|Dad and sister Mia, circa 1978|
(Interesting side note: Dad played on the Oregon State defensive line at 5 feet 9 inches height and weighing 205 lbs. In that era, he was not under-sized. The average height of the defensive line for the 2009 Oregon State Beavers is approximately 6 feet 2 inches. The average weight is 258 pounds.)
After graduating from OSU, he moved with his young family to Klamath Falls, Oregon in 1963, to take the head coaching job at Sacred Heart Academy. He went on to lead that school to a co-State Championship in 1968. From there, he went to coach at Oregon Institute of Technology in 1970 where he remained for the rest of his career. In that roughly 30 years, he went through two marriages before marrying his third and final wife, Tami. He had a total of 7 children with his wives.
Dad was something of a local celebrity in Klamath Falls. Anybody who knew Dad (and he knew everybody) has a story about him. And as his eldest son, I've got plenty myself. So, on the heels of such an entertaining Civil War game last night, I thought I'd recount a couple stories about Dad in honor of the Beavers. (I wish the Ducks all the best in their pending Rose Bowl appearance, but I was rooting for Oregon State last night. Can you blame me? I was conceived on that campus!)
Drama at Disneyland
|Think you've seen macho? This is macho!|
One summer (I believe it was 1975), my extended family was at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. There were probably a dozen of the Cariaga clan trooping along through the meandering crowds. At one point, we were making our way to the end of the queue to ride the Matterhorn roller coaster. Dad and I were walking together, when a hand holding a squirt gun appeared out of the crowd and squirted water at Dad, hitting him in the chest. I thought, "Nothing good will come of this." Dad stopped and turned to see who had done it. I kept walking. I already knew what was coming.
My Uncle Don was at Dad's side instantly where they confronted two young women (one of whom held the squirt gun) and their boyfriends. A crowd of on-lookers watched nervously as Dad tore the squirt gun out of the woman's hand and crushed it on the pavement. Then Dad and Uncle Don browbeat and humiliated the two young men in front of their girlfriends. Dominance thus established, the Cariaga men continued on their way. The rest of the family followed behind, somewhat sheepishly.
(There are countless similar episodes I could relate, including the incident in a Bi-mart parking lot, the incident in front of the Klamath Falls City Police Station, or the sledding incident on Maple Street. But maybe I'll save those for a future date...)
Steve Kerkowski borrows the camera
|Dad with Calee and Mia|
Most of the time, Dad was exceedingly generous and giving. I don't think anyone ever left his house hungry. But every once in a while, a stingy vein in his persona would show itself. It became something of a joke.
Once, when my brother Eric and I were in college, Eric had need for a camera and asked Dad if he could borrow the 35mm that Dad had picked up in one of his myriad deals. (Dad was always working a deal.) For whatever reason, Dad was disinclined to oblige Eric, but didn't want to come out and just say "no."
"Steve's got the camera," Dad said.
Eric, smelling a rat, asked skeptically, "Steve who?"
"Ker-- uh-- Kerkowski," Dad said. The stammer gave him away, and we all laughed. Kerkowski! Preposterous! Eric and I both knew that Dad had made the name up on the spot. And Dad knew we knew it. But he didn't lend Eric the camera.
After that, the name "Steve Kerkowski" was an inside joke between Eric, Calee, and me. Steve became the catch-all excuse for any of us when he didn't want to comply with a request from another. "Can you give me a ride to school?" "Sorry, Kerkowski borrowed the car."
|Dad and Eric, near the very end|
Eric told me that one day he was sitting in the spacious living area of the house Dad had built on upper Klamath Lake. Dad was laying on the couch napping, his arms folded across his chest. He was unaware that Eric was in the room. Eric would occasionally hear him mutter something. At one point, he saw Dad nod his head emphatically, and state with unmistakable pride: "Seven kids! And not one of them is a f*ck-up!"
Eric and I laughed about that one later. We both knew that that was as good as we were going to get.
A life well-lived
Well, Dad's been gone since 2001. He was only 59 when he passed. He had some regrets, but on the whole, I know he was satisfied with his life. He left behind the Tribe of Ross, which is still going strong, and that's a pretty good legacy.
I remember when he called me to tell me that the doctor had just informed him that he had roughly two weeks left to live. I asked him, "Are you scared?"
"Naw!" he said, dismissing the idea. Then, after a pause, he said, "I believe in God, son." And that's about as much as any of us can hope for in the end, ce n'est pas?