The Boy raced into father’s hospital room with the Brown-Eyed Girl close behind; “Dad, hang on! There’s a unit of blood right outside the door—I’ll get a nurse—just hang on!”
Father looked him in the eye, and in a steady, resolute voice, said, “No.”
The Boy stopped dead in his tracks,“But dad! Oh, dad no!” Suddenly the room seemed to be spinning.
What is your first memory of your father? For The Boy, it was a clear, cold morning in January, 1957: He was four years old and father was taking him for a hike up West Rock. The boy was cold, and a little bit scared: father smiled and took his hand, walked with him, and held it until he stopped shaking.
On Aug. 5, 1924, on a kitchen table in Fair Haven, a baby boy was born to Dan and Gertrude Shine, for that is how babies were delivered in those days. And on that same day, over on Peck Avenue in West Haven, the new baby’s grandfather passed away, and the body was laid out in the parlor of their home, for that is also how things were done in those days.
Bob Shine and his generation grew up with the harshness of the Great Depression. Later generations can scarcely imagine what it was like to grow up in such times, and then to become of age only to be called off to the deadly realities of World War II. Father answered that call, and was sent to Europe as an infantryman in a rifle company.
Before he had turned 21, the war was over, and he was one of about 10 surviving original men in his company. It was thought by some of his infantry buddies that he lived a charmed life, because of his reputation for survival in some very close scrapes. Aside from frostbitten feet he never got so much as a scratch in combat.
He returned home a decorated veteran and married his sweetheart. Thanks to the GI Bill, Father earned a degree in Chemical Engineering and made his career at Olin Matheson Chemical Corporation, which was affiliated with Winchester in New Haven. He loved his work and applied himself diligently to everything he did.
September 1957: Father took The Boy to Stiles School for his first day of Kindergarten with Miss Skinner and Mrs. Jorgensen; The Boy would never forget the empty feeling as the parents all left, and he watched his father’s back disappear down the hallway.
February, 1964: On the night of his grandfather’s funeral, the boy came to grips with the fact that fathers are mortal and that losing his father was his biggest fear in life.
December, 1967: The Boy came down to the breakfast table and Father waved the Journal-Courier at him: “Look at this! They’ve figured out how to transplant a human heart!” Father made sure that The Boy was always up-to-date on the latest news with discussions over breakfast and during the ride to school: Vietnam, civil changes, assassinations, the Cold War and the Space Race.
1960s and 1970s: Father did his best to pass his wanderlust along to his children, with long motor trips around the country.
April, 1972: One day while at work, Father was stricken with an aortal aneurysm that nearly burst; he was given a 10% chance of survival, but somehow, he pulled through. Through the long afternoon and evening, The Boy sat with mother outside of the operating room, hoping for the best, expecting the worst.
August, 1977: He was a Grandpa now, and he loved his new title. In all, he became grandfather to six, and he was proud of them all.
1991: Father retired and devoted himself to community service, and years of additional travel with his wife Muriel, who would pass away just short of their fiftieth anniversary.
Father brought to his family a love for travel, a curiosity about world events, an appreciation of history, and nature, and music. He was a dedicated provider who was troubled that there wasn’t enough time to do all of the fatherly things he wanted to do. As a child, The Boy can recall that the old combat veteran was a very gentle father, and could almost never bring himself to administer a spanking, no matter how richly deserved it was.
More than tell his children how to live, Father showed them how to live; for he was a wonderful inspiration and example.
“No dad, oh, no!” The Boy’s voice was lowered now, almost to a whisper.
“Son, I’ve suffered long enough. I’ve decided that it’s time to go and meet my Maker, if He’ll have me.”
The end came rather unexpectedly; The Boy had somehow thought that Father would continue to enjoy the luck of the Irish, and one day return home from his most recent stay at the hospital. But on a Sunday afternoon in October, 2004, the gentle and unassuming warrior, the loving husband, father and grandfather had chosen to leave this world on his own terms, and there was no turning back.
Time was running out: The Boy told Father that he was his hero. And then he took his hand—for it was shaking—and they looked into each other’s eyes until the shaking had stopped. It was over, Father had slipped away, and in his eyes there was peace.