Since this site is named Wisconsin Dadger, it’s about time I start writing about Dads. This week and next, I will go back a bit and profile my grandDADs, both of whom have passed on. This week will be my mother’s Dad, William Cork.
In Spring Green, Wisconsin, in 1920, William Cork became the sixth child born to Antonia (Kratcha) and Walter Cork.
Only six months after William’s birth, his father, Walter, fell to his death while at work on a construction site. It was Walter’s 40th birthday.
As my son, Cash, turns six months today, I can’t help but be horrified that if something ever happened to me at his current age, he would have no memory of me, of his dad, who is trying so hard to establish a fertile world for him to grow into.
Walter didn’t get to watch his son William grow up tall into a boy, a teen, a town athletic star and a man and a father himself.
William’s best sport was basketball. At 6 feet 2 inches, William was considered a “Big Man” in the late ’30s. He was recruited by several colleges and eventually decided to stay relatively close to home by attending UW-Lacrosse so the family could watch him play his Freshman year. Then, History set in.
The United States became involved in world war 2 and William joined hundreds of thousands of other young men, putting off personal interests for his country’s.
William began a military career that became his entire work life as an airplane mechanic for the Air National Guard. He went deaf in one ear from year’s of plane noise but never complained about contributing his skills for the betterment of the fighting forces. He went up the ranks as highly respected Lt. Colonel.
William married Charlotte Manning and they raised two sons and three daughters together. A military man of his era, he was a strong, silent father. An intimidating presence at his size, 6 ft 2 in tall and well over 200 pounds, not many of his children or anyone, crossed him. He was legendary for getting great deals on anything he bargained for-cars, houses, clothing. Slick salesmen dropped their act and their eyes around him.
His hard exterior had a soft spot for his kids and Charlotte.
Upon retirement in his early 50s, he tapped into his Bohemian roots and Charlotte and he hit the road each year as the Wisconsin temperatures dipped below 40 degrees. They bought a small place in a Tucson, Arizona housing development and meandered across the Western interstates and highways to get there.
William and Charlotte had the playful bickering worthy of a television show. He had his worn upholstered chair and grandma her own faded blue lounger. Never did the other sit in the other’s chair nor did any guest. Grandma would sit back puffing her cigarette and recall an instance from their past or the name of an old neighbor’s daughter. Grandpa would question her memory by announcing to the room, “Sounds like someone’s telling stories.” She would reply, “Quiet! It’s true.” He would respond with a smirk, “Is that how it goes?” Grandma would grunt, “Dad! Anyway, as I was saying…”
William continued his athletic pursuits throughout his life, a scratch golfer, a high-average bowler, and shooting buckets with me in the driveway, he still could swish a jump hook from ten feet out at the flick of a wrist and hop of the leg.
Off the athletic arena, he also surprised those around him. He was an early adaptor of the internet in his 70s, checking his stocks daily, and even sending emails to family members.
I eagerly awaited their return to Wisconsin each mid-Spring and what lumbering new Recreational Vehicle would turn into our driveway. Seemed they would upgrade to a new RV every few years, each one more “decked” out than the previous. They put the miles on. I remember running my little fingers along a plastic map of the United States mounted on their RV. They colored in the states they’d been to on it. By the age of 12, I’d only been to a handful of states outside of Wisconsin, all thanks to a visit to see them in Arizona. I was easily impressed.
After a number of years, the map had only a few blank states remaining.
But, in 1992, the blank states would stay unfilled, as Charlotte was diagnosed with lung cancer, liver cancer that eventually crept to her brain. and died at the age of 67. William lost his travelmate.
Outside of his children, who tended to him, William became lonely and found a spark in his life with an old high school friend, Helen. They married and enjoyed each other’s company for seven years before William acquired a blood clot in his foot which caused the toe to die, and so had to be amputated.
After the surgery, he got an MRSA-a staph infection that got misdiagnosed which led to his rapid deterioration of health. He died a little more than a year later.
William was a stoic, proud man and that’s why I treasure a rare glimpse into his softer side, a memory made a few months before his death at the age of 81.
Grandpa was lying in his bed and needed his crutches to get up and go to the bathroom. Helen and my mom were out grocery shopping, so he called out for me.
Grandpa was a good size guy so I really had to heave him to get him to sit up at the bed’s edge. I noticed the bandage on what was left of his foot was unspooling.
I reached down to tighten it and saw the purplish bruising around the amputation. It looked like half his foot, not just a big toe, was gone. I pretended not to act a bit shocked at the sight, but I guess he knew I saw it. I quickly secured it and pulled him up to his crutches. As we found ourselves in an accidental hug, he said in a steady, soft, sincere voice, “Thanks, Chris.”
A moment of vulnerability from a man who never showed much, struck me deeply. In that one moment, though he was never demonstrative with his gratitude and love for others, I felt both from him.
At his cold, February funeral, three old men, veterans as well, stood at attention, dressed in their military uniforms that fit them better in their younger bodies, were standing in shin-deep snow wearing inadequate dress shoes, as the brisk winds redded up their faces to honor my grandfather. Before the blasts of the 21 gun salute, one the men read a soldiers eulogy…something about being a brother through eternity.
Even more than a brother, William Cork is a father, grandfather and now, great-grandfather through eternity.
Considering he didn’t get to know his father, that is quite a legacy, I’m lucky to be a part of.
Life gave you some blank slates and blank states and you did your best to fill them with color.