~ Homage to a Quiet Birdman ~
In Loving Memory
of Joseph Richard Dille
October22, 1930 - February 17, 1999
A Letter To My Father
By Catherine Dille Burdick
Hey Pop -
This was probably the biggest pre-flight inspection you've had to do. But your final flight plan was filed by a much higher authority. Yes, Dad, God is your co-pilot now. You've finally got your own set of wings. You can fly now. You can fly, but the cocoon had to go. And it seems that this past Wednesday, you were entirely ready to let that happen. You took off in your sleep, sparing us the pain of watching you slowly slip away from us. You were never afraid to die - your biggest fear was to be incapacitated in any way and to be a burden to the rest of us. The last time we saw you is how we will remember you. You went to work that night, to a job that you truly loved, joking around with friends that were dear. But then you came home, and you were tired, and you went to bed. Only this time you slipped away into your eternal flight, leaving your cocoon behind. In sweet peace, blessed peace.
You chose the career of teacher, educator and administrator. Fortunately for us, you brought the heart of your work home to your family. All you wanted was to prepare us for the real world, well, because stuff happens. And you always tried to teach us how to deal with it when it did. And because I was you're little girl, you felt sometimes I had to take a remedial course to make extra sure I understood. But you taught me things in a way that made sense - in everyday terms that I could understand, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
I just want to take a few moments to go over a few things that you thought were important. Someone here might learn something, if not for themselves, for their children:
I never knew much about your faith Dad, but I do know you had a strong believe in a power higher than yourself. I remember once when I was about 6 years old, you were fixing a transistor radio for me. I saw you whip out your trusty pen knife and poke, prod, twist, and strip the wires inside. I was so scared you were going to make it even worse. I was sitting in your lap, questioning your ability to make things work, when you asked, "What's the matter Put," (I knew you loved me when you called me "Put" -- it was short for Putty Cat, your nickname for me.) You said, "Don't you have faith in me?" I had to ask you what the word "faith" meant. I can't remember your exact words, but it was something like, "faith is when something seems impossible, yet you put your full trust in another to make it right." Your answer was clear to me, and later opened the doors to my own spirituality for the rest of my life. And yes, you did fix that radio better than new.
- Never get behind the wheel of a car unless you are fully prepared and well versed in the art of changing a tire by roadside. Never get behind the wheel of a car unless you are able to change the oil and filter. Remember, it's the life blood of the car. Always check your oil and tire pressure, fill the reservoir with washer fluid, clean the windows, and make sure the head and tail lights are free of dirt and film before leaving for a trip. Oh yeah - don't forget to fill the tank before you go.
- Always use the right tool for the job. Measure accurately. Use a micrometer if necessary. Levels don't lie.
- Never make purchases on your credit card you couldn't pay for in cash. Pay in full each month. Don't owe anybody anything, even if it's just lunch. You keep your friends that way.
- Always keep a magazine rack in the bathroom.
- Live frugal, but live well. There really are some things you really do deserve, and many things you can do without.
- There is no such thing as a free ride. If kids are living at home and working, they should be paying at least a token amount rent. (In our house, it was market value...). After all, you'll still be feeding them. Regardless of rent, house rules must be obeyed. When you have your own house, you can make your own rules. Dad, you didn't want the real world to be a total shock to us - and you did your best to prepare us for it.
- Never bring something for yourself that you're not willing to share with others, whether it be your oft-needed advice, your wealth of valuable knowledge, a little known fact, a good joke, or some of those little starlight mints you always kept on supply in your pocket. By the way Pop, I put a few extra mints in your pocket for the ride. I'm sure you're parents will appreciate it when you see them.
- There are only three good answers to a straightforward question: "Yes," "No," and "I don't know." Sometimes, I think your favorite answer to hear was "I don't know," because it gave you a chance to explain the answer in a clear and straightforward manner.
When I was a kid, Dad, I always wanted to be like you. Maybe I was just vying for your attention. But most of all, I wanted your approval. I always wanted to be able to build beautiful things, like you did. When I was 6, you took me to school with you, and let me build a squirrel cage. You were so proud of me. You taught me how to make jewelry out of copper, brass, and sterling silver. You let me use most of your power tools, but never without a safety lesson first. I had faith in you as a teacher, and you had faith in me as a student.
Probably the most bonding experience we shared together was the matter of my first mode of transportation. I was 21. My Grandma May had promised to give me $1,000 towards my first car. I was just about to go over to her house to pick up the check when you stopped me. You said yes, now I would be able to afford a used car. But you were very emphatic that I would never be able to afford to run it. After all, cars at that time cost 50 cents a mile to run overall. Insurance, maintenance and gas - all the things a young driver never takes into consideration. So on my 21st birthday, you went out with me to buy a motorcycle. I mean, I had been riding with you since I was 3 years old - on the gas tank, wearing a child's football helmet, with my brother riding on the back. And when my legs could finally reach the foot pegs, you let me ride on the back with you. You taught me the concept of clutches and gears when I learned how to drive the Bugatti. The only difference was that these levers and pedals were in different places.
You were so proud when I aced the written exam that you had helped me prepare for. Same for my road test. You taught me to used both mirrors, and that no matter what, a motorcycle is always invisible to any car. "They're looking to hit you, Put," you would say. "Drive accordingly." Well, I'm proud to say that in the 10 years I owned that motorcycle I always kept it rubber side down, thanks to your excellent guidance.
Yes, Dad, God called you home much quicker than any of us expected. But in doing this, I know that he answered your prayers. You beat the cancer. Come to think of it, you beat the strokes, the broken neck, and being hit by a truck on your motorcycle. But God gave you a chance to complete your final pre-flight checklist, and finish out your "stuff-I gotta-to-do-before-I-die" list.
One thing I will miss most from you are those Saturday morning phone calls. There were always two or three answers that you couldn't get in the weekly TV guide crossword puzzle. Yes, Dad, you depended on my skills and knowledge too, even if in a very small way.
- You had a loving wife who was always there when you needed her, as you were for her. You raised two fine children who always looked up to you with admiration, appreciation and gratitude, and most of all -- respect. You saw that they chose life partners who brought them happiness and security.
- You saw the name "Joe Dille" on passed on one more time.
- You saw my brother completely restore his former one room schoolhouse home in Pennsylvania to it's full glory and splendor of 100 years ago, using the skills and knowledge that you passed on to him.
- You saw that your parents' home of almost 50 years was in good hands. Bill and I promise to take care of it in a way that would make you proud -- as proud as your parents were of you.
- You owned your own airplane so that you could fly with your buddies on a whim up to Columbia County for one of those Hundred Dollar hamburgers you enjoyed so much. And you took Bill and I to places we have never been - even if it was only for lunch.
- You had that BMW motorcycle that gave you the freedom on flight on the ground.
- You went from Fords and Dodge Darts to a Mercedes and a BMW. After all, you deserved to be comfortable.
- You flew the Fuji Blimp. You flew in a World War II bomber - even if it was 50 years after the fact.
- You built the neighborhood's first color TV from scratch, courtesy of Heathkit. Come to think, in the beginning, you used to build just about everything from Heathkit. And when that tiny nut, bolt or transistor fell into a spot that you just couldn't reach, you had me crawl into the small spaces and reach behind whatever appliance or workbench to get it.
- Your daughter finally got a dog that you actually liked - and you told me so.
Dad, I know you were never a touchy, feely, huggy kind of guy, which is probably why I ended up the exact opposite way. You conveyed your love for me by telling me, "Ya done good." I was always seeking your input and approval, and when I got it, I knew how much you loved me. In the last few years, you began to tell me more and more that you approved of some of my decisions and accomplishments, especially when I married St. Bill, as you called him. Dad, I hardly ever told you this, but I loved you with all my heart. I thank God that he chose you to be my father. I want you to know that I'll still be looking to you for your advice and approval. And I know you'll answer me in one way or another.
With all my love,