Merry Christmas, 2017: This one will be strange…

2017 has been funky! And Christmas 2017 will be really strange for me and my Mother. It will be the first one without my Dad.

It’s been 6 months since my Dad passed. Mourning the loss of a loved one is a process, and ebbs and flows from moment to moment. I go from sad, to pissed, to laughing over memories on a regular basis. Those of you who have gone through the loss of a parent or close family member can relate, I’m sure.

I actually wrote and delivered the eulogy at Dad’s funeral. My mom and I decided who knew him better than us…So I did it and tried to honor him the best way I knew how – with reverence, honor and humor.

Rather than write the traditional Christmas Letter/Update of everything that happened this year for Chad & Cindy, I thought I would finally share that eulogy.   Frankly, it is only now that I feel ready to share it with others who were not able to attend the funeral (the grieving process is weird like that), so please, humor me…

From June 30, 2017:

My dad was a TRIP!

There’s so much to say about the guy who never knew he was my hero; but I’ll try to whittle it down to some key moments and interesting timeline memories.

My father was funny, quick with a come-back, and fiercely passionate about a lot of things that most people take for granted.

He loved deeply, especially my mother.  A lot of times, though, he hid his feelings behind that infamous sense of humor because he felt and loved so deeply, and could bring himself to let anyone in close enough to let them see that vulnerability.  

Milt Pritchard was a big man with a big heart, wrapped in a gruff exterior. Most people who knew him, figured out long ago that he was full of it and that 90% of what he said was BS – done with a mischievous smirk and always tongue in cheek.

Let’s look at his life for a moment: John Milton Pritchard was born on April 6, 1935 in Clawson, MI – a north suburb of Detroit, to Welsh-immigrant parents from Rhosllanerchrugog, in North Wales. (Rhos is about 45 miles south of Liverpool.  Look it up…Spelling counts…There’ll be a test later!)

He went through school in Clawson, building quite a reputation for himself as a clown, a singer, an awesome football player, and all-around popular guy. He played semi-pro football in Detroit, and was even on the Summer Training practice team for the Detroit Lions, back when they worked out at Cranbrook in Bloomfield hills. The Detroit Lions was his team until the day he died! Even at their worst, he was a rabid fan. No one can both cheer and swear at the Lions – multiple times in the same sentence – like a native Detroiter. And, no one will be more loyal to them (even throughout their ultimate “suckishness”) than a native Detroiter! We’re used to the fame that comes with the shame!

His gorgeous singing voice landed him several professional singing gigs in the Detroit area churches, a gift that continued throughout his life…He rarely sang in front of me, but I have fond memories of hearing him singing along to the Camelot Cast Album, or Phantom of the Opera…He was so good!!! He really could have been a star, but God had other plans for this man.

Sometime after high school, he joined the Michigan National Guard and was an MP = Military Police. His experiences and proficiency in this field led him to become a cop in Clawson. Of all the jobs my dad had, being a cop was the one thing that made him the happiest and proudest.

He would live a life of service as a result, whether as a cop, an EMT, Firefighter, church elder, husband, father, and friend.

My dad met my mother doing theatre for the Berkley, MI PTA’s production of The Pajama Game. Mom had the female lead of Babe, and dad was a last-minute addition in the role of Prez, the union boss. That incredible voice, known throughout several chorales in the Detroit area, helped him land the role that would lead him to his bride. By the time the curtain fell for the last time on the show, they were a hot-n-heavy item destined for marriage!

During their engagement, they went on to star as the comedic leads as Adelaide and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, to rave reviews and a lot of press for the engaged couple starring together.  

My mom and dad married on November 19th, 1960 with a lovely church wedding and reception at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Detroit, followed by a bash at their new house in Clawson…Pretty sure the cops may have been called, but that was only a rumor. I could be wrong! Then again, they could have been the ones bringing the beer to their brother in blue!!

A few years later…Yours truly made her appearance and dad’s world would never be the same…or quiet…again! He used to call me The Mouth with Feet on it! He even hand-drew me, with colored sharpies a t-shirt of a mouth with a flapping tongue, wearing tennis shoes…I wore that shirt with pride until I wore it out!! It literally fell apart and mom eventually made me throw it out!

Which reminds me…My dad loved to paint, draw and dabble with several types of media. He was pretty good, too. (In fact, I think Mom will be selling his paintings in the lobby after the service…FYI.) He wanted to take more painting classes this fall…He enjoyed that so much. It was kinda like having Picasso or Dali as a dad without the eccentricities of an artist…well…sort of! Stories for a different time!!

In 1968, Dad decided that riding shotgun on Eight Mile Rd during the Detroit Riots was not a good idea for a guy with a family. So, we moved to Gaylord, MI, about 300 miles north of Detroit.

We soon discovered there was a big time difference between Detroit and Gaylord. For example, right now it’s about 11:30, in Gaylord, its 1972! Things were a lot slower and laid-back there than in the hustle and bustle of the city.  

Dad found his off-duty fun in hunting, bowling and spontaneous UP camping trips with Mom, me and the dog. What started off as “let’s go for a ride” would usually end up with us across the Mackinaw Bridge, somewhere along the Lake Superior or Lake Michigan shoreline, sleeping over…sometimes in the car just for fun!

It was always fun to listen to my mom and dad banter during a road trip. Dad would drive, Mom would navigate, and I would laugh when he’d get mad when mom would read the map wrong and get us lost! We found a lot of abandoned logging camps and ghost towns thanks to mom’s map-reading prowess! He would have never experienced all that lost Pure Michigan history by staying home!

My dad, although he never did plays after Guys and Dolls, was active in other theatrical ways. He played Santa one year in Gaylord, leading me and the girl scout troop around town, having us sit on his lap, telling him what him what we wanted for Christmas…Yeah…I didn’t find that out until I was in my 20s. Then I had to think back…How big of a smart aleck had I been at that time? Did I blow my cover? Probably! I don’t think I ever got away with anything ever again!!

Gaylord is known as being the Alpine Village, one big Bavarian town, with an annual Alpenfest every July. My dad played the town villain, Herr Gessler for over 20 years…he was so good at keeping the secret identity, that even his best buddies had no idea it was him! He was so funny…and (playfully) mean, feeding off the townsfolk as they boo the would-be Burgermeister! “Bow to my Hat!” he’d yell and shake his walking stick at everyone. They loved to boo him!!!! LOVED…IT!!!!   And he loved it right back! But he always made sure Herr Gessler’s heart would melt enough to sing Edelweiss, Gaylord’s theme song. Milt was a town legend in that role! They haven’t had a better Herr Gessler in Gaylord since then.

Eventually, he retired from the police force and took a job in the UAW shop Standard Products, where they made parts for the Auto Industry. He became the shop steward and helped negotiate contracts, arbitrate disputes, and keep the peace, while making sure workers were happy and managers didn’t get away with anything they shouldn’t! He was a tough but fair guy.

It was during the auto industry meltdown in the 80s that really showed me his character, teaching me the concept of work ethic for even shop stewards face layoffs during lean times. My dad, while walking the picket lines and working to get people back to work, took a job pumping gas in town just to pay the bills.

He showed me that you sometimes have to work a less than desirable job – sometimes two – when you have bills to pay and a family. I have never forgotten that.

Dad was a loner by nature, but once you were in that little circle of trust, you were there to stay. He had only a few close friends, but could converse with complete strangers in a grocery store and leave knowing their life story.

Eventually, Mom and dad retired – first to Gulf Shores, AL and then to Spring Hill, FL.   I think they moved to Florida so they could still do the hand-map thing! 

Shortly after moving to Spring Hill, mom and dad met their future Son-in-law…My husband, Chad. It didn’t take long to figure out there was a reason why Chad and Dad were not allowed to hang out very often! Too peas in a pod!!!  

My dad loved Chad! I think more than me!!! During the day before our wedding, after the two of them had been particularly obnoxious together, Chad called me and as I answered, said “Why won’t you let me play with Milt??” Yeah, honey…there’s a reason for that!!! So, as you can imagine, Chad has taken the death of my father rather hard.

Dad thought it was very cool when Chad called and had both my folks get on the extensions so he could ask for my hand in marriage. That sense of honor and respect always struck a chord with my father!

When my dad walked me down the aisle at our wedding in July 2003, he placed my hand in Chad’s, looked at Chad and said, as only Dad could, “She’s your problem now!” That was his way of saying “Be as happy, as your mom and I have been!” Chad always said he was kind of like Robert DeNiro’s character in Meet the Parents!  At first, kinda scary, but

That was also the day he started popping aspirin like tic-tacs. Why? Because he was having a series of heart attacks during the wedding and the reception. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to ruin my big day. Like dropping dead during the father-daughter dance would have been a much better plan!!! (From that point forward, he jokingly blamed me for his heart attacks that day, saying he was amazed that I had finally found someone who would put up with my crap…His heart could take the shock!)

On June 22, 2017, the LORD silenced the beating of the big heart of Big John and called his servant home.   But not before he had a little fun being retired, hanging out with friends from high school days now living in Central Florida, and getting that beautiful voice back in the game as a member of the Hernando Harmonizers.

The lives of my family will never be the same. We will forever miss the man, the myth, the legend known as Milt Pritchard.

I love you dad…As mom says…Sing with the Angels!

They say the first series of holidays and special occasions after the passing of your folk’s is the toughest. I must say…I have to agree at this point. It doesn’t seem right to call my Mom and not have Dad on the extension, interjecting his words of wisdom and irreverent humor.

November 19th would have been Mom and Dad’s 57th Wedding Anniversary….It was surreal not wishing them the very best. Instead, I sent my mom a simple thinking of you card and wrote to her how proud of her I was, dealing with all of this and the incredible changes foisted on her. She’s pretty amazing!

Thanksgiving Day was bizarre….I could call during the Lion’s Game and listen to my Dad roll off a steady stream of jibes , expletives, and disparaging remarks over how badly they blew the game against Minnesota! That was tradition, you know!

And, it was downright weird to not buy a Christmas gift for him this year. I tried to get Mom to come to Spokane for Christmas, but she said if I could guarantee 70-degree weather for Christmas, she would consider it. Yeah…she’s staying in Florida!!! (Can’t say I blame her!! LOL)

Yes, there’s something missing in my Christmas 2017. And it will continue to be missing until God calls me home, whenever He sees fit to do so.

Until then, I will just say this:

Have a Merry Christmas, Dad, as you sit in the presence of the King of Kings on His Birthday! I look forward to seeing you again someday, in Glory!

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