By John C. Gyorki
Where do I start?
The sun rose to greet me with another beautiful morning on Cope Island, South Carolina, August 2015. I felt the warmth from the rays upon my face. The light peeked its way through the narrow opening of the blind which came into the bedroom I occupied. My eyes reluctantly wanted to open, but the shimmer of the sunlight light continued to dance on my face for attention. I felt such a sense of peace and relished in the moment of calmness. Sadly, my moment of bliss quickly faded into tension; I was thinking about the work I had to complete, before making my way back to Michigan. My thoughts raced to no end. I finally sprang up out of bed to start the day. My stepmom, wife, and I, sat down for breakfast and sipped some coffee. We chit-chatted for a time before leaving to go outdoors. When we all finished eating, I thanked Mom for breakfast and excused myself to leave. I then made my way to the back door to go outside. I walked towards my father’s large garage and workshop area, located to the farthest part of the backyard. While walking, I felt the soothing intensity of the sun on my back. I imagined all the times Dad walked this path to begin his day. It was hot out, to say the least. I approached the structure, then stopped abruptly about twenty feet dead in my tracks from the door. I shouted out loud and said, “Dear Lord where do I start. I need your help.”
I began the work I needed to do. I found myself scurrying around sweating excessively inside my father’s workshop. I moved and rummaged through my pop’s old toolbox next to his cluttered workbench, searching for any valuable treasure I could tuck away as a keepsake to remember him. My heart still lamenting over his recent passing, just eight months prior, on December 21st, 2014, from the dreaded cancer disease. We all struggled to comprehend our father’s passing. My step mother was still carrying the weight of loss as though it just happened. My wife and I were visiting mom to help clean up and discard items not needed and give away good and useful ones to someone in need.
I continued the process of sifting through his tool box. I came across some of his old Journeyman tool and die union cards; also, some receipts from the latter 50’s and all of the 60’s. Looking at them was unique. Back then, when you paid your union dues, it was hand stamped to verify payment. I found old I.D. cards with his image on it. Also in the mix of things was a micrometer he used on me. He would pluck a hair from my head to measure it when I was a child. I like collecting this kind of stuff. It represented his livelihood. One fond memory my father carried was the time he worked on the Legendary Edmund Fitzgerald Iron ore ship; he was employed by Nicholsons Shipyard in the early 60’s. I came across many old items, even things from my childhood. Dad never threw anything away. It was the way of his generation, plus the fact that he fled from his homeland of Hungary. It ingrained this mindset. When you had nothing, you saved everything. Discarding was not an option; It may have a purpose and use later.
Surprise! Look what I found
After sorting, spreading, and tossing things, and to my amazement, I came across remnants of my old bullwhip that Dad had bought me when we visited Hungary, back in the summer of 1968. It was on his workbench! My father wasn’t allowed to travel to his homeland until he became a U.S. citizen. My stepmom noticed what I had found. She pointed out the rest of the whip hanging inside the garage before she and my wife made their way back to the house for a break. I stayed back to reminisce on my reclaimed find. Upon looking at this whip, a surge of memories came gushing back. I became fixated on this whip, as tho it had some significant meaning behind it. I continued to hold and inspect the aged leather and tender frail parts in my hand. I conducted a careful assessment of the remaining pieces. My inquisitive observation led me to perch down on an old bucket for more intense viewing. On my descent, I began saying to myself, “Oh my gosh, I don’t believe it!” I was lost in reverie recalling what this bullwhip represented to me. At some point in my life, this whip had vanished. I guess I was about 14 years old when it did. Apparently, it must have meant something to my father as well, because it looked like he tried to salvage or repair it at some point. After all, he still had possession of it all these years later. I noticed that the beautiful shiny luster the leather once had faded to an age-old artifact. My admiration for this object whisked me back into a time so very precious to me.
Oh! How I loved that whip. I remember when he came across it in the store while visiting Europe. His eyes lit up! He began to give me a little history lesson about how the Hungarians acquired their horsemanship skills. He described to me in detail the use and need for such a device. My Dad was such a historian. He knew so much about world history. He loved telling stories about the old country and sharing his fascination about Native American Indians.
One scorching hot summer day in August of 1968, after a week or so, we had settled back home from our visit to Hungary. My father eagerly pulled out the bullwhip he had purchased there. I could not contain my excitement to see what this whip could do. My imagination filled with curiosity. He was building the storyline and describing historical facts about the whip from the moment he acquired it. My young mind was absorbing this information like a dry sponge.
We walked outside the house. My dad began to warm up whirling and twirling the whip from side to side – round and round. He continued this pattern of motion for another five minutes or so. I couldn’t help but notice the big grin on his face. Dad became lost in the moment. His enthusiasm reflected as if reuniting with an old friend. Then all of a sudden, CRACK! I was stunned. I thought a firecracker went off. I immediately grew a huge grin from ear to ear. A surge of excitement and adrenaline went through me like a wave of jubilation. I said, “WOW APU!” (Apu means Dad in Hungarian) “HOW DID YOU MAKE THAT NOISE?” My little less than four-foot frame yelped out.
My father was a very visual person. He taught me most of life’s lessons in this manner. He was big on metaphors too. This ability he instilled in me has served me well in my life’s journey. He took the time to explain the science of why the whip functioned the way it did. I became fixated with this little leather strip which appeared frayed at the end. My dad had a way of hypnotizing me with stories and facts. I stored all this information within my memory. I begged him to make more noise with the whip, and he had no problem entertaining me. As he continued whirling, twirling, and cracking, he got the attention of our neighbors both young and old. Before you knew it, we had a huge crowd gathering around us. He let out a good hearty laugh and picked up the pace to give the crowd a show they would never forget. Tree branches and flower petals were flying here, there, and everywhere as he demonstrated his talents. He was so good he could snap the gnat off a cat’s behind, and the cat wouldn’t even know what happened. I was so proud of my dad. In my eyes, he was a hero! After a while, the crowd dwindled down to a few neighbor kids. Then, they left as well. It was the two of us again.
Finally, it was time for me to ask the big question. So in my little soft, squeaky, almost eight-year-old voice, I asked, “Apu, can I try the whip?” Leaning forward, my father gazed into my eyes with a loving smile, and his hand on my shoulder. He told me I could look at it for now, but I was not allowed to whirl or crack it. I naturally asked why? He said, “Johnny, this whip carries responsibility and dangers you need to be aware of first. This skill requires respect and a lot of practice. First, I want you to hold and look at the whip. I want you to imagine the person who fabricated this device and the care that went into creating it. Whoever put it together deserves your attention to their detail. This person took pride in their work. I want you to take the whip and feel the leather from end to end and notice the wood handle where you will hold it. This handle will allow you to control the motion of the whip, and it will be the key to the desired result, which is a target or noise.”
In those early days, my father spoke to me in Hungarian because he was not completely fluent in his English yet. I continued looking at the whip; He pointed to a thin piece of leather at the very end. He said, “Johnny, this part can bring hurt and pain, not only to you but another as well. I would like to teach you this skill, but you must promise me that you will never use it to bring harm to anyone. You can only use it in my presence until I feel you are capable of using it on your own. Do we have an agreement?” I agreed to this.
My training usually would be when Dad came home from work for about 15 minutes or more depending on what he was teaching me. The first week consisted of proper stance, motion, and whirling control. No cracking of the whip allowed until I was proficient at the basics. By the end of the week, I had the drill down pretty good. Apparently, my Dad felt I needed more time to practice. I, on the other hand, was getting bored with it. My thought was I am ready, but little did I know, I was not.
Well, being the mischievous little dickens I was. I took matters into my hands. Looking back now, I’m a hundred percent sure my dad knew what he was doing. He was setting me up. He always liked teaching visually and metaphorically. I believe he was testing my obedience and honesty. After about a dozen or more training sessions, He took the bullwhip from me and then proceeded to place it back on a table he had set up in the basement in plain view. Each and every time he put it there, I felt tempted to grab it and use it without his supervision. I so desperately wanted to produce and hear a sound with my hands. I was not willing to practice, nor put in the gradual progression of time to attain the goal of cracking the whip, safely. My desire was to do it now! I was like most kids, impatient. Practice is useless! It’s a waste of time! I wanted to be at pro level like my father! How wrong I was.
The power of temptation
One day I did it. I did the unthinkable. After a training session, my father put the whip back on the table down in the basement. He then turned, looked at me point blank, and said that he had to go work on a few chores. I was left standing there, alone. The grip of temptation flooded my youthful soul. I reached for the whip. My little imaginary devil nubs started to protrude from my skull. The debate of obeying or disobeying became a battleground in my mind. I gazed at the bullwhip intently. It was apparent that the allure of this object would take control over my judgment. I succumbed to the pressure and followed through by grabbing it. I suppressed the voice of reason. I then ran up the stairs, did a quick surveillance before I bolted out the back door, then into the farthest corner of the backyard I went. I stood there frozen in my tracks knowing full well I just committed an act of disobedience. I was trembling from an overdose of adrenaline and guilt. I did another quick scan of my surroundings before my attempt to crack the whip.
I began to whirl and twirl the whip to warm up. I did everything I was taught correctly based on my youthful standards, but I am sure not by my father’s. So I continued at a frantic pace, depleting myself of energy, whirling and twirling trying to make the cracking sound I so desperately wanted to hear. My patience wore thin, my temper flaring. I stopped to rest for a moment, wondering why nothing was working in my favor. Finally, in my frustration, I focused all my energy and began to whirl, whirl, whirl, and then, I pulled back on the whip with all my strength. Out of nowhere, a loud SMACKING sound emerged! Not CRACK, but SMACK! When I heard it, a big grin of satisfaction was on my face followed by intense pain on the side of my neck! It felt like a dozen or more hornets stung me. As I honed in on my area of pain. I began to rub it with my hand intensely. My grin had turned into gritting my teeth making a loud Grrrrrrrrr sound over and over again. The pain was so intense that I blurted out the words “ Son of a Bit@H! Now, I had heard these words before by adults who were under duress. I can only guess I associated this phrase with intense pain. So I used it. After I regained my composure. I returned the whip back to its place in the basement. On my way back up the stairs. I looked up, and there was my Dad, looking back down at me. In a calm voice, he asked me a simple question. “Johnny, did you use the whip without my permission?” Now, I was too ignorant to know he saw my dirt stained eyes from my tears of pain and a big red welt that looked like a second head growing out of my neck. I said what any seven and a half-year-old boy would say, “Nooooooooo.” Obviously, when I said “no” in a long and drawn out way like I did, it only re-enforced that I was dishonest with my father. He asked me yet again. I answered the same. He dismissed me to my bedroom, where I patiently waited on the edge of my bed, wondering what my fate would be. It was obvious my dad was annoyed with me.
About five minutes into my waiting, I hear my father outside my bedroom window, speaking to himself in his native Hungarian language out loud. What he began to say made me a little nervous. He started off saying, “Dear Lord, I know Johnny is not telling me the truth. I gave him an opportunity, to be honest with me, but he chose to lie. I don’t know what to do dear Lord? I don’t want him to think he can get away with dishonesty. So, I ask you again Lord. Give me an answer or forgive me for what I’m about to do.” To my dismay, I began to hear the whirling, CRACKING, over and over again of my father using the whip. That sound got my attention! I stiffened up on the edge of my bed like rigor mortis had set in. I was in utter panic. Then my dad said, “I’m going inside to get him, dear Lord, and bring him out and give him one last chance to speak the truth.” Followed by more whirling and cracking. My mind was racing thinking my life was going to end that day. I’m meeting my maker with a blistered backside! The reason I thought this was because I know where my father’s sweet spot was for disciplinary action. That spot was barely out of the womb eight years. My thought was that he would sear his initials into me with the whip to show everyone who’s property I am. After expending all my energy on worry, he shows up at the doorway of my bedroom. I collapsed literally to my knees to the floor right in front of him screaming and begging for forgiveness and mercy. I had worked myself into a frenzy. I could barely get my words out. I was trying to speak clearer while gasping for another breath of air repeatedly. I confessed to him that I had been lying. Honestly, I believe I admitted every dishonest event in my scanty less than eight-year life span.
My father admitted he knew from the beginning that I was not telling the truth. He also explained he would never use the whip on me in such a way. With arms around me, he expressed how much he loved me and a quick lecture on integrity. I looked up at him with fresh tears and a running nose. I said I learned my lesson. When looking back on this incident, I have to believe Dad watched me out my bedroom window quietly laughing at the spectacle his little boy displayed. My father taught visually and metaphorically.
A son’s appreciation: The loss of my father
The passing of my father is a profound loss. He was an astute man who liked to lead you to a conclusion by the use of visual and sensory aids. Now that he wasn’t here anymore to help me cushion life’s blows, all that he had taught me has taken my physical, sensory perceptions to a different level of intuitiveness. I feel as though, in some unexplained way, I’ve soaked up his wisdom. Perhaps it’s life’s way of saying your time has arrived, or it’s your turn, make the most of it. However, in the midst of all the anguish, I’ve realized a clarity that I never considered from the bullwhip. I ran my fingers along the texture of the aged and tattered leather which also had a slight musty smell to it. It made me think of how we age and grow old. It also made me think about how Dad never jumped in to fix or enable me for the situations I may have done to myself. He guided me through the pain knowing I would come out stronger on the other side, not interfering with the process. He taught me how to endure and survive, much as he did in his life. There are so many lessons gleaned from the bullwhip as I look back. I diligently practiced using that whip well into my teens. If I may add, I excelled at it too. What I realize now is how it sharpened my focus to pay attention to detail and appreciate other people’s artistic work. I believe it developed my skills in these areas too. Persistence, integrity, core balance, discipline, confidence, flexibility, coordination, precision, concentration, diligence, and how to humbly deal with self-inflicted pain.
My heart has not hardened losing Dad in any way. In fact, My heart has opened to display generous portions of compassion to those in need. My Prayer is to pass on my blessings to my family. So, in turn, they may do the same for their family. I’m convinced, my father’s passing is like a rebirth into a different leadership role. A worthy role I hope to display and attain by example and choices. I realized the greatest gift he gave me was his time and skills geared toward how to conquer life’s obstacles. Money can’t buy this form of love.
As I drift through life, I can’t help but think of the striking parallel and similarities that our lives have with Biblical principles and stories. It seems that one would have to believe we have a loving God. He appears to know our needs if we would only take the time to seek, listen, and believe in him. We not only live four seasons of climate, but we live and endure so many seasons of the heart. There is abundant beauty rooted in this if you look carefully.
The last time
My last lengthy conversation with Dad was about ten days before he passed. We were sitting in the family room at his home. He sat in the recliner. His appearance reflected all signs of shutting down with the usual symptoms of cancer. It was consuming his frail body. I sat to his right on the couch, not knowing what to say. I can only imagine what he was thinking – faced with his mortality. In my mind, I struggled with the reality of my father departing forever. I had been visiting for a few days while family came, and friends made their visit one last time. Without saying it, we all knew time was limited and precious.
We sat there together, in each others company. We exchanged conversation with one another. Dad expressed to me what he needed to, and I to him. Our emotions were fragile because of the situation. Tears were rolling off my cheeks as I expressed my thankfulness and love for him. Whatever word I tried using seemed so insignificant. No words could ease the inevitable. Afterward, as we sat in a moment of silence, Dad said, “Johnny, go home. There is nothing more you can do. Go, take care of your wife and family. I know you love me, and I love you, but you need to go.” I sat for a moment to process his request. He was aware that I would not leave until he granted me permission. I would not have left until he gave it.
I laid awake in bed. I decided to leave early morning around two am to make the drive home. I figured it would be less traffic. Besides, I could not relax nor sleep that night. Honestly, I felt helpless, but I knew there was nothing more I could do. It was in God’s hand at this point. He is in control of everything. So I rose slowly out of bed, washed, and put my clothes on. I was anxious about approaching my Dad and step Mom’s room to say my goodbyes.
When I entered the room, the lights from the kitchen provided enough illumination for me to inch my way in without stumbling. There I saw Dad lying on his back, my step Mom’s arms stretched around him, coupled to his frail body. This beautiful tender-hearted woman loved him unconditionally, as she did all of us. My heart will always be grateful to her for stepping into our lives and caring for us as her own. I proceeded to Mom’s side of the bed first, to hug her and say goodbye. Then I went to my Pop’s. I briefly gazed down to memorialize him in my mind’s eye before I approached him. He raised his arms to embrace me. I lowered myself to his level to honor his silent request so he would not have to struggle to meet me. We held each other without saying a word knowing full well we would never physically ever have the opportunity to do so again. With a whispered voice, we verbally exchanged our love for each other. I don’t think either one of us wanted to break the embrace we made, but ultimately we had to. I turned to leave, making my way through the front door of the house and into the early morning darkness. I opened the door to my car and entered. As I sat there for a second thinking, I finally turned the ignition switch to start my car. I grabbed hold of the stick and put it in forward to make the trip home sobbing profusely for a time.
Ten days later, I awoke from my sleep; an awful dreaded feeling overcomes me. Everything felt very surreal to me. I was convinced in my heart my father would be passing soon. The worry grew worse as the day progressed. I couldn’t focus on anything. I kept hearing and feeling phantom rings and vibrations from my cell phone.
Around 5 pm, I called over to Mom and Dad’s house. Hospice had already been there for a week. Thankfully, loved ones surrounded him, especially today. Dad was lying on a hospital bed in the family room in place of his recliner chair area. I spoke to mom for a moment. She held the phone to my Dad’s ear at his request. He was so weak I could barely hear him. He mustered up enough strength to whimper out with a faint voice, “Johnny, I love you.” I said it back. Tears were streaming down my face. That was the last time I heard my Dad’s voice. He passed about forty-five minutes after midnight. I got the call from my step brother, “Johnny, it’s over.”
My Dad was my friend.
He was my hero.
He was a warrior.
I miss him deeply.
“As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
My personal advice
Make time for each other always. Life is short. Spend time with your loved ones. Don’t think about it after they are all gone. Honor them while they are still here.
John is currently an Electrical Skilled Tradesman for the University of Michigan. He has over 32 years experience in his field. He resides in Southern Michigan with his wife, Maryann. He spent four years in the Marine Corp as a 7011 (Aircraft Launch & Recovery Tech). After his tour, he completed a four-year Inside Wireman Electrical Apprenticeship with I.B.E.W. (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).
At a very young age, John developed a love for reading and hoarding books and has continued to do so. It wasn’t uncommon to see him writing notes about something. John believes inspiration comes from an intentional reading of the word and following the Lord. He feels it encourages better living and thinking.
When John is not working, writing, and reading, he is trying his best at being a husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, friend, and uncle. On occasion, you’ll see him making sausage and jerky or fermenting cabbage and pickles. He is always put in charge of making Hungarian Goulash over an open pit fire. No one else is allowed!
“My goal is to foster traditional family community and common sense thinking.”
“I enjoy reading books about personal life experiences. When people are at their lowest, broken point, and then making a victorious comeback.”
John C. Gyorki
John is new to the writing and blogging world
You can join him at ThinkerMe.com or email at john@ThinkerMe.com