On August 12, 1993, my father, Hal W. McClain, had to step back from his usual role of the funeral director and allow his friends to serve our family. He was the one that was used to caring for other families, not being the family that was being cared for by others. August 12, 1993, was not a good day for our family. It was the day my mom took her last breath on this earth. It was a day that the man who cared for others needed his friends to care for him. It was also the day that my dad started to show me his secret life. See, my dad was Super Man, and until that day, I had never seen it.
Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, my dad prepared for my mom’s death with a severe case of denial. He stuck his head in the sand and pretended everything tomorrow would be the same as yesterday. In my family, Mom took care of the house, and Dad took care of the checkbook, making sure there was enough money in it for Mom to provide for whatever our family needed. We ate dinner together every night and we went to church together every Sunday, but when it was time for family excursions and vacations, Dad stayed at home…he had others to take care of and they needed him. I learned that at a young age that Dad wasn’t avoiding us; he was taking care of others. We all knew my mom’s time on earth was limited and that cancer would soon end her life. Nobody wanted to face that, so we carried on like nothing had changed until the day it did.
I’m not sure I had ever spent the night at home alone with my dad until the week after the funeral. Even several days after the service, we had one of my dad’s best friends staying over with us at the house. Two days after the funeral, my dad woke me up. Breakfast was on the table in the kitchen: orange juice and biscuits and gravy. Dad drove me to school that morning, and I began my sixth-grade year.
Life in our home wasn’t perfect. Dad still had others to take care of... it was his job, and he had to take on the role of a single father for the second time in his life on top of his career responsibilities. It wasn’t perfect! At times, it was downright unpleasant for both of us, but we managed. At some point over the next year, I think we realized that spending time with each other was often miserable and we didn’t have any common ground that we could share. That started to change in the spring of 1994.
I remember the first time my dad got me up on a Saturday morning too early. He was excited to go to an auction sale at the Miami County Fairgrounds. I was not excited to get out of bed, but the concession stand always had good food. I went with my dad down to the fairgrounds, and I sat there BORED OUT OF MY MIND! Over a hundred people had gathered at the auction to buy a bunch of old, ugly, sometimes chipped and broken glass. There wasn’t anything at that sale for me to be interested in. It was just glass. HOW MUCH MORE BORING COULD IT GET? At some point during the sale, I became fascinated with watching people bid, and I thought they were crazy for spending ridiculous amounts of money on glass.
There were a lot of people at the auction. We met a lady and her handicapped brother from Wisconsin. They sat next to us, and she was nice. I spent most of the morning thinking about what snack I would get next from the concession stand. Now, as I look back, if we had owned a cellphone, I would have called someone to rescue me from the hell I had found myself in that morning, but that was only the beginning of our auction adventures together.
Over the next few years, we traveled to other auctions, and I got less and less bored with our trips. At some point, my dad bought a reference book and price guide for Greentown Glass, and I found myself browsing the pages and the pictures as we traveled. I became fascinated by the story of the glass factory in Greentown, Indiana, that had burned to the ground nearly a hundred years prior, and I realized that I had a mind capable of soaking up more information than I ever realized. I also learned that my dad started to rely on the knowledge that I had soaked up and he would ask me questions about the glass at the sales we were visiting. I’m not sure at what point I realized I enjoyed the auctions or the fellowship, but it soon became ritual for Dad and me to travel on quests for Greentown Glass and then share the stories of our excursions and the treasures we collected.
A year or so into our collecting, roughly 1996, my dad went to an auction by himself in Logansport, Indiana. He brought home a small child’s size patterned glass creamer in cobalt blue. It was his prize find. See, that Austrian pattern creamer is RARE! Dad was so proud of his purchase, and he then joked for a couple years that it was the only piece in the collection that was just his; everything else was ours! Dad boasted at an annual Greentown Glass convention about his prize find, and he turned down a lot of money for his creamer. To be honest, at the time, I wasn’t as excited about his creamer. To me, it was the wrong pattern and the wrong color for me to care.
The winter of 1998 was my dad’s worst year in business. Business was slow at the funeral home, and the checkbook suffered greatly. I don’t remember even being aware of the troubles at the time. I guess secrecy was part of my dad’s superpowers. Christmas was approaching, and I was expecting the usual haul of meaningless gifts that I only thought were important at the time. I was also expecting a special piece of glass. Dad always got me a special piece of Greentown for my birthday or Christmas.
Christmas didn’t disappoint. That year under the tree, I found a box all wrapped up with a special bow over fancy paper…that was always the signal of something special from Dad. Inside was a chocolate glass Chrysanthemum leaf bowl. My FAVORITE Greentown pattern, and until that day, I had never owned an entire piece in that pattern. My only piece was a solitary, orphaned sugar bowl lid. I admit, I may have been a bit of a dork, because at the age of seventeen, this treasure was something more valuable than any video game, car accessory, article of clothing, or anything else I could imagine. It was perfect, and my dad was an awesome dad for scoring the best gift ever award!
The following summer we attended an auction in Greentown, Indiana. There were two bidders that kept competing for the same things, and the prices got a bit out of hand. The war was real! Several times a very frustrated bidder, nicknamed “Tall Tex,” because he was from Texas, lowered his card and gave up something he desired to someone else. Then, in the middle of the sale, a cobalt blue Austrian creamer went up for sale. Nobody had ever seen one sell at auction, and I had commented to Dad before we left that this would be great so he could see what his was worth. The bidding started and the previously frustrated man kept bidding until he secured his treasure…for TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS! I was so excited because I finally saw beauty in that piece that my dad had so long treasured. My dad didn’t look overly excited that day, but he smiled and we went home.
You may think you know where this story is headed, but you’re wrong. No, dad hadn’t put his creamer up for auction; however, he no longer owned his blue creamer, and I never even noticed it was missing from our house. Dad had struggled with how he was going to pay for Christmas that year. I learned later in life it was only because of a personal loan from a relative and the fact that he had traded his blue creamer for my “best gift ever” that there was anything under the tree that year. I also learned that during the winter of that year, my dad had almost lost his business due to not being able to pay his bills. He chose to share his love for his family with gifts that year without anyone knowing for years that he feared it would be our last Christmas together in that home if business hadn’t turned around.
I learned the truth about Dad trading his creamer by accident when the person who sold the creamer at that auction recalled it in a conversation to me as the “best selling piece” he had ever owned. The gentleman said, “It was the most money I ever made off of a piece of glass” and he figured that it was the only one known to exist at the time. I then corrected the man and said, “Well, my dad has one of those, too!” The man’s simple reply told me everything I needed to know, “He found another one?” It was at that moment that I realized the only way my dad could have afforded my special chocolate Chrysanthemum leaf bowl that year was to have traded it or sold it for my gift.
I never confronted my dad directly about the deal that he traded his best piece for something for me, but he knew I’d figure it out. We got very close working together over the years, and I learned more about some of the financial struggles of his career. To this day, I look back and feel guilty that my dad gave up something he prized so much out of love for one of his children, but I can’t look back without feeling how much my dad loved me!
When my dad died, I lost my best friend. We had been together for almost twenty years, and we made it. We had each other to lean on when there were troubles, and I was able to work each day with my best friend. After my dad died, I ran across another cobalt blue Austrian child’s creamer. It didn’t cost me near what the original one had sold for, but I had a piece to think back on my dad and to serve as a special sentimental trophy of our collecting accomplishments.
Over the years, I took that single piece of chocolate Chrysanthemum leaf glass, and I turned it into the first ever known completed collection in that pattern. I was able to finally purchase a long-sought punch cup in that pattern that I had missed many years ago. While it was a financial burden on my checkbook, the punch cup sat right next to that creamer as a very special reminder of the end of a special collection started by my awesome dad who gave me my first piece. I wish dad could have seen the joy on my face the day that punch cup arrived in the mail.
When I look back on the struggles my dad faced in his life, I see his overwhelming ability to survive and get through whatever life had thrown at him. He survived the death of a spouse, the challenge of single parenthood, the difficulty of owning a small business, and he survived. He adopted both of my brothers, my oldest brother ten years before my birth, and my younger brother as a teenager who moved in with us after I had graduated from college. Due to the distance between our ages, we were all taken care of by him as a single parent, and being our father was his greatest joy and accomplishment in life. He gave us all that we needed, but more than meeting our needs, he gave us love! The cobalt blue Austrian creamer wasn’t an item of value for my dad. It was an ability for him to express his love for one of his children at a time he didn’t have any other way. He willingly showed each of us that amount of love each day. While we didn’t always have everything in life we wanted, there wasn’t a day in our lives we could ever feel unloved!
Our collecting has led to some of the most important relationships in my life. The lady from Wisconsin died in 1999 from cancer, but her sister, brother-in-law, and brother, remain some of the most important relationships that I have. They have become more than family to a degree that the sister was the one that drove down from Wisconsin to care for me after surgery earlier this year. Our friends from the National Greentown Glass Association remain some of my closest friends, and I can smile because I am loved by some of these friends and treated like one of their own children/grandchildren. The friendships I have made over the years from our glass collecting are treasured more than the glass I collected, and now as these people pass, I don’t buy possessions of theirs to add to my collection because they are desired for monetary value: I buy and collect items that belonged to people to serve as visual reminders of the amazing friendships that were created from all the great times, trips, auctions, and conventions I attended over the years.
Earlier this year, I was in contact with a man who had a few pieces of glass to sell. I remembered from many years ago that he was the one who had paid the ridiculous price for that dainty blue creamer. While we were visiting, I shared with him the story about my dad giving up his cobalt blue creamer in exchange for my Christmas gift. I thanked him for selling me the items that he had for sale, but I asked one final question, “Would you consider trading blue creamers?” Several weeks later, my dad’s original creamer had arrived back home again to Indiana. It sits in a china cabinet at the funeral home next to a picture of my dad that I walk past every day. I collect my dad’s other favorite pattern, Herringbone Buttress, to add to the shelves of that cabinet, and maybe with my luck, I’ll complete that pattern in his honor as well.
Dad passed on June 28, 2013. I don’t have the ability to tell my dad how much I love him every day, but I get to remember every day how much he loved me. Happy Father’s Day to my dad, Super Man. He may not have had the ability to move mountains, lift cars, or fly, but he had a supernatural ability and willingness to share his amazing love for his children every day of his life without ever putting himself first. He had the ability to use his overwhelming compassion to serve his community in the ministering role of a local funeral director, never turning down a family that couldn’t afford his services and always taking care of them despite their ability to pay. It wasn’t strength that set him apart or other common superpowers, it was love. Super Man, he was my dad! - Brad McClain