Generation Passing

Part II of II

Tom paid cash for everything, including their dream home. Except each May he would return to that same Riverside State Bank and take out a loan to purchase window unit air conditioner inventory. During a couple summer breaks from college, I hung out in the store, and early my first day on the job he asked me to accompany him to the bank to get that annual loan.

When we arrived, dad learned the VP he always spoke with was out of town, so a green loan officer – not much older than me – invited us into his cubicle. Tom sat down, slid a single piece of paper across the desk and said he would need $37,000 for inventory. The young man nodded and said: “Mr. Handler, let me get some paperwork for you to complete. We’ll process this as quickly as we can. If everything goes well, we should have your check by the end of the week.” Tom stood up and said: “I’ll be back at three for my money.” I followed him out the door.

Once in the car, I said: “Dad, why did you do that?” Tom told me not to worry. We went back to work, had lunch, and about 2:55 drove three blocks to the bank. When we walked in, that loan officer was standing near the front door. Next to him was the bank president. “Tom,” he said, “here’s your check. I’m sorry about the confusion. This young man now understands the long relationship you have with us.” Brian looked at his shoe tops like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar and tried to smile.

Life began hard for Tom and didn’t treat him all that fairly later. Mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma at 46, went in and out of remission, and succumbed a decade later. During that time, Tom was a wonderful caregiver, never once complaining and always being there for her. He still worked six days a week at the store – although he did start taking off Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to play golf and gin at his self-described ‘poor man’s country club’).

Not long after his wife of 40 years passed, Tom had a going out of business sale and retired. He remarried – a golfer – and played about four times a week. In my entire life I never once heard him say he didn’t feel well. Then on a Friday morning in March 1994, dad went to the doctor complaining of being tired and having some chest pains. He was referred to a cardiologist and set an appointment for Monday. At 4 a.m. Sunday, he got up to go to the bathroom, collapsed and died of a massive heart attack at 69.

Every day another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us, and soon those who gave so much to provide better lives for their children will be gone. Each person has a unique story worth telling. This one is about the finest man I’ve ever known – my father – the sole proprietor of Tom Handler Furniture & Appliances.


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