of a steam engine hung on a prominent wall in my parents’ house. It featured an embroidered message: “Old Engineers Never Die, They Just Lose Their Steam.” I seldom looked at the picture; the phrase-- “lose their steam”-- was an insult to my father.
A Locomotive Engineer, my father had a perfect record with the Cotton Belt Railroad. No one was more committed to his job than my father. My father began every day with a determined “Full Steam Ahead”.
My father had a successful life but he never adjusted to retirement. He liked working….working hard, daily, was his world. And then, our family learned the tragic news that my father had dementia. It was heartbreaking to watch his questioning look; to see him confused so much of the time. My wonderful Daddy didn’t recognize many of those around him, including my mother, but….he never failed to recognize me-- call me by name. Every time I left him, it broke my heart.
The last time my father and I were together was Christmas, 1987. All day, I had a nagging premonition. When it was time to leave for the airport, return to my job in Erie, Pennsylvania, I gave Daddy one last hug. Holding him close, I told him again how much I loved him and promised to call as soon as my plane landed.
He cried, quietly, his tears marking my coat collar as he held on to me like a lifeline. Whispering, afraid my mother might hear, my wonderful father begged me not to leave him. It was as if he, too, sensed this would be our last time together. As the taxi backed out of the family driveway I lowered the window to say “I love you, Daddy”. Watching his unsteadiness as he struggled to return my wave, I knew for certain…..this would be our last shared moment.
Today, approaching a railroad crossing, bells began clacking….red lights started flashing…. and safety barriers dropped. Sitting in my car, I stared down the track at the approaching train. Decked out with flags, streamers, and banners, a restored locomotive came steaming, parading down the track--clickety-clack-clickety clack--moving toward some unnamed celebration. Out of respect for the historic engine, I opened the car door to stand at attention. The massive steam engine roared past, its train wheels clicking out its familiar sound, its steady, staccato rhythm. My heart pounded with childhood excitement as the antiquated train whistle blew a loud, continuous refrain.
All my life I’ve loved trains, but this train was no ordinary train; this train was special. Watching the steam engine, hearing the whistle, I remembered my father. For the first time since losing him, I felt a deep-down peace. I straightened my shoulders and stood tall, proud to remember my father’s life rather than his death. Smiling, I pictured the embroidered message “old engineers lose their steam.” Those words didn’t apply to my daddy--- the world’s greatest locomotive engineer and greatest father.
Listening to the final strains of the steam engine’s whistle as it faded into the distance, I noted the remarkable similarities between this steam locomotive and my father, Roy (R.B.) Miller. Both were classic and both would be forever-remembered as “powerful, on-track, and full of steam.”