On the Loss of My Father-In-Law

My Father-In-Law Walker Nickless passed away last week.

Though he had a great run in his 84 years, we’re all still very sad to see him go.

A lot of long-time Denverites knew Mr. Nickless because he owned The Esquire Market in Bonnie Brae for the better part of 50 years.

I don’t imagine anyone could even guess how many cuts of meat he served to greater Denver in that half-century but the number would probably make the mind boggle.

Walker leaves behind 10 children, 19 grand-children, 10 great-grandchildren and an innumerable collection of sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, and friends who miss him an awful damn lot already.

 

The thing with Fathers is this:  from our very earliest memories, they are invincible.

As children we have to tilt our head’s upward just to see them in full silhouette.

Giant hands that swallow up our tiny fingers.

Their space fills door-ways and rooms.

We turn our head’s to their big voices.

We’ll forever know the scent of their after shaves.

So big to our young eyes.

So impossibly strong.

Immovable.  Solid.  A force and a power that knows no bounds.

It’s fair to say that for at least the first few years of our lives, we can’t imagine seeing anything bigger or more powerful than Dad.

For all the nurturing we get from our Mothers, it’s our Fathers who are our rocks.

Our strength in times of trouble.

Our one great sign that no matter what’s happening in the world, everything will be all right.

In the last few days I’ve come to understand that this is why it shakes us to the core when our Dad dies.

It’s not because we didn’t know that eventually this day would come.  We did.

It’s not because we aren’t thankful for an end to his suffering.  We are.

It’s not because we don’t know that he’s in a better place. We do.

It’s not because we aren’t eternally grateful for his presence in our lives.  We are.

It’s simply because from the dawn of our earliest memories, we have absolutely no idea how to frame a world in which our Father isn’t the one, single, unyielding constant.

There with a capital “T”.

Ours with a capital “O”.

Dad, with a capital “D”.

In my experience, Walker wasn’t a man of too terribly many words.

His ultimate form of praise or excitement was simply “That’s good.”

Or if something really and truly exceeded expectations he would say “That’s good!  Very, very good.”

If it snowed too much, or the car wash guys did a crappy job on his car or the Broncos played poorly he didn’t say much more than “Oh, that was terrible.  Just terrible.”

It’s been said that less is often more.  And with Walker, it didn’t take a whole lotta words to know exactly what you were getting.

He called Anne, Lynda.  He called Lynda, Rosanne.  He called Rosanne, Kathleen.  He called Kathleen, Christine.  And he called Christine, Anne.

Or sometimes he just called them all by his wife’s name, “Peg”.

With the Grandkids he would often say “Which one is this again?  Who does he/she belong to?”

Truth be told, that was just Walker being funny.  He knew damn well which kids belonged to whom and in fact he always called our girls by both their first and middle names.  “Lily Jane” and “Josephine Rae”

If he liked you, he called you “Hon.”

If he didn’t like you, he was gracious enough to not call you anything.  At least to your face.

The first time I met Walker, he and Peggy drove from Denver to Seattle to see Anne and me.

At the time, as I’m sure my brothers and sisters in law would be happy to tell you, I had both ears pierced and a gold hoop earring in each ear.

My recollection is that I had offered to Anne that I would be happy to take the earrings out if she thought it would make her parents uncomfortable but Anne being Anne of course said, “No.  They probably won’t even notice.”

Which was really Anne’s way of saying “Oh, they’ll notice.  But this will be interesting.  I can’t wait to see what happens.”

After brief introductions had been made the 4 of us sat down in a circle in our ridiculously tiny little house boat to have a cocktail with Walker seated to my right.

As subtlety wasn’t one of his strongest suits, even Stevie Wonder would have noticed Walker repeatedly leaning back further and further in his chair and tilting his head to his left to look at my right ear-lobe.

Again, Anne being Anne, she finally said, “Dad, did you notice Mike has two ear rings?  What do you think of that?”

Without missing a beat, Walker said, “So what?  What’s wrong with that?  I think that’s good.  Very, very good.”

Turns out I was “in” before I even knew what “in” really meant.

Earlier in the day Peggy and Walker had taken Anne on trip to Costco and had picked up a 3 CD box set of Glenn Miller Big Band Music from the 1940s.

With a round of fresh drinks, Glenn Miller on the stereo, and a soon to be future son-in-law with 2 ear-rings in a tiny living room, Peggy and Walker laid down some pretty fancy old school dance steps for us.

Though I had the pleasure of knowing both Peggy and Walker for a number of years after that first meeting, that’s the way I’ll always remember them.

Dancing in circles around a tiny living room to the music of Glenn Miller.

As Walker might have said, “That’s good.  That’s very, very, very, very good.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  • Cecelia Widina wrote:

    Michael, what a beautiful tribute to your father-in-law and to all Dads! Our thoughts are with you, Anne, the kids and all the Nickless clan.
    Love ya, Aunt Buddy

  • Nettie Garcia wrote:

    Thank you, Mike! My dad passed away March 15 of this year and I miss him every day. I think of all the things I would still like to tell him and say to him. He was 81 yrs old, but you would never have known looking at him. Once again, thank you for your words!

  • Carol Marshall wrote:

    Thank you so much for this. It’s just beautiful, touching and oh, so true.

  • Denise Moore wrote:

    Mike, thanks for sharing the memories of your father-in-law. I understand what you all are going through as I lost my dad 10 years — almost 11. And there are days when I wish he were here with me (and the family) more than anything. They say that time heals all wounds — I think time just takes the sting away. My prayers go out to you, Anne and the family.

  • What a beautiful eulogy…my condolences to your whole family.

  • Duff Regan wrote:

    Mike,
    That was a very warm and loving tribute. I never met your father-in-law, but I think I would have liked him.

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