Charles Arthur Menge
May 1, 1926--July 30, 2002
My dad was the third of four children born to Frank and Lydia (Ring) Menge. When he was three years old, the stock market crash of 1929 occurred. The family made it through, although life during the Depression was hard. Only those who lived through it can truly understand.
Dad graduated high school in 1944, and immediately left for seventeen weeks of basic training in the Army. He was eventually assigned to the Phillipines, and served honorably until 1948.
Around 1950 or so, he married his first wife, Velma. Three children were born: Linda, Don, and Tari. He went to work for Burlington Route railroad. Dad and Velma later divorced.
In 1962, Dad married Ruth Tripp Glines in Warsaw, IL. Three children were born: twins, Jerry Lee & Julie Ann (died same day of birth 6-2-63), and Robert (me).
1968: Dad transferred to Beardstown IL, nearer his home town of Arenzville.
1972: My folks filed for divorce; finalized in July of 73.
When I was little, my dad and I spent time together as he was able. As a railroad engineer, his typical schedule was something along the line of four day trips, with maybe two days in a row at home.....it depended on how the trains were running. After he left our house, I didn't see him a lot, even though we were still in the same small town.
1975: Mom and I move back to Warsaw. Later that year, Dad marries Dorothy, my stepmother. Time with Dad is less and less.
1980: Dad is in a train accident. Some jackass decided it would be fun to put an obstruction on the train tracks. The engine hits it, and Dad is thrown nearly out of the train. A few feet more and he would have been dropped down a steep ravine. My mother contracts hepatitis, and becomes diabetic.
1981: Mom passes away. As a minor child (16), I was forced to go live with dad and stepmom. Dad's health was very precarious still. He had suffered major damage to his back as a result of the accident. That, and the gap of eight years of my life when he was not a major part of my life, results in not really being able to have the type of father/son relationship I wanted, and needed.
I am sad to admit that I didn't know my father well. I accept responsibility for my part in that. I'm not unique. Many, many boys have grown up without a real father figure. I am one of millions. Things happen. I understand that. I only wish I had taken advantage of the time after I left his home, following HS graduation and into my 20's and 30's. I did not, and that is my fault.
Having said that, he was a fine man. He was like most men of his era; he could fix anything. He knew how to do so much. He tinkered with cars. He collected antique cars. He had many friends and acquaintences. He loved his family: kids, stepkids, grandkids, everyone.
Yet I somehow always felt like an outsider. No one but me can make me feel that way, I know that. It's just that after Dad left us for Dorothy and her family, it seemed to me that he bonded with them in a way that I never felt happened with me. As a result, when I would be at his house, and among the step brothers and sisters, it always seemed to me that the attitude there was that THEY were his real kids, not me. At ten, eleven, even twelve years of age, I kept wondering why my dad left me for five other kids. Irrational, perhaps, but that's how I felt. Of course I could never have expressed that...to Dad or anyone else.
I could go on, but I have thoughts that I believe should remain private.
In 1998, I took Ingrid home to meet the folks. Dad treated her with respect, although he would have preferred I bring home a white girl. I later received a letter, written by stepmom, indicating their disapproval with my decision to marry Ingrid. Dad signed the letter, but I could tell by the handwriting that SHE wrote the entire letter. Thus began a four year period with no contact with them. I pleaded with them to reconsider. On my wedding day, I asked the ushers (my uncles Bud and Denzel) to look for them, and if they arrived, seat them in their place of honor that I had for them.
They didn't come.
Ingrid told me frequently to call him. I wouldn't do it, partly because I knew that she always answered the phone, but partly because I was so hurt and angry. In 2002, we received an invitation to my niece Kara's wedding. Kara is Don's daughter. Of course we accepted. It would be the first time in four years to see Dad. We came in after Dad and Dorothy had been seated. We sat near the back of the church. I could see him. It turns out Dad had left the hospital that morning to attend the wedding.
After we filed out, I went to where they were seated. I went up to Dad. We exchanged greetings. Then I broke down. I hugged him, and told him how sorry I was. He and I were reconciled at that point.
As I figured out at the reception, it was STEPMOTHER who had the problem with Ingrid and me. She snubbed Ingrid the whole time we were there. Dad came over to the table where we were seated, and sat down and talked with us. Not Dorothy. She did not even acknowledge Ingrid's presence. Everyone else, and I mean EVERYONE ELSE, was kind and respectful.
I did not know until that day that Dad lost half his right leg in 1999. Plus he had bone cancer. A few weeks later, stepmom calls. Dad is in hospice care at his home; can I come? I did go for a weekend, but had to return to work on Monday. 9:30am Monday, another call from Dorothy. Come back after work; it won't be long. Ingrid and I both went this time. Dad died around 9:15 the next night. We, along with Dad's kids, and Dorothy's three daughters, were at his side when he drew his last breath. During this time, stepmom was respectful.
I have not spoken with Dorothy since October of 02. She talked of gathering us all together....but she never called to let me know. I was so hurt, that I made no effort to contact her. Understand this, she never had any use for me. I reminded her of the wife (my mom) she had pretended to like, in order to steal her husband. Dorothy was considered by my mom as her best friend for a time, until it became apparent that Dorothy was after my dad. I think every time she looked at me, she was reminded of Ruth, and she didn't like that. Every day that they were married (over 26 years), she ruled the roost. I could not truly access my own father, without going through her. He loved her. I don't fault him for that. I only wish he could have understood how I felt.....how I felt like an outsider, when all I wanted was for him to be my dad, and I wanted to be his son.
I miss my dad.