Six years ago my dad, Vernon Harold Billhartz, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. He died six weeks later at 72.
I miss him so much. He was patient, hardworking, good-humored, loving and, as you can see from his U.S. Army photograph, dashingly handsome. He was also very handy.
The buzz and grind of power tools were the soundtrack of my childhood. Dad spent a lot of weekends in his workshop, sawing, routing, drilling, sanding, painting, staining and hammering. He would emerge with something for one of us and sometimes all of us — my mother, two sisters and me.
There was the shiny dark brown desk made of pine for my sister Pam; the bookshelves for my sister Diana and me; the old TV set turned into a red vinyl and green metallic liquor cabinet for our mother; the behemoth pergola over our back patio; the unfinished basement turned into a family room, complete with dropped ceilings, laminated paneling, carpeting and a fake fireplace with a plastic log set. He could repair cars, toys, bicycles and most appliances.
Yes, his taste in decor was questionable (red plastic brick with coal-black grout?), but we didn’t know any better. Everything he did was golden, and he did it while working 60 hours a week at the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant, which, by the way, involved a two-hour commute.
There was no air conditioning in the plant, so in summer Dad would come home in his sweat-soaked clothes and mow the lawn, work on his vegetable garden, shop for groceries and, most heroic of all, fish dolls and stuffed animals from the tree branches where my sisters and I had thrown them earlier in the day.
My favorite project of his was built years after we had all moved out. He bought a piece of land near a lake, intending to build the clubhouse of his dreams. But the land was in a flood zone, and he wasn’t allowed to build a permanent, habitable structure.
So our crafty dad pulled an 18-foot Jayco camper onto the property, then built a large, red, screened-in gazebo on stilts with AstroTurf carpeting, a full bathroom (shower included) and a cupola on top crowned by a can of Stag beer. On the glass door he stuck letters that read “Vern’s Beer Drinkin’ Skul.”
A few years before he died, Dad had a stroke that affected his vision. He could no longer maintain his clubhouse, so he sold it. And he couldn’t use his power tools anymore. So I asked him if I could have some of them.
His eyes lit up, and the next few times I saw him, he would hand me his jigsaw, his router, his table saw. I’ll never part with those tools. Ever.
But those weren’t the only tools he gave me. They symbolized something bigger and better that he had provided his daughters.
Dad was our role model. When he lay dying, my sisters and I were able to tell him how much we loved him.
It was him, I told him, who gave us the tools to be whole and to create. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Lladro lights are delightful
On a lighter note, Lladro, the Spanish creator of those pale, lithesome porcelain statues that you never actually see in anyone’s home, makes lighting fixtures. Who knew?
The latest collection is “Mademoiselle,” and it makes me wish I had a daughter so I’d have a reason to buy one of the collection’s lights, which are festooned with the most adorable little ladies in porcelain hoop skirts and colorful hats and bodices.
The collection includes four ceiling lamps and three chandeliers with nine, 18 or 25 lights. Light is filtered through the figurines’ translucent skirts, which project decorative patterns. No word on the price yet, though I suspect they won’t be cheap, since most Lladro figurines start in the low hundreds.
Last day to see KC Star quilts
Don’t forget, the National World War I Museum and Memorial is exhibiting more than 20 variations of the 2014 Kansas City Star Quilt, “Where Poppies Grow … Remembering Almo” in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium.
The free exhibit, which ends Sunday, illustrates how quilters can put their own spin on the same pattern.
Quilters from around the country completed the pattern, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Great War. Patterns for each Star quilt block run monthly in this section.
The exhibit can be seen from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the museum, 100 W. 26th St.