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  • Bryan W. Alaspa

Wayne Alaspa: 1946-2018

My dad was born August 10, 1946. He was one of the infamous baby boomers. His dad was in the Army during World War II and guarded Japanese prisoners of war. My grandfather fell in love with my grandmother when they started writing to each other during the war. She had been writing to a high school friend and that friend played matchmaker and asked her to write to a “nice guy” who enjoyed listening to him reading her letters and wasn’t getting any of his own. When he got out of the Army, he came for her and her two sons and they lived in a small town in northern Illinois, not far from the city of Rockford or, even closer, Belvidere. My grandfather worked at a company right in town that made some kind of candied fruit.

My grandfather died very young, on New Years Day, of a heart attack. Not long after, my grandmother, along with my dad and three other children, moved to Chicago to live with some relatives for a bit and then, eventually, in their own home. My dad started attending school in the city. He eventually attended St. Pat’s high school.

Dad was always a movie fan. Back in the 50s, it was common for my very young father and my aunt (his sister) to be sent off to spend an entire day at the movie theater. It was possible to do this on the weekends back then. Double-bills were common, with newsreels and cartoons in between. Parents would drop kids off and they would spend the entire day there watching movies. Eventually, dad and his little sister would take the city buses around Chicago, following movies as they moved from theater to theater, which was also a thing they did back then.

My dad got very sick before he was a teenager. It kept him in bed quite a bit and it prevented him from doing things he really wanted to do like playing football in high school. However, by the time he reached his senior year, he had a large group of friends and suddenly the “parties at Wayne’s house” era started. These parties became so frequent and epic that dad would sometimes come into his home room at school and written on the chalkboard was “Party tonight at Wayne’s house” by someone other than him. Everyone knew where that was and soon my dad’s house would be filled with kids.

These were epic parties. With the football team lifting cars and putting them on the lawn. With kids breaking the pool table in the basement.

They were so epic, they soon spread to others schools and this is how my mother ended up in the basement of my dad’s house and they saw each other across a room filled with crazy, hormone-filled teenagers. My mom, a pretty, long-haired, blond had been invited by a friend to this party. She attended a Chicago public high school across town, but had a friend who knew about these parties and - voila - there it was. Soon, they were dating.

Dad went to college for a couple of years, and then considered being an undertaker and attended undertaker school. It was a hard sell for my mom to envision raising a family in that environment. Mom and dad got married several years before they had me in 1971 and lived in a little apartment. Then mom got pregnant with me, dad got a job at M&M Mars, and they bought a small house in Schiller Park, IL.

Dad worked his way into the factory at Mars, after driving switch engines to take ingredients to make the candy off of the freight trains that pulled right up to the building. He worked nights for most of my life, sleeping during the day, making it an interesting thing to be a kid who had to play quietly around and inside the house. There was a lot of reading and watching TV. He worked for Mars for decades, working his way up to being a process technician and expert in how the candy was made.

My brother came along in 1974. My mom and dad still went out to movies on date nights. My mom nearly had my brother in a theater while they watched the Clint Eastwood movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

This love of movies is something my dad handed down to me in spades. There were so many times I remember him telling me “hey, you should sit down and watch this. This is one of my favorites.” I got a love of the cheesy Japanese monster movies featuring Godzilla and Gamera. However, he also got me to appreciate horror films. When VCRs became a thing, my dad spent a small fortune for a giant top-loading Beta player and then video-tape rentals became a thing and we’d go every weekend to pick out movies. There would be two or more movies rented, with one being a movie we could all watch as a family and one a horror movie my dad and I would watch.

Through this method I saw movies like:

  • Halloween

  • Alien

  • Jaws

  • Jaws 2

  • Friday the 13th

  • The Thing

  • The Shining

  • My Bloody Valentine

  • The Boogeyman

  • Happy Birthday to Me

  • Massacre at Central High

Those were just a few of the horror flicks, but he also got me to watch movies like:

  • The Wild Bunch

  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  • A Fistful of Dollars

  • Fail-Safe

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey

  • The Alamo

  • The Train

  • The Great Escape

  • Bullit

  • The French Connection

  • Klute

And on and on and on. I ended up taking movie history courses in college and getting a certificate in Film Theory and Criticism. He also got me to watch silent films, which is an obsession I carry to this day. I remember when a new, restored version of the silent film classic Metropolis came out with a rock and roll soundtrack, my dad took me and my brother downtown to the Music Box theater to see it. I still love that movie and that version in particular.

Dad always had a great sense of humor. He loved to make people laugh. This translated into my life through an obsession with stand-up comedy and with Monty Python films. I remember watching comedies with him and the both of us laughing so hard at some jokes we could barely breathe.

My dad also loved Broadway musicals. I saw West Side Story (the movie) at an age probably way too young. I also saw Singin’ in the Rain and many others. He would play the cast albums on weekends. When we took a family trip to New York, we had to see a stage version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with David Cassidy as Joseph. Mom and dad also made sure my brother and I saw stage versions of Annie and Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan. One of my fondest memories was taking the day off from my summer job for my dad to take me to a matinee of Les Miserables downtown. He was extremely proud of his sister’s oldest daughter, his goddaughter, who puts on some amazing high school plays with her students at a local high school.

It was my dad who also got me to love writing. At one time he was a voracious reader and it was his copy of Jaws that first grabbed my attention and got me to understand some people made a living writing these things. It was his borrowed copy of Stephen King’s Cujo that got me to love King’s work and love horror.

My dad and I disagreed on which baseball team to love. He was a diehard Cubs fan his entire life. I broke his heart just a bit when I declared myself a Sox fan at about age five. What we did agree on were the Bears, Blackhawks, and (for a time) the Bulls. Many a Sunday was spent yelling at the TV while watching Bears games together.

Dad had his first heart attack in his early 30s. He struggled to quit smoking for most of my life. As he got older, his penchant for smoking, drinking Brandy Manhattans, and his love of rich, fatty, foods did come back to bite him. He had more heart problems. He developed a back disorder. Then his kidneys began to fail. Dad had multiple stents put into his heart and suffered more heart attacks. Then, he received a pacemaker. His kidneys shut down slowly and he eventually spent 5 years on dialysis (twice what most people can do).

His health declined slowly. My wife and I married in 2012 and had our wedding in Illinois because we worried about him being unable to travel to Pennsylvania where her family lived. As his health declined, he lost the ability to stand unaided. First with a cane, then with a walker, and this summer he was in a wheelchair.

My dad wanted to be a grandfather so bad and he got to see my niece and nephew born. He loved them so much it is hard to put into words. Because of them, he fought and fought. The amount of meds he took was stunning to look at. He had so many doctors, it was hard to keep track of their names and specialties.

My dad was not perfect. He made plenty of mistakes. As his health declined and the meds increased, and his ability to do things declined, he would get angry and frustrated. Harsh words were often hurled. It was hard. I saw my mom truly living her marriage vows of being there for better and worse. Her own health suffered as she kept him at his dialysis and other appointments as her priority.

On Friday, June 29, 2018, my dad’s heart finally had enough. His valves had been leaking. A recent procedure brought some hope, but it was too much. He was unable to eat. He started having hallucinations. Soon, it was so hard to find a heart rate, he could not have his dialysis. Still, he fought. I held is hand, along with my mom, and told him it was OK to go. We would find a way to get along. We’d be OK.

He died in the hospital surrounded by family in much the same way his mother died in 2011. His death brought family together who had not been together in decades.

It’s funny, but all of those bad times seem distant now. I remember the good things. I remember him teaching me how to catch fireflies when I was just a toddler. I remember the movies. I remember laughing.

It’s been a rough week. I know my dad is at peace now. I came home from the hospital and had a dream the day he died. I was in the hospital room and he laid there with dark hair as a younger version of himself while the machines beeped next to him, and he opened his eyes. It was just me and him in the room and he looked at the tree of machines all making noise and said, “Well, that’s enough of that.” Then he sat up. “I’m going for a walk,” he said and ripped the IVs and other tubes out of his arms. With the darker hair, and looking more young and robust than I had seen him in years, he swung his legs over the bed and stood up without a struggle and then walked away, without the aid of a walker or a cane, out of the room.

I’ll miss you, dad. I love you. Thank you for all you did for our family.

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