After my recent induction as a Distinguished Graduate, Harvey High School Hall of Fame, a good number of people wondered why I hadn't written about or talked about my Most Influential People in my years at that school. There were many, for sure; SO many, in fact, I was afraid I might leave some out of any list I would have put together.
If I had been asked, "Who was the most influential person in your life outside of your high school years?" I could have answered that in a snap. And with Father's Day approaching, there's no better time to do that, because it was my father, Clarence W. Baldauf. In my life, he was perhaps the most influential person of all.
I didn't have so very many years with him---he died when I was 14 years old and he was only 50---but the years I did have were significant to what I would become and who I am.
From an early age, I was my father's enthusiastic audience---a budding news junkie drawn to his reflective style of comment and debate on issues and events. Child that I was, he talked to me as if I understood, and in time I did.
Genetics being what they are, people who know me can't be too surprised to learn that my father, like myself, liked to talk. A lot! Sometimes I think the conversational bond that blossomed early between me and Dad began with our mutual love for bacon. Yes, bacon!
Every week my dad would walk across town to his favorite market to bring home our family's weekly supply of meats, and that would always include our favorite---bacon!
When I was still a pre-schooler, I began to go along on these treks, clinging tightly to his hand as we crossed many streets on the way.
Dad quickly found his daughter had been born with a perpetual question mark over her head, and he nurtured that curiosity, giving the most interesting and detailed answers; it seemed to me he knew so much!
How could that be, I wondered, and one day an aunt told me my father had been a fine scholar. He had even won a solid gold scholarship medal in a regional competition, but then the Great Influenza of 1918 had taken his father's life, and school was done for my dad. As the eldest in his family, he shouldered the support of his mother and younger siblings. He was just 14 at the time, but as honest as he was known to be, he lied about his age to begin his years of work with the B&O Railroad.
Though my dad had dropped out of school from necessity, he had never stopped being a scholar; he had never stopped trying to learn. And he wanted the same for us. He filled our home with books and encouraged us to learn. He respected questions from his children, and he never waved a question off. One day he described the question-mark as "a noble thing because it was the sign of curiosity, and it could lead to answers."
WHEN TV CAME onto the scene, we became one of the first families in the neighborhood to own one. Dad justified the purchase as a treat for his large family, though I personally came to believe he had bought it because he had discovered the existence of TV evening news.
Just as he had talked with me about stories in the newspaper, now we watched the TV news together; it was heaven to me, learning about a world that was larger than I could have imagined from my small-town vantage point.
In the process, I learned about the importance of citizenship and voting, and my dad took care to tell me that, when I was old enough to vote, I should vote my own beliefs and not be lead by someone else's belief. That, he said, required investigation; I should think of myself as being a detective in that research.
I remember well my father's great admiration for TV's first female news anchor, Cleveland's own Dorothy Fuldheim. Dad and I often watched her programs together.
During one newscast, I asked my father tentatively, "Dad, would you ever vote for a woman president?"
To my surprise, he answered "Yes, if she was smart and tough enough." Nodding at Fuldheim's image on the screen, he declared, "I'd vote for HER!"
A FEW MONTHS after his 50th birthday, my father suffered a fatal heart attack on the job, on a late-night train run. I returned from baby-sitting just in time to pick up the phone for the call that sent my mother rushing out into the night. Sitting in Dad's favorite reading spot as I waited, I replayed a conversation I had with Dad a few days earlier as we walked together to the market. That talk had left so many questions in my mind, and now it took on great significance.
Dad had turned to me and asked quite unexpectedly: "You do a lot of writing. What do you expect to do about it?"
Where had that question come from? It quite mystified me, and I answered, "Maybe someday you'll pick up a newspaper and see my byline. THAT is what I would like to do." Then the conversation took a more serious turn.
"Life isn't always fair," Dad told me. "Bad things happen to everyone at some time or another... And when it does, you just keep walking; do your best; pay attention to what is good, and things will eventually get better... Don't give in to fear or let it steal your dreams."
He then explained to me, as gently as he could, that I was old enough to hear what my mother already knew---how bad his heart had become, and he had received little hope from doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. I was startled.
He comforted me by telling me he'd lived a good life, and he wanted me to remember that. If his life should end early, it would be God's blessing if he could die with his boots on, walking upright and useful until the very last; he had no wish to linger as an invalid.
In that conversation, Dad had given me a lot to think about. His death did happen that way, mercifully fast. After his death, I armored myself with the wisdom he had shared. I did keep walking to the future, and my father's advice became my talisman.
I started the pursuit of my dreams by joining the high school paper.
WHEN I WAS 16, my guidance counselor and journalism advisor arranged for me take part in an experimental work/study program, working half of each school day at the local daily newspaper, the Painesville Telegraph. A good internship had begun, and a year had barely passed when I scored a major page-one story that actually hit the wire services. I thought of Dad and whispered, "There's your byline, Dad!"
Just after graduation, an early summer assignment sent me out to photograph and try to get some words from a celebrated anchorwoman who had come to Lake County to deliver a speech. When she arrived, she faced our large news cameras, with their blinding strobe flash bulbs, and pronounced: "There will be no photographs! Absolutely none!... How am I to give a speech if I am blind?"
My heart sank, and perhaps it showed. Before I really knew what was happening, I was taken by an elbow and ushered quickly into a nearby office where I found myself alone with the woman I had come to photograph---Dorothy Fuldheim!
Fixing her green eyes on me, she raised an eyebrow and asked, "Well, are you going to take the picture?" I did that, swallowing my confusion as best I could. Then she ordered me, "Sit down, please. My eyes need time to re-adjust. We'll talk!... "
Not only did I go back to the newspaper office with the Fuldheim photograph, I ended up with words from Fuldheim too! Again I whispered, "That's one for YOU, Dad!"
AND NOW, AT the age of 71, I confess to you that I still miss my father. I have missed him through all the landmarks of my life. That includes, but is by no means limited to, such times as when I met Bob, the man I would marry... When I introduced my husband-to-be to my father's old friend, St. Mary's pastor, William J. Gallena, who told me my father would have approved of Bob... When I walked down the aisle escorted by a friend instead of my father, with Dad's scholarship medal on a gold chain around my neck... When Bob and I had children and then grandchildren...
There's a popular country song these days, about hearing in your mind the voices and words of the people who raised you and helped to form you. I understand that song.
Throughout my life, after he was gone, I continued to hear the counseling voice of my father; and his words have never left me.
Thank you, Dad!
(Our columnist Rose Moore, who salutes all fathers, can be reached at 440-350-9818)