Farewell, Corky!

Thoughts on the passing of my father, Corky Holmquist …..Read at his service Nov 2, 2008

It’s an understatement to say that Dad was a colorful person who had strong opinions and a real knack for connecting with people. He seemed able to talk with anyone who came his way. We loved his sense of humor and knew we’d always hear something interesting and funny every time we saw him.

It was complicated and somewhat more challenging, to have Dad as a father. And, being the oldest, it was especially daunting. I’ve always said I was raised in a boot camp what with dad being a policeman. He was pretty regimented.  Meals were on time. It was a “do as I say not as I do,” “children should be seen and not heard” environment. I often joked how I went through high school with a cop car in my driveway which did wonders for my social life.

It became really interesting when I got to high school. I babysat to earn spending money; as I approached graduation, I wanted to go out more, at least on Saturday night. I’d make plans with friends, but if a babysitting job came in, I had to cancel my plans. That was the rule. Even if someone called ten minutes before my friends were picking me up. That was the rule.

So, I hatched a secret plan to build a social life. I invented babysitting jobs. This worked like a charm until one night Marge Erickson, the person I’d said I was babysitting for, called at the last minute. The jig was up! But I didn’t know it yet because I was out at the cottage.

One of my girl friends had met some guys from Milwaukee who came up on weekends and we partied with them at a local cottage. Dad grilled Kris (my sister), who ratted on me. You’re forgiven, Kris. But, policeman that he was, Dad was hot on the trail of this miscarriage of justice and drove out to the cottage and made me come home.

Once we got home, we were all standing uneasily in the kitchen. I wasn’t sure what was next, since we hadn’t spoken a word the whole way home. Dad pulled the stick, the famous stick, out of the kitchen junk drawer. Hum, I thought. Aren’t I a little old for this? Dad handed me the stick, then turned around and stuck his backside out to me.

“Go on,” he said, pointing at his posterior. “Give it to me. I must be a really lousy parent if you’re acting like this. Go on. Give it to me. I deserve it.” I think I slapped down the stick on the kitchen table and retreated to my room. Dad’s attempt at reverse psychology didn’t stop progress. I think, from this incident, we finally came to a truce. I could go out on Saturday night.

And this was only the beginning of my adolescent search for freedom, a search that was successfully completed when I went to college the next year. Which leads to my next confrontation with Dad’s concept of effective parenting.

When I moved to Oshkosh the summer before the fall term at UW-Oshkosh, Dad drove me to move into the attic apartment I would share with another girl. The car was crammed with all my worldly treasures and when we arrived, Dad helped me haul everything upstairs. We stood on the back porch to say our awkward goodbyes. He was clearly uncomfortable, shaking his head. Then he let me have it in typical Corky fashion.

“Slim, this is a really bad idea. You’re making a really big mistake. Why don’t we just put all your stuff back in the car and I’ll take you home.“ This, of course, led to an argument and Dad going off in a huff. It took me decades to figure out he was being a typical dad, having issues about letting his oldest out of the nest. He was pained about my choices, then and later. I think he finally came to see this is what parents have to do.

Dad and I talked about books and had very spirited discussions about all kinds of issues. While I was in college, I’d bring home a book, he’d read it and then we’d have our own little father/daughter book discussion group. We seldom agreed but I really loved our discussions.

In later years, Dad went to the dark side of politics. I never could figure out how this working class man who has benefited greatly from the social amenities of a democratic society, could become so ideological. Family get togethers were especially challenging. Most of my siblings and I had made an unspoken pact to change the subject when politics came up. Which it always did.

Family get-togethers went something like this: Corky:  “Can you believe what that horse’s ass Slick Willy said to Congress about that trade agreement?” Bud: “So, what do you hear from Inky? Is he still working at Oshkosh Truck?” A few minutes of regular conversation would ensue. Then the next round began. Corky: “Did you hear how Rush let those liberals have it the other day about that affirmative action baloney they want to ram down our throats?” I’d reply: “I noticed how great the garden is. It sure looks good. How many tomato plants did you put in this year, Dad?”

These times resembled a ping pong game. Ping, ping, ping goes the ball as we’d do our darndest to get the talk off hot topics and back to the routine issues of daily life.

Then there were the wallpaper books. Dad got them from a home decorating store and spent hours and hours compiling them with every cartoon and editorial printed about Slick Willy. Dad was sure Clinton was a dangerous man who planned to take over the world.

“He has plans, diabolical plans,” Dad warned. “You wait, these things will be important. I’ve got to keep a record.”

When a friend of mine was looking for an unusual kind of joke gift for her husband’s birthday, I offered her one of the wallpaper books. Dad was excited and happy to pass it on. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was a joke gift. Well, the joke was on me. My friend’s husband actually loved it.

I guess the political issue is a classic example of how you can always love someone and yet not like or agree with their attitudes or behavior. When it became clear Dad and I could no longer have a civil discussion, I was saddened but found comfort in remembering our spirited talks of long ago.

Karla tells me Dad had recently become as disillusioned as I was with the current state of affairs in our country. So there is hope. Perhaps Dad was coming more to the center. Just so you know, Dad, on Tuesday, I will, in your honor, be voting for a liberal.

Dad’s spiritual journey was as unique as the other facets of his life. He’d become recently captivated by a book on Native American spirituality (God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria Jr.) and seemed to find some comfort there. I’m pretty sure, according to his belief he has not gone to heaven. So where is he, I ask? I think his spirit is roaming the woods up north near Rhinelander where the hunting shack was located. He’s reliving those happy times with his hunter cronies, enjoying the scenery and still looking for that elusive deer. He’s having long soulful conversations with any and all Native American shamans who happen by, reading thoughtful passages from his personal sacred text.

The measure of a man’s life is often calculated by memories preserved through time. If this is a fact, Corky will be remembered by all of us as the serious, funny, truly remarkable man he was. Dad was a hard working police officer and responsible breadwinner, a dependable husband, a stern father and grandfather, a loyal friend and an honest person. He lived a very full life and leaves behind values and ideals that have been instilled into our lives.

Though it is very common to have differences with the important people in our lives, Dad has been a strong force and a powerful influence on each of us. And in this way, he will always be with us.

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