The Caboteria / Main Web / AboutPoohpa (23 Apr 2011, TobyCabot)
(the text of the eulogy that I gave for my Dad)

On behalf of Mary Ann, Christopher, Brooke, Vicky, and myself, thank you so much for coming this morning. This day wasn't unexpected but we never thought it would be here so soon. With your help, we'll get through this.

Before I get started, I should clear up an important naming issue. While I was writing this I tried to always use the word "Dad" when referring to Dad, but yesterday, when I sat down with a bowl of Cheese-its and read it back I realized that most of the time I had used the name "Poohpa." Dad came to be known as "Poohpa" about 15 years ago. Tory was just a toddler and Dad bought her a Winnie-the-pooh doll which she loved. When we tried to teach her to say "Grandpa" she looked at the bear, then pointed at Dad and said "Poohpa!". Dad was not pleased by this. However, comma, the name stuck, and although I don't think Dad ever really liked the name he was always a good sport about it.

So, a few stories about Poohpa:

To prepare for this event we needed to find a photo of Dad to put on the front of the program. This was much harder than you might imagine because Dad had spent two generations behind the camera, quietly waiting for just the right moment to push the shutter, so there are very few pictures of him. Christopher and I, from a young age, decided that we were not going to be photographed if we could help it, so we'd make a face any time we saw the camera pointing in our direction. That just delayed the inevitable: Dad was patient and determined, so a little resistance only made him more resolved to get that perfect candid. Over the years he learned how to focus without using the viewfinder and would even take pictures with his camera in his lap. Years later, the techniques he honed to get good shots of his uncooperative children served him well when the next generation of "miserable wretches" arrived in need of well-documented childhoods.

Over the last few days, several of you have mentioned Dad's interest in cars. That interest, coupled with his healthy lack of respect for the status quo meant that over the years he drove, rallied, autocrossed, and frequently repaired some unconventional machines. Starting with a Swallow Doretti that he bought after graduating from the college down the street, over the years he drove an Elva, a Mercedes roadster, a Jaguar XK-140, 2-stroke SAAB, two BMW's, a Porsche 356 SC and a Mazda Rotary Coupe. He almost bought a Ferrari once for the princely sum of $5000 but with a couple of kids and a mortgage he passed on the deal. Sorry about that, Dad.

As I got close to getting my driver's license the Mazda gave up the ghost so I looked forward something equally fast and exciting showing up in Dad's driveway. Things were looking up when Dad mentioned he had test driven an Alfa Romeo GTV Mario Andretti edition, so you can imagine my surprise when he drove up in a shiny new diesel Peugeot, which was probably the slowest car on the road at the time, and almost certainly the dorkiest.

Nonetheless as a teenager I did manage to get it going fast enough downhill with a tailwind to get pulled over on Rt128. The big first-generation radar detector that Poohpa had wired onto the top of the dashboard wasn't appreciated by the State Trooper who pulled me over, and I only avoided a ticket because of the Marine Reserve squadron stickers Poohpa had stuck on the back. The Trooper told me "If your Dad's a Marine then you're probably being raised right."

Poohpa and I lived together in Squantum my senior year in high school. Mom was in New York and Christopher was at boarding school so it was just the two of us. There had been two energy crises previously, and with no one around to act as a calming influence we decided that it would be a great idea to roll the clock back 100 years or so and heat the house with a high-tech combination of coal and solar power. This allowed us to combine two of Dad's favorite things - tinkering with stuff, and trying to save money.

Dad decided that we would re-do the south facing porch to collect solar energy, so we bought some special solar-gathering plastic and went to work. The porch roof was pretty easy - we just tore it off and replaced it with these big sheets of plastic to allow the heat to collect in the porch. This was only part of the job, though - the heat needed a way to get into the house. That way was blocked by Dad's bedroom closet, and the exterior wall behind it. At this point I can hear you thinking "but Tony was such a fancy dresser - he could never give up his closet - what would he do with both of his trousers and all three of his shirts?" Nonetheless we pressed on and tore out the closet and opened his bedroom to the outside world. In late fall. As it turns out, the solar porch did work pretty well, and eventually Chris acquired the skills to replace the plastic sheets with a real sliding glass door.

In contrast with Dad's automotive promiscuity, he had an almost 40-year monogamous relationship with his motorcycle. It's not a flashy bike and it's not loud or fast and it was just right for Poohpa.

About ten years ago, after having not ridden the bike for a while, Dad decided to get it back on the road. So I got a call one day asking if he could borrow my bike. I asked why and he said "I haven't ridden in a while and I might be rusty. I'd rather practice on your piece of junk than mine." I really couldn't argue with that so I gave him the keys and he went off for a ride. He returned in a few minutes, though, not because he'd dropped the bike, but because after just a few minutes on the bike he'd noticed a very subtle problem with the steering, one that I hadn't noticed in thousand of miles. He and I spent a few minutes diagnosing and fixing the problem and that old Honda never handled better.

He rode around town for the next few years, mostly to the YMCA and back, but last fall he decided that he wasn't going to ride anymore so his old BMW is now in my garage. My name's on the title now, but in my mind it will always be his bike and I'm a kid riding on the back.

Dad loved to sail, and since he wasn't a slave to convention he grew fond of Multihull sailboats, especially the F-27 which is a 27-foot trimaran that can fold up and fit on a trailer. I won't bore you with an explanation of the technical superiority of multihulls over monohulls since I'm sure at some point or other Dad did, but Dad, Christopher, Brookie, Vicky, Mary Ann and I had a great time sailing and racing in Boston Harbor, Buzzards's Bay and Narragansett Bay. Over time we even improved to the point that, thanks to the mathematical miracle of handicaps, we could be pretty competitive on any given day. As the grandkids arrived we found it harder and harder to find the time (and energy) to compete so we'd take the kids and go for day-sails around Quincy Bay and Boston Harbor. Poohpa loved teaching the kids about the harbor islands and their history and he'd even let the kids take a turn on the tiller if they wanted.

We actually owned two of these boats. The first was lost in a fall storm in the late '90's when the wind and tides caused it to drag its mooring and it smashed itself on a rock jetty. This must have been a terrible loss for Dad - Barefoot was one of his prized possessions. But he didn't gripe or complain about how unfair life was, and he didn't give up - he just went to work. We ended up having to cut the wreckage up into small pieces so we could take it to the dump, but in the process we salvaged the rig, the winches, and many other bits and pieces which allowed us to save money and time on a replacement. Dad was never one to lecture, he wasn't the type to say "Tobers, let me teach you about the meaning of life" but if you watched closely and paid attention (which I did less often than I should have) you could learn so much from the example he quietly set.

Certainly this was never more true than in the last few years of his life, during which he was set upon first by cancer and then by ALS. Through this I've been humbled by Dad's dignity and resolve. I've had some health problems recently but I always knew that I would get better. To be in Dad's situation knowing what he knew about what was in store for him must have been an incredible burden but he bore it day after day.

He didn't bear it alone, though, and that made a huge difference. Mary Ann has been by his side, sharing the burden, from the beginning until the end. She kept him going. She helped him communicate even when he couldn't. Mary Ann made my father very happy and we can never thank her enough for all she has done for Dad.

Edit | Attach | Print version | History: r1 | Backlinks | Raw View | Raw edit | More topic actions
Copyright © 2008-2017 by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding The Caboteria? Send feedback