Ten years ago today my father, Isaac Walter Tipton, Sr. ("Ike" Tipton) died. He was 80 years old.
He died of lung cancer.
He was born in a holler called Pigeon Roost in the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina, just over the border from Johnson City, Tennessee.
His mother and father moved him and his eight brothers to southeastern Pennsylvania to work on his uncle Donald Byrd's fruit and vegetable farm near Unionville, PA in 1930 when he was ten years old. Two more brothers were born in Pennsylvania for a total of eleven Tipton boys. He had no sisters.
He met my mother on a double date in 1940. He was the driver for his friend Charlie Hanck. Charlie was my Mother's date. Edie Lemon was my father's date. However, my Mother took one look at this tall, handsome hillbilly hunk and decided that she wanted him for her date.
She told her girlfriend Edie, "You move in the back with Charlie, I'm sitting up front with your date." My Mother didn't tell me what Edie said, but Edie did move in the back of the jalopy rumble seat with Charlie. Charlie was now her date. Thus began a sixty year love affair with the only man my Mother ever knew.
They were married a few months later. My Mother was still going to high school (she was 16 years old and a senior) but home life wasn't easy. Her mother had died when she wasn't quite two years old. Her father was now married to his third wife Margaret. Simply said, my Mother was Cinderella to Margaret, her wicked step-mother. My father told her "I will get you away from all of this." They eloped to Elkton, Maryland and got married November 2, 1940. I was born November 9, 1941.
My Mother quit high school, a few months short of her graduation. My parents moved to Mineral Springs, PA in a small cabin in the field without running water or electricity.
During the World War II my father was a truck driver. He had failed his draft physical (he had a growth on his brain) and instead contributed to the war effort by driving his truck across county, leaving my Mother alone with me, her new born. Ironically, Charlie Hanck died serving his country during the war.
My brother Isaac, Jr. was born in 1943 and my youngest brother John was born in 1944.
My father was absent for long periods of time driving his truck across the country. There were many times my Mother did not know where she was going to get food to feed "her boys." She has often told me of the one time she was walking down a county lane in the summer, carrying John and leading me and Isaac by the hand and crying because she didn't know how she was going to feed us. Her father rescued her that time by buying $5.00 worth or groceries which kept us in food until my father returned from one of his cross country trips.
After the war my father got a job at Waste Motor Haulage in Downingtown, PA. His hard work was noticed which lead to a job at the newly formed company of Gindy Trailers in Downingtown. My father worked at Gindy Trailers for 25 years until he left work at 52 years of age for stress related illness. My Mother took over being the breadwinner of the family by working at Pepperridge Farms for 24 years. My father picked up occasional jobs with his good friend Harry Herring as a house finisher. This was a job where they placed cabinets, hung doors and placed windows and other odd jobs. But for all practical effects, my Mother was the one who supported the family.
All these years my father smoked cigarettes. During his later years he smoked a pipe. He was constantly warned by his doctor to stopped smoking. He never heeded the warnings. Thus it was no surprise when he was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months after his open heart surgery, which took place on my birthday, November 9, 1999.
My father loved to hunt and fish. He was also loved his vegetable garden. He and his favorite brother Ed were always in competition to see who could grow the first and biggest tomato of the season.
I was never close to my father. I always had the feeling I wasn't quite what he expected me to be. I wasn't interesting in hunting. I did like to fish and even won a fishing contest when I was 10 years old, catching the biggest fish of the day at the West Chester Fishing Rodeo. He didn't acknowledge that achievement of mine. Which was basically our relationship the rest of his life with me. Whenever I did achieve something, there was only silence from him. I only heard from him when he thought I did something wrong, which was often.
Two nights before he died, I was the only one in his Brandywine Hospital room with him. It was a Saturday night. He was sitting on the side of his bed, with the oxygen tubes coming out of his nose, looking out the window to the hospital parking lot which was lit by those incandescent amber lights. Those lights reminded me of the many Saturday nights I would spend out on the town when I lived in Center City Philadelphia. I came up behind him and put my hand on his shoulder and lightly kissed him on his ear. He said nothing. I said "Pop, I love you." It was the first and last time I ever said that to him. He died alone early Monday morning.
Ten years ago today I walked into my office at the First Financial Bank in Downingtown. I quickly unlocked the door so I could get to my phone, which was ringing insistently. I knew what the call was. It was my sister-in-law Barbara. She said "Ronnie, Pop died last night." I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I knew he was dying but when it actually happened, I felt like the air had been knocked out of my. Here was this man who produced me. This man who was such a big part of my life and a big part of who I was and who was now forever gone. This was a feeling I never had before. It wasn't a feeling of sadness nor was it a feeling of relief. I can't quite explain it other than the fact that I felt like I had entered a new zone of my life.
Just a few minutes ago I got off the phone with my brother John, who is taking care of our dying Mother in Greenville, South Carolina. Much to my relief he told me that my Mom's doctor has approved of hospice care for her. The first hospice care visit will be tomorrow. Then it will be three times a week, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Mom was never the same after Pop died. He was her whole life. She loved "her boys" but we always came second to Pop. Pop was always first. After he died she seemed lost.
The past ten years have gone by quickly. Mom's health, both physically and mentally has slowly deteriorated. It is a great comfort to me to know that she is being taken good care of by my brother John and his wife Barbara and their daughter Nancy.
It won't be long now until Mom joins that handsome, young, blond, gawky, hillbilly date that she stole from her girlfriend Edie Lemon. Soon she and Pop will be together again. And all will be right with the universe again.