Here at The Christi Center many of us refer to the day our loved one died as an “Angel Day”. Well, today is my Pa Schnack’s Angel Day. He died on April 1, 1981. My mom said that when her brother called to tell her, she yelled at him for trying to play a bad April Fool’s Day joke on her. Sadly, it was no joke.
I was four years old when my Pa died. I’m not sure I truly remember him, but I have been told so many stories and have seen so many pictures, that I think I do. He and my grandmother owned a bookstore called Books & Things, and my mother was the assistant manager. This meant I didn’t have to go to day care, instead, they just put me in a crib and tucked me under a desk! I guess it was inevitable that I developed a love for reading. And my Pa was always reading to me, or at least I’ve seen a couple pictures of him reading to me so I like to say he was “always” reading to me. One thing I do truly remember is that after he died, a big helicopter came to the house and took him away. Well, my mom told me that never did happen, but it’s what I have a memory of – perhaps, in my child’s mind, I saw him go to heaven on a great big helicopter?
The city of Copperas Cove had a “Christmas in July” parade one year, Pa was Santa Claus and he dressed me up as his little elf and I got to be in the parade too. We were even in the newspaper. I have the clipping at home somewhere.
Look at that picture – would it even be allowed these days to hold a baby on a float like that, with no seat belt, no car seat, nothing? I can’t imagine being picked to be in a parade now (much less actually wanting to be), guess it’s a good thing I got to be in one when I was a baby!
Something else I remember – or have been told of – is the tree swing Pa made for me. The year after he died, pink evening primrose bloomed all around the tree. They bloom here towards the end of March or beginning of April (depending on how much rain we get) and whenever I see the first one, I imagine it’s my Pa saying hello! I never planted any at my house but they pop up in the yard every single year.
Now that my grandmother has also passed on, my mother is left with the task of sorting her belongings. My grandma is a story for another day but she kept EVERYTHING and while that makes my mom’s task much harder, it also means she is finding some really cool things of my Pa’s. When he was in the Army, his official title was “Equipment Manager” but a huge part of his job was soccer coach to the Army soccer team. He (or my grandma) kept a ton of memorabilia, which we pored over and then donated to the Armed Forces Sports Office at Fort Sam Houston. They were so happy to get the scrapbooks and we know they have found the best home, where they can truly be appreciated!
My mom has even gifted some of my Pa’s keepsakes to my husband, who has a great love for history. My husband now has my Pa’s old hat from 1954, we aren’t sure if it’s his Merchant Marines or Army hat, but it’s a keepsake and a really neat historical treasure! My husband also now has a ship’s bell, from the Arthur J. Tyrer which was a Liberty ship my Pa was stationed on from 1947-1948.
My grandpa was originally interred in upstate New York, where he and my grandmother were from. My grandmother later transferred my Pa’s remains and he is now buried in the Killeen Memorial Park, where my grandparents settled after my Pa retired from the Army, and where I was born, and where my grandmother still lived until her death last year.
My Pa was actually our 1st generation American family member and I actually just learned that earlier today, after calling my mother to ask what his middle initial “J.” stood for. His birth certificate states his official name as “Walter J. Schnack” with no mention of what the “J.” stands for. He was always called “Jake” but my mom thinks he was supposed to be a Jr., named after his father, Jochim Walter Schnack. But something must not have translated right.
Even though I wasn’t old enough to know (and maybe not even truly remember) my Pa, I feel like I can at least know him through stories I’ve been told, and keepsakes we have kept over the years or found in recent years, and through some of the genealogical work my mother has been doing. I wish he had been in my life longer, but I have to remind myself he is still in my life, just in a different way.
Want to write about your loved one on their Angel Day? Email Jocelyn Brown to share your story and get on our blog schedule!
About the Author:
Jocelyn Brown is Manager of Volunteer Resources at The Christi Center. She has worked in the nonprofit sector since 2008. She finds working with volunteers very rewarding, and aims to make the volunteer experience rewarding for each of them as well. “Working in the nonprofit sector has opened my eyes to what can be accomplished in our communities, and on a larger scale, throughout the world. This is why I am so passionate about volunteering and serving my community.”