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RIP Michael Meyer Schneider

I didn’t even check my voicemail when I got out of the hair salon, because I could see that my sister had tried to call me twice in a matter of minutes, which means  “serious family business.” I didn’t even really need to ask what it was about. My father has been in frail health for decades, and in very bad health for the last few years, and this is just one of those phone calls where you know what you will hear.

We are all relieved that Dad had a massive heart attack and died instantly. He never wanted to be in a nursing home–who aspires to that status, anyway?–and in large part due to the selfless efforts of Joyce, my stepmother, he avoided that sad coda.

I could go on about my father’s many wonderful qualities; I could go on about the stuff that was less than wonderful. Families are complicated; love is hard. I think I’d rather capture the memories that surfaced while my sister was talking. My dad was many other things–my stepbrother Ben calls him a “great statesman,” and I think of Dad as one of the last true liberals, a man who actually walked the walk, from the piers of San Francisco to the picket lines at segregated hotels to his last years in civil service–but he was also, very simply, my dad.

I am five years old and I have stretch pants with stirrups and a matching top. Dad takes me to the San Francisco wharf, where we sit for a little bit on the pier, and he then introduces me to one of his longshoremen friends, who asks me what 3 plus 2 is, and when I say 5, he gives me a nickel.

I am eight years old, and Dad drives me twice a week to the West Portal branch of San Francisco Public Library. We each take out the maximum at the time–8 books–which we cull from the new-book shelves, and for three days we will read and swap books, before returning the pile and getting another. Adult murder mysteries and police procedurals, to be precise. Sometimes I take a break and read things like A Secret Garden or A Wrinkle in Time, or even Mr. Potter’s Penguins, but mostly I am a gumshoe on a case.

I am of some age–who knows–and I am in a movie theater with my dad, who has an unmistakable honking laugh that instantly advertises to those that knew him that Michael Schneider Is In The House. The movie has its funny moment, Dad immediately laughs–henh henh HENH HENH HENH!–and then there is a pause and everyone else laughs at his laughter, and I am not even embarrassed because it is funny.

I am having dinner at Dad’s house (where? when? I do not recall) and I mention going to services at Glide Memorial. Dad pauses thoughtfully, and says in his trademark stammer, “Oh yeah, Cecil Williams. Buh-buh-back in the 60s we were arrested together for puh-picketing the Puh-Palace Hotel.”

It is the 1980s, and in their house on Douglas Street, Dad has a ficus he calls Benjy that is now roughly the size of a small oak tree. Joyce says she that when Dad brought Benjy home she had expressed great skepticism that Dad (no green thumb) could tend a plant, and that whenever Dad showed off Benjy, he wore what Joyce called his “shit-eating grin.”

It is 1987, and Dad is taking a trip in Europe and stops to visit me in the Huhnsruck where I am stationed in the Air Force. I pick him up and then become lost… lost… lost in the foggy roads late at night. I worry he will be angry at me, but he is patient and sweet. The next day I show him how just a few seconds on very low in my newfangled microwave oven can take the chill off those delicious German cold cuts, bringing them to perfect room temperature, and he is suitably impressed. I hope I took him to the Hotel Morbach for lamb mit spargel, or at least to our local Backerei.

It is 2004, and Sandy and I are in Dad and Joyce’s living room (during their brief relocation to Exeter), and when we show them our marriage certificate, my father is so excited he immediately trots to the next room to make a copy on his inkjet printer-copier.

It is early 2009 and I am waiting for my father at Old Ebbitt Grill (he and my stepmother relocated to DC a few years ago, after the Exeter Experiment). The restaurant is very crowded and I am worried because he is so frail. I see the crowd part, like the sea parting for Jesus, and there is my father, toddling very slowly with his cane, grinning as he sees me at the table.  The service staff are all smiling at him, perhaps in part because he is wearing an Obama button the size of a dessert plate.

There would be one more dinner a few months later at Old Ebbitt Grill (where he enjoyed crab, wine, and buttered bread with abandon, and I’m so glad he did–and Joyce was greatly amused by a pun I made about Proust), and that would be my last memory of Dad. He was wearing his Obama button, pinned to his khaki windbreaker, and he was smaller than ever, and tottered very slowly to and from the table, with long pauses between steps; and the service workers tilted their heads,  smiled his way, and ensured he traveled without harm; and he still grinned when he saw me.

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30 Comments

  1. Susan Smith wrote:

    What a lovely tribute to your father. I lost my father 6 years ago and know the flood of memories that emerge immediately and then continue over time. My condolences for your loss.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink
  2. JanieH wrote:

    What a moving and meaningful tribute to your Dad … and it truly proves that we do not remember days, instead we remember moments. I am so sorry for your loss, you will be in my thoughts. — Janie

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  3. Courtney F wrote:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Your tribute is very moving, and makes me wish I could have met him, even briefly. My prayers are with you.
    ~Courtney F.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  4. Alice Yucht wrote:

    Karen: it is the special memories that will light up your heart. I have a photo of my dad posted over my desk; every so often I feel the need to talk to him … and somehow he always manages to answer me.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink
  5. Ben Ostrowsky wrote:

    I’m sorry for your loss and grateful that the end was as merciful as it can be.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Permalink
  6. CW wrote:

    My condolences to you and your family. A beautiful tribute.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink
  7. Anne Holmes wrote:

    Thanks for sharing these memories. Condolences to you.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  8. Jen Waller wrote:

    What wonderful memories wonderfully written. I’m so sorry for your loss, but I feel honored to get to read this. Take care of yourself. Sending you healing thoughts.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 1:02 am | Permalink
  9. Roy Tennant wrote:

    I am in tears. An amazing tribute. But then, you’ve always had such a great way with words. Bless you. You make me feel like I knew him, and loved him, despite the fact that I never had the pleasure to meet him. It is my loss, and a large one.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 1:02 am | Permalink
  10. Sheila Kearns wrote:

    A beautiful tribute to your dad and all the more so because of your sharing it.
    Wishing many more warm memories to you and your family.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 6:29 am | Permalink
  11. Debi wrote:

    I am so sorry to read of your loss, but, like everyone, glad it was mostly quick. I feel your pain in having watched your dad become so frail, and so I hope that in whatever reality he is now, you can imagine him vital and strong, surrounded by books, and strolling purposefully. I am sending you a virtual hug!

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  12. Maia wrote:

    Beautiful, Karen. This is just what I needed this morning. More stories to share, later. You’re in my thoughts and I love you. Thank you for this post.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  13. Leah wrote:

    Oh, Karen. What a tribute. As a previous commenter notes, it is the moments we remember. And how scattered those memories can be. You have a way of capturing them and then sharing them that I really appreciate. Thanks for telling us about your dad. I’m thinking of you.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  14. Viccy Kemp wrote:

    Karen, I, too, am in tears. Your tribute to your father is wonderful. I wish I could have known him; he sounds like an exceptional man. Your memories will sustain you through the time ahead.
    Best wishes,
    Viccy Kemp

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  15. Marcia Schneider wrote:

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories. It is like being there and experiencing them. sincere condolences on your loss.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  16. Vicki wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this, Karen. It’s a lovely memorial.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  17. rcn wrote:

    You were fortunate to have him for a father and he was equally fortunate to have you for a daughter. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts with us. You never cease to have a wonderful way with words.

    RCN in San Jose

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  18. My condolences. Losing a parent is hard. There are the good memories and the tougher ones. My mom died two years ago the end of April, and there are still times when I am about to call her.

    On the other hand, my siblings, children, and nieces and nephews all have fun in the reminiscing.

    Be glad he did not suffer. That is the worst. I was living through that 35 years ago when my dad died the long lingering death of cancer.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  19. Gail G wrote:

    I love the sweet random memories – luckily we can still remember all that is good and true about our parents, no matter what other facets our relationships might have had. We love you, Karen, and honor your memories and your Dad.

    Monday, May 24, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  20. Anastasia Prentiss wrote:

    Beautiful. I am sending you support, healing and tender self care.
    warmly,
    Anastasia

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  21. Kathryn Deiss wrote:

    Karen, my heart goes out to you. I know that death is the natural ending of life (insofar as we know) but those of us who remain never want it to come and yet come it does….leaving us without those who really root us in life in so many ways. Your Dad sounds like an amazing person who will be remembered by many whose lives he touched and changed. Here is a hug for you now in this in between time…..

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  22. Margaret Conroy wrote:

    Losing a parent IS hard, yet your words left me with a smile. Sounds like he had a life well lived, and you were lucky to have him. My thoughts are with you.

    Friday, May 28, 2010 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  23. Chrystie wrote:

    Love.

    Friday, May 28, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  24. Mary wrote:

    What a wonderful tribute to your father. My condolences on your loss.

    Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  25. Barbra Blake wrote:

    Thanks , Karen for your wise words. So sorry that that very special Mike Schneider is gone. So many memories. Maia’s photo of a younger Mike than I ever knew–wow what a gorgeous intense mensch!He had a full and productive life. In my book,his finest contribution was in the co-creation, with Mary Lou, of you two unusually fine women, Karen and Maia. Love to you both. Bobby

    Monday, May 31, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Permalink
  26. Joe Schallan wrote:

    My condolences, Karen. A tribute more beautifully written than any I can recall reading.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:32 am | Permalink
  27. Thanks for sharing, such a wonderful memorial. I know it’s hard to loss someone whom you love most. The best way is to just accept.

    Friday, June 4, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
  28. Cindy Gruwell wrote:

    We hold our memories so dear…he sounded very special. My condolences…

    Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  29. Mark K. wrote:

    Sympathy and prayers.

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  30. Amy Ranger wrote:

    I don’t think it matters what age you are when your parent dies; you suddenly become a fatherless child. I’m sorry for your loss, sweetie-pie. You wrote a beautiful tribute to a special guy. I’ll hold you and your family In the Light.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

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