Friday, June 13, 2014

My Father, Rolland Edward Cunningham Jr.

I would guess my dad was in his mid twenties in this pic

I actually don't know a whole lot about my dad.  We were never as close as I was with Mom.  I remember when I was very young I would always be so excited to see him when he would come home from a business trip, or even just home from work everyday.  Those memories always make me smile.  As I got older the differences and the similarities between us grew and put a sort of shield between us.

Dad was born September 22, 1938 in Liberal, Kansas  if you clicked on the link you can see it isn't the most metropolitan city, nor have any claim to fame that I have found. Well unless you count the 1991 Miss USA being born there, and the Chief of Police in Huntington Beach when we lived there was from Liberal.  I believe my dad only went to school until he was about 14 years old.  I think that was pretty typical in that part of the country during that era, the boys were needed at home to work on the farm.

I don't know the year that Grandpa and Grandma married or divorced, I do know the reasons why they were divorced, apparently Grandpa was a much different person then.   Much different than the sweet gentle old man I remember when I was young.  Dad hadn't seen his father for a very long time so we went to Whittier where grandpa lived with his daughter Myrna (dads half sister)   I just remember being so excited to see my grandpa all those other "things" didn't matter to me.
Grandpa died in 1984 not knowing his son would follow him just a little less than a year later.

My relationship with my father was "strained" at best.  Dad and I frequently butted heads.  We were both impatient and stubborn.  I was a spoiled kid with a big smart mouth (imagine that) and apparently I wasn't as "manly" as he hoped I would be.  At times I could over hear him talking to mom saying she was turning me into a sissy by going to the theater to see plays and all the clothes shopping and redecorating my bedroom.  Dad and I were very different from each other in many ways, he was perfectly happy driving his beat up old pickup truck and using his aluminum fishing boat. Dad was a "mans man"  He liked to hunt and fish, he loved watching sports, and just sitting outside his office at a picnic table shooting the shit with his employees.

One other similarity is that on occasion he would throw down some money on "luxury" items.  He finally bought a big boat...30 feet I think, so the entire family could enjoy boating trips to Catalina or at the river. he had a side that enjoyed the good things in life like custom made suits, imported cigarettes, and the most ugly and expensive cowboy boots you had ever seen..  Since most of the family enjoyed water skiing so much dad never got to use the big boat for fishing, so he went and bought a smaller 24 foot boat that he customized for bass fishing.  Dad did love his toys and he spent quite a bit of money on them.  He worked very hard to be able to enjoy those pleasures.

The times we did spend together doing the things he liked were usually miserable for me but extremely joyful for him.  Especially the fishing...  Dad could sit in a boat for hours and not catch a thing and be perfectly happy.  I would get so fidgety and bored I usually brought a book to read.  One time we went to Alaska to go salmon fishing and I had an amazing time.  The fish were practically jumping in the boat.  I caught the first fish of the trip, which ended up also being the largest fish.  I know that made my dad so happy, because when we got home he couldn't stop telling everyone.  We would go on various family trips like cruises to Mexico, long weekends to the mountains or anywhere dad could fish, trips to other states to visit mom's family. But the one thing Dad was most proud of is when he took his grandson Austin fishing and he caught his first fish.  He had a big picture of Austin with that fish in his office.  Sadly my niece was only about 2 or 3 when my dad died so they didn't get a chance to get to know each other.

One thing I loved doing with Dad and was always a great bonding experience for us was when we went to LA Dodger baseball games, our business had season tickets so we went as often as we could.  When my brother was younger Dad was a coach for most of his little league teams.  Dad didn't own his own business back then so he had much more free time.  My first day of little league practice my Aunt Goldie had to take me and my dad showed up shortly after. The coach had us throwing balls back and forth.  I got hit in the head, Dad yelled at the coach for letting 1st graders just throw balls at each other.  That was my first and last little league practice.  That was a huge disappointment for my dad.  I wouldn't be bringing any trophies home to add to the family collection.  Although I did win a Fonzie look alike contest in 3rd grade which I received a trophy for.   My first trophy for being an impersonator, gee I'm sure dad would have been proud of my Showqueen of the year trophy from 1993

Something that no one is aware that I know about is that my father was married once before and has 2 other sons. I found out about the 1st wife after dad died and we were cleaning out his closet, he had a box of personal mementos with wedding photos, etc.   I learned about my other half brothers  via his last will and testament. I don't know why that was kept such a secret from me when mom had been married once before and had a son.   I have no idea what the circumstances were with the wife or children, or if the children are even from the same mother.  I guess my Dad's nickname wasn't "Fast Eddie" for nothing.  Even though I have my half brothers full names I've never searched them out on the internet or any other way,  I'm sure by the time you read this I'll have done so.

I guess there are some misconceptions out there about the death of my father.  Yes he died from a gunshot wound to his head, but it was not intentional. Dad grew up around guns his whole life, he had a pretty large collection of rifles, hand guns, etc.  He was meticulous about cleaning, and caring for his guns.  I was taught gun safety at a very young age.  Trucking yards weren't in the best neighborhoods so dad always carried a handgun in his car hidden inside a small pillow.  One night he was out celebrating a friends birthday and his friend got into an altercation with someone.  Well the guy announced he was getting his gun, so dad did the same.  Dad's friend pleaded for him to put it away, but to show them he had no intention of using the gun he emptied the bullets out into his jacket pocket.  Later there were only 5 bullets found in his pocket, one bullet had become stuck in the chamber.  Dad was messing around with the gun later and it went off and hit him in the head, he fell to the ground.  At first everyone thought dad was playing some kind of elaborate practical joke, he was always pranking his friends.

Mom had just been released from the hospital on her birthday January 23rd to recover at home from back surgery, we had a hospital bed in our living room because she wasn't allowed to go up or down stairs, she wasn't supposed to do much movement of any kind.  I remember a call coming in the middle of the night but at our house that wasn't unusual.  It was usually an employee letting dad know he was leaving or arriving for a delivery.
I woke up the next morning on the 25th of January 1985 and there was a note on the kitchen table from mom telling me dad had an accident but I should please go to school.  It was during 5th period they pulled me out of class and was told I was needed at home, when I drove up everyone's car was in the driveway and on the street. I knew something very bad happened, when I saw Grandma, she couldn't even look at me.   Mom and my brother pulled me into the downstairs office and told me dad was dead.  For whatever reason my first reaction was to immediately go back to school to talk to one of my favorite teachers; Mrs. Petlowaney.  I was in a complete daze, shortly after that time word had spread all over the school.

No parent should have to bury one of their own children, and I remember the grief and sadness that Grandma Ruby went through.  Just walking down the hall at our home and seeing a photo of dad on the wall almost brought her to her knees on the day he died.  Apparently Grandma went to see him in the hospital when he was first brought in, she and my mother made the decision together to cease life support.  I remember Grandma mentioning she was so happy she went to see him at the mortuary for the viewing because he looked so much better, than in the hospital  I couldn't bring myself to go to the viewing

The services were held at Forest Lawn Memorial in The Church of our Fathers which houses 150 people inside and 50 people outside, there were dozens of people standing both inside and outside in addition.  My father was a very respected man professionally and personally. He treated his customers like gold,  I remember one customer in particular, Bob Korst and his wife Ethel that dad held in the highest esteem.  When ever they came to town Dad got them whatever they wanted. They always came for the Long Beach Grand Prix and Dad would pay through the nose for the best tickets he could find. I had never seen my dad act in such a subservient way, as he did with Bob and Ethel Korst.  If one of his employees needed an advance on his pay, dad would just give him money without any hesitation or requirement to pay him back.  He would even hire guys to work in the truck yard when he didn't need any additional help, because he had gone without the bare essentials when he was a kid.  He was always helping out someone in need.

Dad was a high school drop out that began a trucking company with one truck and a second phone line in our kitchen, that grew into an interstate trucking company with offices in both Southern and Northern California.  He also owned a tow truck company near the LA airport that was very successful, and was involved in a air compressor company that could inflate all the tires on an "18 wheeler" truck at the same time.  He was a very ambitious man. He was never afraid to try something new.

It took  me years to begin to truly grieve and miss my father.  I always wonder what our adult relationship would be like.   

Well, I guess I knew more about him than I thought.   I love you Daddy.

Grandma's favorite photo of "Eddie"
I always hated it cuz I though the dog was dead

The Cunninghams 1944

Little Eddie's Birthday 1943

My brother Bob, Dad as coach, and I'm the "mascot"

We were stylin in the 70's


My favorite photo of me and Dad

Taken about 6 months before Dad died

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