My sister called me from my parents' home in Minnesota this morning. Dad passed away as he slept this morning. At the end, he was where he wanted to be, at his home in Kensington, Minnesota. I am informed that he was not in pain.
But this is not a sad entry, it is a happy entry. Happy because, in the end, Dad was exactly where he wanted to be; happy because Dad had a really good life, a family who loved him, two excellent marriages, and children who revered and wished to emulate him; happy because you could not know Denny Bergquist without being touched in some small way by this man who was, in many ways, larger than life.
Were I to take a page from Dad's playbook, this entire eulogy would be largely sophistic, sprinkled sparingly with just enough actual facts to make it seem more an accurate accounting than the work of fiction it would be. For years, for example, Dad insisted that our name, Bergquist (literally "Mountain-Branch" in Swedish) was an actual Swedish word which meant the green and growing branches at the very top of a pine. It wasn't until we started questioning this (still years before the advent of the internet, wherein we could easily check) that he introduced the idea that our name resulted from a misunderstanding at Ellis Island.
But this is a celebration and you should know Dad for who he was. Dad had an uncanny knack of getting people to like him. I have no recollection of ever having met someone who didn't more-or-less instantly like Dad. His sharp wit was almost always used for the purpose of entertaining –and he enjoyed a good joke as much as anyone. Even when he said something negative about someone, which was rare, he always coated it with enough kindles to make even the target of his comment accept it as constructive.
Dad had a way of teaching a lesson which made the student often fail to realize they were being taught. I am still coming to admire and realize the lessons he taught me as a child. Dad taught by demonstration. I will never forget the first time I realized he had taught me a lesson by this means. When I was younger, I was (and please gasp here – at least try to act like you can't believe it…) something of a brat! If I could get someone into trouble I would. There was a phase I went through of being a right pain in the ass; snitching on my siblings, and telling everyone everything that they wanted to know even if they had no business knowing it.
Now, all my life I have LOVED trains. Good thing too, with Dad being a railroad man! I would stare at trains for hours out his office window when he took me to work with him. I loved the rail yard and would, if not for the fear that he would kill me for going out into such a dangerous place – go out and stare at them more closely. Anyway, one day we were driving down to the Everglades and Dad spotted one of the Florida East Coastline crews stopped on a siding. Dad pulled the car over and looked into the back seat. "You guys want to go for a ride in the engine?" he asked.
Well! I was absolutely beside myself. As he walked over to talk to the crew I could barely keep myself from bolting from the car to run to the train. To this day, I have no idea what really transpired at the train – but the effect was the same regardless. Dad got back in the car looking absolutely crushed and informed us that we would not be riding in the train that day. One of the crew members was a bit of a gossip since having guests in the cab was against the rules, Dad could get in trouble.
Did I say Dad was crushed!? I was absolutely gutted. But I realized that the only reason that we weren't going on the train was that somebody could not keep to themselves something that they should. Needless to say, my tattling days were over. It was years before I realized that Dad had probably orchestrated the entire incident for specifically that reason.
That was the kind of person Dad was, though. He made you want to learn the lessons he had to teach. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to spend time with him both this year, and when his cancer was initially found four years ago. He will be missed, but I feel so glad to have had the opportunity to know him for the fifty-plus years that I had.
Wherever you are today I can only hope that you have someone as instructive in your life.