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Cornelius News

Modern Dad: Thankful for a life well lived

Bob Herberger


By Jon Show. Bob Herberger would have been 98 years old this week but he died last month in a nursing home in Texas. He was my grandfather.

Bob was quiet and kind. Thoughtful and giving. He loved desserts, prime rib, reading books, fishing, and smiling at a pretty lady. He had one beer every day at 5 o’clock until the doctors told him he no longer could.

Bob lived so long that he was retired for longer than he worked. Bob lived so long his cardigans came back into style – twice. Bob lived so long he was bald nearly four times longer than he had hair.

Bob lived so long that his adult grand children are now old enough to forget many of the memories we made with him.

In the days after he died, it bothered me that I couldn’t recall a lot of memories involving him. I spent so much time with him but I could only dig up enough memories to count on my hands.

And then a few days later, while folding laundry, I decided that maybe it’s not the number of memories you have about someone that’s most important. Maybe how you feel about a person is a result of all those memories that you forgot.

Bob and Modern Dad, Circa 1978

Bob was a great grandpa. He was a great grandpa because he was a great grandpa, and not because he lived long enough for his grandchildren to have kids.

I do remember some things…

I remember learning blackjack from him when I was ten. Thanks to Bob I was the only kid my age who knew you never hit on 15 when the dealer was showing a six.

I remember his teeth in a glass on the sink in the middle of the night when I got up to pee.

I remember watching him fish off the back of his aluminum bass boat with his cane pole, staring at the lake while patiently waiting for a bite, and then meticulously fileting the bluegills and frying them in butter.

I remember watching him care for Betty, his wife of 57 years, after she suffered a debilitating stroke. He somehow picked her up out of the car and put her in a wheelchair when most people his age couldn’t pick themselves out of a car.

I remember the time Betty – sitting in her wheelchair in their living room – retold the story about Bob trying to towel her off after her bath that morning. Bob stood behind her, shrugged, and smiled.

After Betty died, I remember picking him up at the airport. When he walked off the plane he patted his post-bladder-cancer colostomy bag and said, “Gotta hit the bathroom real quick, this thing only holds two beers.” Sometimes he had more than one beer.

I remember when I was in my late 20s and I found a picture of Bob when he was around the same age. Bob had no hair. And that’s when I realized why I had no hair.

I remember him sitting in the shade reading large print romance novels.

I remember him with a smile on his face dancing with every woman at my wedding.

And while I wasn’t there to witness it, I will always remember the story of the two young nurses in his assisted-living facility standing over his body minutes after Bob had passed. “He always told me I was his favorite,” said one. “What? He told me the same thing,” said the other.

I most easily recall being a kid and sitting in his basement while he created things from nothing. Puzzles and ships and stained glass and wood trains and shelves and countless other things.

Until he died I didn’t realize how many things he built that I have around our house now.

When I sit in my office I look at a wooden model replica of the Charles W Morgan, which he built after I’d visited the massive old whaling ship during a high school field trip.

When the Blonde Bomber brushes her teeth in the morning and looks in the mirror, she sees a stained glass butterfly that Bob made when I was around her age. Future Man has Bob’s stained glass antique cars on the window in his room.

When I play Uno with my kids, they play with the same wooden card holders that Bob made for us as kids.

Betty’s painting of the ocean, which has hung wherever I’ve lived for the last 20 years, hangs in our guest room surrounded by the frame that Bob made for it.

Bob was lucky to live a long life surrounded by people who loved him, but the truth is that we’re all luckier to have had him in our lives. We could all learn from Bob’s patience. We could all learn from his kindness. We could all learn from his satisfaction in experiencing the simple things.

Fry the fish in butter. Eat the dessert. Read the book. Drink the beer when the clock strikes five.

Jon Show

And when you get old, if your wife gets sick and you have to take care of her, make sure you’re waiting for her outside of the shower each day with a towel and a smile.

Jon Show lives in Robbins Park with his wife, who he calls the “Mother of Dragons.” His 9-year-old son is “Future Man,” and 5-year-old daughter is “The Blonde Bomber.”

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