[Picture to the left: Great Grandmother, Katharine (Welk) Brenner holding Donald George Brenner; Grandfather, Lloyd Brenner, and Father, George Henry Brenner, standing in back.]
I always thought of my Dad as being a mild mannered person. I saw him as a relatively
‘weak’ man to my Mother’s ‘strong’ woman. Boy, was I wrong! I began to see, in his latter years, that Dad was a man of incredible inner strength and character. Three major incidents stand out.
First, Dad was always a drinker. I remember a few occasions when he was brought home through the side door and taken straight to the basement to sleep it off. While that occurred only a few times, it made a lasting impression on me. In the early 1970s, Mom and Dad were living in Youngstown, Ohio, and my family was living in Cincinnati, Ohio. We planned a major family vacation together — Mom & Dad; my sister and her two boys; my brother, his wife, and their two girls; my wife and I, along with our son and daughter. We were to meet at our house in Cincinnati and then drive to Tennessee to spend a week on a houseboat on Dale Hollow Lake.
As Mom and Dad were loading their car for the drive to Cincinnati, Mom noticed that Dad had not loaded any alcoholic beverages. She asked him about it and he indicated that he had just quit. It made for a rather interesting week on the houseboat. Dad was going through DTs. He would sit on the back deck and hear all sorts of sounds that no one else heard. One night he awakened in the middle of the night, sat bolt upright in bed, and was distressed that Mom had died. Of course, she had simply been asleep in the bed next to him; but it took a fair bit of convincing to help him understand that Mom was okay. Had I known then what I later learned, we should have had Dad in a medical facility to oversee his drying out. After we returned home, I tried to get Dad to see a counselor or go to AA, none of which he did. He didn’t see the need for it. Dad stayed sober for the rest of his life. He continued to have alcohol in the house, and would offer it to guests, but never took another drink.
The second event, was a similar story. Dad was on his way to a doctor’s appointment. Tests showed he had developed hypertension (high blood pressure). Throughout his adult life he had smoked two packs of Camel cigarettes a day. He realized that the doctor was going to tell him to stop smoking; so he took the cigarette out of his mouth and threw it out. He crushed the pack of cigarettes he carried in his pocket and threw them away. The doctor said, “Donald, you are going to have to stop smoking.” Dad replied, “I have.” “When,” asked the doctor. “Ten minutes ago,” said Dad. And he never had another cigarette in his life.
In April, 1990, another visit to the doctor brought rather grim news — advanced lung cancer. The doctor indicated that surgery and radiation therapy were not indicated; chemo-therapy had less than a 5% chance of being successful. “I don’t think we need to worry about that,” said Dad. He accepted his impending death with grace. He lived only two months and never complained. He was able to get in a few rounds of golf, but spent most of his days reading mystery novels. Dad awakened on Wednesday morning, 20 June 1990, was bathed and dressed with the assistance of Mom and my sister, Janis. Shortly thereafter, he quietly died.
These three incidents showed me a spiritual depth in my Dad that I had not experienced as I was growing up. Or, perhaps more accurately, there was a spiritual depth in Dad that I never recognized. He was a living example of the adage, “still waters run deep.” I’d like to think that I have inherited that spiritual depth from my Dad.
[Picture to the right: Dad at my wedding (1962)]
In part 3, I will publish a letter Dad sent to his parents in 1931, describing his visit to the morgue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.