Dad’s legacy

| January 9, 2019 | 0 Comments
Dave Hrbacek

Dave Hrbacek

How do you sum up the life of a 97-year-old man?

I’ll probably spend years trying to figure that out. My father, Ray Hrbacek, died Dec. 24 at Catholic Eldercare in northeast Minneapolis. His funeral Mass was Dec. 29 at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony.

Since building a house in St. Anthony in 1960, my mom and dad have considered St. Charles their spiritual home. They watched priests come and go, and entertained some at their home, including two future bishops. So, it was only fitting that Dad’s final send-off would take place at this church.

In the midst of mourning his death, I am trying to process a flood of memories and reflections on his life that are rising to the surface like northern pike did for his Bass-Oreno lure during the many fishing trips of my childhood.

If I added up all the hours I spent with Dad over the years, time on a lake or in the woods would rank near the top. I don’t recall much of what was said, but I’ll never forget the sights and sounds of our time in God’s creation.

Dad had an amazing run in the outdoors, starting shortly after coming home from World War II and ending just three years ago with his final spring turkey hunt. Even though his hearing and eyesight were severely compromised and he was mostly confined to a wheelchair, he had a hard time turning down an invitation from one of my four brothers, Joe, to go turkey hunting one more time.

A look back more than 30 years helps to explain why. In the early 1980s, Dad had asked my brother Paul and me if we wanted to try turkey hunting. Minnesota started offering a hunting season in the late ‘70s, and we all were intrigued by this new opportunity.

After our first hunt, which was unsuccessful, my brother Joe got the bug, too. All of us have hunted throughout the years, sometimes with each other, sometimes alone. As time went on, Dad needed more and more help in the field, and we all happily obliged, especially Joe. Dad and Joe forged a special bond during these trips, and I know Joe’s heart aches in a unique way with my dad’s passing.

With roots like these, it’s not hard for me to connect faith and the outdoors. There are so many spiritual lessons to be learned from time spent in the field, and I think my dad was a good teacher — without trying to be and without using a lot of words.

Maybe the most valuable thing he taught me was how simply to enjoy the experience and be grateful for the chance to be outside. In the last 30 years or so, fishing and hunting have become high-tech endeavors, employing tools and devices that can cost thousands of dollars.

But, Dad possessed one thing that money can never buy — the happiness of being out there.

It is best illustrated in an afternoon we shared in a turkey blind about a dozen years ago near Red Wing. The weather was beautiful, but the toms weren’t gobbling. We started telling jokes and laughing uncontrollably. It went on for a while, then Dad turned to me and said, “Well, I guess we scared all the birds away.”

It didn’t matter to either one of us. We shrugged our shoulders, smiled and kept reveling in the humor. The laughter continued until we decided to leave the blind and go eat dinner. I try to remember that day, especially when I push very hard to bag a turkey or deer and come up short.

Dad came up short many times over the years, but he never seemed to mind. He was content just to be with his sons and enjoy a beautiful day outside, soaking in the sunshine and letting a fresh breeze cool our faces.

In general, he made the best of things and never complained. After he died, I talked to one of the nurses who cared for him. He never could remember her name and would call her Gladys. In turn, she would call him Bob. It was their running joke.

Even near the end, when his health was going downhill, he would smile at her and say, “Hey, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?”

That line reminded me of the time Dad and I got back from a turkey hunt in May, and I spotted a wood tick on his head and pulled it off. I told him I had better check his body for more and instructed him to take his shirt off.

I then asked him to raise his arms so I could take a look at his armpits. With his arms outstretched, he joked, “I surrender.”

Those words were echoed on one of his last days, when he called out to Jesus numerous times while I sat beside him. He knew his time had come, and he made his plea to step into eternity. God answered this prayer the day before we celebrated the birth of his Son.

I won’t forget what you’ve taught me, Dad. May you rest in peace.

Hrbacek is a staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit.

Tags: ,

Category: The Local Church