Opinion » Viewpoint

Life Lessons

Remembering a father -- and his undying legacy.



I lost my dad September 1st. And while Dad would forgive my first missed column for the Flyer Web site in 187 weeks, he'd want me back on the horse sooner rather than later. So I'm making my first attempt at mounting that horse.

Dad was way too young, only 63. Not only did he leave a wife, two children, and a pair of granddaughters he absolutely relished, he left dozens of Norwich University students, most of whom will never know just how much they will miss this semester.

Among the countless things Dad taught me, the value of literature, the importance of loyalty, and the strength of family have served as the tenets that have most shaped my life. It was our shared devotion to St. Louis Cardinals baseball, though, that served as our unique bond, one I'm honestly not quite sure how I'll function without.

Dad learned to love the Cardinals at his father's side, just as I did at Dad's. But my grandfather never took Dad to St. Louis for a game, which made the pilgrimage Dad and I made to Busch Stadium in August 2000 all the more meaningful. That first visit to Busch was a damp one, as we endured a two-hour rain delay before watching the Cards beat Philadelphia. It's only this week that I've come to fully appreciate those two hours -- bonus time Dad and I spent visiting over a tall, expensive cup of beer in the stadium's upper deck. I griped that night about Mother Nature mistreating us. Turns out, she was offering us a rather priceless gift.

In 2002, I flew north and Dad joined me for a weekend in Cooperstown, New York, where my Cardinal hero of heroes, Ozzie Smith, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Driving the winding highways back to central Vermont, Dad and I agreed that the most valuable -- the most memorable -- part of the trip was the 40 minutes of eloquence of Ozzie's induction speech. Fact is, I was paying a short visit to one hero but spending an entire weekend with my biggest hero of all.

The third adventure in this trilogy took place just last October when, through several friendly connections (and maybe a few unfriendly), Dad and I managed to get a pair of tickets to Game 3 of the World Series -- fourth row, behind the Cardinals' dugout. I have a picture of us before that night's first pitch, when there is still hope in the eyes of two St. Louis baseball fans. Our hearts, as it turned out, were broken that night. But when I consider the relative loss, I'd trade the Cardinals being swept a thousand times for the chance to sit with my dad at a World Series game in St. Louis. Before he died, he all but said the same thing himself.

Dad left this world just before the biggest weekend of the year in the little hamlet of Northfield, Vermont, his home the last 23 years of his life. My parents' front yard has long been the best seat in town for Northfield's annual Labor Day parade. Norwich's entire Corps of Cadets marched down Main Street in formation, maybe 30 yards from the home of a man whose name will be added to the school's Memorial Wall on September 24th. Dad's favorite part of the parade, though, would have been the Catamount Pipe Band, the leaders of the two-hour parade. Dad loved bagpipes -- another shared passion of ours -- which made it especially eerie when they went silent just as they passed my parents' home.

Five days after Dad's passing, one of his granddaughters -- surrounded by family -- turned 3 years old. Precisely as she blew out her candles, Dad's other granddaughter, now 6, lost a tooth. A funeral, a birthday, and the Tooth Fairy, all in one September week in Vermont.

You would have liked my dad. He didn't speak in platitudes, didn't write words of wisdom on flash cards for his children. He did, though, offer four words that I've carried with me over the years and will the rest of my life: Remember who you are. I've never been more proud -- more humbled -- to remember I am Frank Marvin Murtaugh III.

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