I don’t remember anything about Father’s Day that year, which was only four days before my dad died.
He died on June 21, the longest day of the year, and it seemed even longer as we gathered around him for those last hours before his spirit left his body.
Memories from the days that followed are hard to recall, but one that stands out is my sweet husband telling me my dad had always looked out for me, and that now I only had him to depend on, but he would always be there for me.
I knew at that moment that even though I was grown and a wife and mother, I had crossed over a threshold into an unknown part of my life.
My earliest memories are of my dad, holding me, protecting me from any harm.
Even though I was the first child, my father was over 35 when I was born, considered old in those days to start a family. He and my mother were married more than five years before I was born, and I would be almost five more before I had any siblings.
I was always a daddy’s girl. I looked up to him from the time I could walk. The thing I remember about my dad was that he was always cheerful.
He savored the little things in life and found the extraordinary in the ordinary.
He was an early riser and would make breakfast for us every morning before school.
I would wake up to the sounds and smells of bacon and eggs sizzling in the kitchen and hear the radio playing. Daddy would laugh and joke as we got ready for school; he always had a million funny things to say about all the ordinary events of life that made them more fun.
When I went away to college, I still remember how homesick I was when I would wake up each morning in my dorm room and realize my dad was not coming to get me up for breakfast. For months after I went away to schoo,l it was literally gut wrenching when I realized where I was.
Daddy grew up the hard way, born in the middle of World War I, coming of age in the Great Depression, losing his father when he was 17 and suddenly being the sole bread-winner for him and his mother. Going to work in the mills, and climbing his way up with just his wits.
Leaving the only place he had ever known to serve in World War II, landing at Normandy, fighting in Germany.
Returning home to start again, marrying and raising a family.
My daddy loved his life, whatever challenges it brought. Most of all he loved his family.
Many people would tell me he was always so proud of us children. And even though we are past middle age now, my brother and sister and I will always be the Wheeler children.
So, here we are as another Father’s Day comes around, and while it is sad for me not to have my dad here to celebrate, it is certain the memories he left are for a lifetime.
I know what it is have a great dad who loved me and always tried to do what was best for his family.
He gave the job of fatherhood his all, with love and joy and a good dose of discipline and common sense. He loved God and country, and was never afraid to let everyone know where he stood.
He also loved Cherokee County and the people who lived here. He believed in and looked for the good in all men, and women, and because of that he usually found it.
I still miss him, and 25 years seem to have passed in a blink of an eye.
I still wish that he would walk through the door, with his laugh and his joie de vivre, his love of life and all its many facets.
One thing I have always known for sure, my dad would not have wanted us to be sad, not even for one moment, but instead to remember with joy the wonderful life we all had together as a family.
My father and mother, along with my grandparents and great-grandparents are all buried at Riverview Cemetery behind the Cherokee Arts Center.
It is always peaceful there and a comfort to me to visit.
There is a phrase in the Bible about joy in the morning.
My father started each day sure that it would be a blessing and a joy.
I was blessed beyond measure in my dad, and I salute him on this Father’s Day and every one.
Rebecca Johnston is editor of The Cherokee Tribune.