I’m afraid I cannot offer up a typical Edgartown column this week. I have neither the words nor the gumption to write a regular column. If you will indulge me this week, I’d be much obliged.
My father, Bob Gardner, passed away last week, just as he would have wanted — with his kids by his side and a dog in his lap. At the beginning of the week, he began to feel quite unwell, only to rally again by Wednesday. Thursday morning he woke up, had his usual coffee and breakfast, went to sit in his recliner with Nurse Celia, my sister’s dog, on his lap, where he peacefully passed away within the next few hours. As a grown-up, I get it. He was 93. He wasn’t super-healthy. He was ready. But inside, I’m still the baby of the family, and I miss my daddy.
I know everyone thinks their father is the best. And they’re probably right. But I, of course, rate mine as No. 1. He was kind of grumpy as he got older, having lost dear friends and some measure of independence. But he loved his family fiercely, and gave us such a fun childhood.
I don’t think Pop ever truly grew up, so having kids, and then grandkids, was a great excuse to stay forever young. He worked diligently until 5 pm every night, but after 5 and on weekends, it was time for us. He was so strong and athletic. Evening swims out to the raft at the Bend in the Road were typical. And if we weren’t there, we were jumping off the bridge. Well, Pop and Bobby were diving, usually off the back railing. But Pam and I were jumpers, at least after the first time I went off. Apparently my first time off when I was about 4 or 5, I gave my dad a heart attack because after watching him and my brother, I wasn’t aware that jumping was an option. So Pop was waiting in the water below and off I went, head first. He said he held his breath waiting for me to come back up, and never dreamed I would dive instead of jump. But I was definitely a jumper from then on. I left the fancy stuff to Pop and Bobby. I’d only dive when he took us to the pier in Oak Bluffs.
Pop grew up ice skating in West Roxbury and the surrounding area. In the winter they would flood nearby fields, and he would skate whenever he could. One of his favorite stories was the day he pulled a chair out from under his mother. He was fending off his sister but inadvertently left my grandmother without a chair when she sat back down from a standing position. His father read him the riot act and told him to go somewhere. Pop asked if he could go skating, to which his father said that he didn’t care where he went, just leave. So Pop grabbed his stuff and headed down to skate. Within minutes, my grandfather realized what he just agreed to and was down at the field yelling at my father to get home. He’d be darned if Pop was going to enjoy himself skating after what he had just done. He almost got away with it!
Pop played hockey for Boston Tech as a teenager, and his love of skating and hockey was a lifelong passion. We would skate on ponds day or night. He’d go out and “test the ice,” and when he deemed it safe, off we went. He could skate circles around us, and was incredible to watch. I took to skating probably more than my brother and sister, and Pop and I would “partner skate” frequently. We’d skate around and he’d teach me some things and then he’d say, “OK, now I’m going to throw you in the air, and you’ll spin around and land.” It never happened. I’m sure he could have done it, but let’s face it. I’m a bit of a klutz. I would have broken an ankle. But the memories will be with me forever. And skating at night, with only the light of the moon or the snow around the ponds, was pure magic. One of the things that disappointed him the most is that he was long past being able to skate when inline skating became a thing.
He transferred his love of skating to golf when the time came, and had hundreds of funny stories of times with Dick McCarron, Sherm Burnham, Ted Morgan, and Marty Mard. When he finally gave up golf because he couldn’t walk the course anymore and refused to use a cart, and couldn’t “hit the ball a mile” anymore, he took up bike riding and became a staple, riding 10 to 15 miles every day around Katama. He did get hit by a car or two, which was a little scary for a man in his 80s, but he bounced back up and was back out there the next day. He finally gave that up, reluctantly I might add, at 91.
He adored and spoiled his grandchildren, mine probably more than the others because we were the ones here all the time. He put a swing up on long chains in his “Florida room,” a sunroom with a huge high ceiling. And he would blast music on his stereo, a funny combination of Mary Poppins, Barry Manilow, and Frank Sinatra, while pushing my kids on the swing. He knew his work was complete when Riley was sitting with him listening to Sinatra one day and said, “There will never be another Frank.”
These memories are mine. But how many others like me have memories like this from our little Island? It was the quintessential childhood for an Island kid, a shared experience for many. I hope they churn up some happy memories for others about their own childhoods.
Pop was a staple on the island. Sundays at Your Market, Fridays at Reliable, 4 pm gatherings with other locals out at the landing in Katama. Thank you to everyone who has helped him and loved him over the years as he got more challenged physically. Tommy O’Brien, Chris Chandler, Sarah Mattson, Marva Bennett, and others who helped him navigate the stairs and play his numbers at Your Market, Jen Freeman and everyone at Reliable, Dr. Yukevich and Dr. Michotek, the amazing staff at the hospital who took such wonderful care of him during his stay there in February, and everyone else who made his life a little easier and a whole lot better. It truly does take a village, and my father loved his village and the people who live here so much. We are most grateful. And thank you to you, my readers, for indulging my selfishness this week as I write about a man that I can’t even begin to imagine how to live without.
I love you, Pop. Hit ’em straight up there.