Today is the fifth anniversary of my dad's death. My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer right before Christmas. My dad, John William Mantz, Jr., died only three weeks later on January 14, 2006.
My dad was born in 1936 in Anaconda, Montana. His family was dirt poor. My grandfather was a German miner and my Scottish and English grandmother a cook. My grandfather physically abused my dad and repeatedly told him that he wasn't his son. When my dad was five, he and his little brother and sister were put in an orphanage. Their parents couldn't afford to feed them.
My dad and his siblings were returned to their parents after four years, but due to his time in the orphanage my dad never felt that he had enough. My dad was obsessed with food. He bought so much food that it spoiled. My dad gagged at the sight of rice. He said it made him think of his time at the orphanage, A chronic insomniac, he sometimes sliced ham in the middle of the night for breakfast the next morning. The sound of the slicer was in my dreams.
My mom and dad met at a bar in Portland, Oregon called Elsie's Bar in 1969. My mom loved cowboys and my dad always wore a cowboy shirt and jeans with his custom belt buckle. My dad loved fiery Mexican women and my mom certainly met his criteria.
They had both been married before. They moved in together two months after they met. My mom brought her son David who was deaf. My mom had come to Oregon to enroll David in a special school.
From the very beginning, my parents had crazy, passionate fights. My mom told me a story about a party they went to in Portland. They both had too much to drink. They started arguing and my dad knocked my mom's wig off her head.
One morning about six months after they moved in together, my mom went looking for my dad with her son David in tow. My dad hadn't come home that night from the bar. David ran into the street and got hit by a car. He died instantly.
In March of 1970, my mom and dad moved to Great Falls, Montana to be closer to his daughters Barbara and Roberta. My dad's ex-wife Tiny moved to Great Falls after divorcing her second husband and my dad desperately wanted to see his girls.
My twin sister Jackie and I were born more than a year later in October of 1971. I have a photo album filled with pictures of Jackie and I dressed in identical snow outfits nestled in my father's arms.
My mom pulled out a memory box this evening as I was writing. I opened up the black cracked leather box and out fell a letter in my dad's neat cursive. The letter was addressed to his father and dated 1969. It talked about how much he wanted to move to Great Falls and how much he missed Barbara and Roberta.
I read the letter written to a grandfather I never knew and I could almost hear my dad's voice.
As if he was whispering in my ear while I read.