My Father’s Legacy

Scan18_0018Before I even knew that God existed he had decided to gift me with an extraordinary life as the youngest daughter of James S. Hursey.      Being a Hursey living in small town Bridgeton, New Jersey came with it’s own set of unique challenges, high expectations and sweet privileges.   By the time I cam along in the 70’s the Hursey’s were already established as a family of public servants, educators, philanthropist and business owners.

     Daddy being the oldest son and the most vocal by my recollection was making his mark in local politics, propelling himself under the scrutiny of the public eye.  Everybody knows Jim Hursey, so when he died three weeks ago as I worked to plan his funeral, struggled to take care of my mother, prayed for peace among family members, and  not die myself of  heartbreak in the process…I was lost for words when I attempted to articulate to a reporter from he Bridgeton Evening News on what would be my father’s legacy.

  • Twelve years on Bridgeton City Council, several spent as president.
  • X number of years a member of the housing authority.
  • Another stint as Commissioner of Fire & Police.
  • 40 years a special education teacher.
  • The “go to” guy for a grave in Cedar Hill Memorial Park.
  • Local landlord, insurance salesman, former track coach.

I wanted to arrogantly instruct the reporter to “google” my dad and pull from news archives, compiling a succinct story of his life; to add human interest speak my two aunt’s Carol Laster & Christine Miles.  Then call me back after for a quote, fax me a copy for my approval before printing.  I envisioned a front page article worthy of royalty.  I heard daddy’s voice in my head; as I often do (before & after death) saying “don’t try that BS Jenjer!”

So encumbered by time constraints, confusion,and very much against my better judgement I humbled myself and gave the task to my eldest and only sister Joni Hursey Wingate.  [PAUSE- long sigh]. 

Since daddy’s hospitilization I had been yeilding my emotions, opinions, and overall feelings to accomodate Joni..what more damage could be done?  Daddy’s gone. 

Joni called the reporter and gave him an interview resulting in what appeared in Thursday’s paper.

The article embarrassed and disappointed me.  That’s not what I meant I lamented quietly to myself, wondering what I had done.  My mother immediately let me know her displeasure too.  She ranted the remainder of the day about what she decided to term “Joni’s article.”  Although she didn’t use the term narcissistic she eluded to my sister having those behavior traits as I often rolled my eyes out of her sight of course thinking isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black. 

As I sat with tears streaming down my face, feeling betrayed yet again..I was comforted by daddy’s voice “that’s the way it be’s sometimes baby.”

As I went about the remainder of my day I wondered what would I have said differently.  The thoughts that came to my mind were the practical things that daddy taught me, the financial wisdom he instilled in me, and how he just indulged me—from cradle to grave. 

But would those things be appropriate or relevant for publication…yet still I ponder…what to share, what to keep. 

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” was one of the things that I remember my mother telling my father often as I grew up.  I could tell you stories that would raise the hair on your neck….one in particular comes to mind.  Daddy never spanked me, he didn’t like for mommy to spank me, and he would become absolutely livid if anyone else chastised me ( and he knew about it—-I knew this).  One Sunday I was misbehaving in church and one of the elders spoke to me and gently popped my leg.  Well I was just appalled, and I wasted no time telling her that MY DADDY does not like for people to hit me, and she was going to be in trouble, then I promptly snuck out off and used the phone to call my daddy; well ten minutes later he was at that church laying that lady out and taking his baby home.  Thinking back on it all I can do is shake my head.

Daddy use to host poker games at the house on Friday nights.  But before a glass of scotch could be poured, a card deck opened, a note of jazz played…the guest had to attentively listen to me recite something I learned from school that week, then fein excitement as I performed a ballet or tap routine.  They would cheer me on and applaud.  I often wonder if daddy knew at the time how much those weekly shows bolstered my confidence.

Or how about the time mommy and I took the Amtrak train to Virginia.  I had never been on train ride and mommy thought it would be a good experience and fun.  Well it wasn’t.  Reservations do not guarantee you a seat, we stood the entire time, I was miserable.  We stopped mid-way and called daddy..I was crying and complaining..that’s all it took, by the time the train arrived in Virginia; my daddy was there to take me home.  He beat the train!  

Aside from those sweet over the top indulgences; daddy was also a wonderful role model, a great teacher, a good listener and a confidant.

He didn’t just spoil me—there are very practical lessons too!

  • Working hard, keep your nose clean (stay out of trouble) and put your little money up ( save & invest wisely.)
  • Daddy taught me to drive a stick shift, jump a tire, &  change my oil and a tire.
  • Daddy taught me how to propagate plants, re-pot them, and test the soil.
  • Daddy loved working with his hands—together with my husband we built the flower bed that beautifully adorns my front yard, my house is full of shelves he built.   

Throughout my adult life daddy continued to be my strongest supporter and staunchest critic. 

I am reminded of the time I went to daddy crying hysterically over a boy–he looked at me with such disgust and proceed to curse me out. [Be INDEPENDENT…you don’t need a man!]  Admonishing me to never ever cry over a man unless he dies—then it’s OK to cry.  So in the upcoming weeks and months as I process my grief I’m sure I will cry….

You can not walk into my parents house without witnessing the walls of pictures of daddy–yes I said walls.  Daddy loved taking pictures.  The last picture I took of him was at his request in the hospital…while he struggled to breath–he had me snapping pictures.  While I’m sure he was contemplating his impending death he was gently teaching me acceptance while comforting me–he was putting on his “game face” even though we both knew that “things were shaky”. 

Finally, I have a $3 t-shirt that boast  “I love my hubby”  I made the mistake of wearing that in front on daddy–“where’s the shirt that says I love my daddy?” he asked.  The following day I had to get a shirt made with our picture on it that said “I love my daddy.” he has one with my picture “daddy’s girl.” that he proudly wore.  That was the unique bond and relationship that my father and I shared.  It felt especially good when people would inquire—they assumed the shirt was to memorialize him…no it another way for me to honor him in life. 

I am going to be OK, daddy taught me –that no matter what happens–the sun is still going to rise tomorrow.  These lessons—the way I will continue to live my life—ME, I am his legacy.


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