This week we faced the painful challenge of saying goodbye to the kind, generous man I was lucky enough to call Dad. He passed from this life peacefully with his three daughters standing strong together by his side.
Born in Vreden, Germany in 1939, Anton Abbing was the youngest of eight children and the only son. His family were tailors by trade, and at 18 Dad emigrated to the United States to find work in the garment industry.
In his new life in America, Anton became Tony as he learned to speak English flawlessly and worked hard to move up the corporate ladder. By his early 30′s, he was the manager of the Somerset, KY Palm Beach Clothing Company plant, and had fathered two daughters, my sister Helena and me. His first marriage to my mom, Joy Lee, didn’t work out, but the two remained friendly and respectful of one another as they worked together to raise their girls.
With Diane Daulton, Dad found love again. They added my sister, Michelle, to our blended family, and once again, Dad was surrounded by females. The young couple followed a series of career opportunities which moved them from Kentucky to California, Pennsylvania, back to Kentucky and then to Tennessee.
In Knoxville, Dad got into sailing and bought a boat. This hobby was well-suited because he loved the outdoors, and needed to challenge himself. While he did take the family out on the boat from time to time, it was mostly a solitary pursuit, which seemed to work out well for a man of few words.
During this same period, Dad got seriously into photography. He built a darkroom in the basement and had the full backdrop and lighting setup for taking formal portraits. He took my senior pictures, and I was so proud that my shots were different from everyone else’s.
When the clothing manufacturing industry unravelled in the U.S., Dad proved his resilience by moving south of the border to continue his career. Dad and Diane spent three years in San Jose, Costa Rica followed by two years in Merida, Mexico. With this new challenge, Dad learned to speak Spanish. I loved how his subtle German accent would come through when he spoke this new language.
Some of my fondest memories of Dad are from a trip Helena and I made to Costa Rica. The three of us travelled the country from the Pacific to the Caribbean Coasts. We explored the rain forests and volcanoes of the interior, and we trekked the streets of downtown San Jose. That trip marked a shift away from the parent/child dynamic to a more adult relationship with Dad, and I began to better understand his subtle humor and his gentle way of dealing with the world at large.
When they tired of the ex-pat lifestyle, Tony and Diane relocated to Naples, Florida. Much to everyone’s surprise, they purchased a local coffee shop and became entrepreneurs. Tony rekindled his passion for cycling, and could be seen decked out in full spandex making 40 to 50 mile bike runs with men less than half his age.
Tony’s next series of adventures began when The Men’s Wearhouse hired him to troubleshoot production issues around the globe. His assignments took him to every corner of the world. At a family gathering just a few months before his passing, we tried to count how many countries Dad had visited. We all called out every country we could think of, and when we ran out of ideas, we got out a globe to help us think of more. We finally counted to 65 countries that Tony had visited. I learned my approach to travel from him. Stay calm. Go with the flow. Enjoy the ride.
When Diane was diagnosed with breast cancer, Dad was so gentle and patient as her caregiver. After 38 years together my dad struggled to find firm footing without his beloved wife, but he put on a brave face and stayed active. That June, on his 70th birthday, Dad rode his bike 70 miles! He was so proud of this accomplishment, and he seemed to be learning how to live his new life as a single man.
Later that same year, Dad’s health began to falter. He first suffered a stroke, then Parkinson’s disease, and finally melanoma that spread quickly throughout his weakened body. The decline in less than four years from a vibrant, physically fit man to his death was shocking to see. Through it all, he maintained his signature laid-back approach to life. In short, he was a class act to the end.
He spent the last year at Dogwood Forest assisted living facility, with a constant stream of visitors. My sister, Michelle, and her family live just 5 miles away, and she was there every day to check on him and take him out for dinner or lunch regularly. He relished these outings, and enjoyed spending time with his three grandchildren, Andrew, Caroline and Elisabeth. Helena and I made the trek from Texas and Florida as often as we could, and we enjoyed many good times together in this last year. The staff at Dogwood Forest loved my Dad, and often spoke of how sweet he was, always smiling and never wanting to be any trouble.
My Dad was a practical man. He always thought he would die young, and he was perfectly fine with that outcome. He never complained, and when he learned of his terminal cancer diagnosis just four months ago, he seemed content to know how his story would end. The rest of us would have to process this development in our own way. We would get no parting speeches from Anton. Even in death, it seemed like he was just trying not to be any trouble.
Dad didn’t really know how to relate to us as kids. He was so quiet that it was not easy to get close to him. As we took on adult lives and careers of our own, our bonds to him grew. Dad hesitated to offer advice, and often stated that he wanted us to make our own decisions. He really felt that we knew best how to manage our own lives. But, from time to time, he would share some words of wisdom. One particular bit of advice helped me to overcome my fears and make a major life change. Click here to read more about my dad asking “What are you waiting for?” and giving me the courage to make a big move in the game of life. Go check it out and get another glimpse into the man he was.
So, this is goodbye, Dad. May you have a safe passage to the other side. You were a good and loyal man. You loved deeply and were loved in return. You will be missed.
May 5, 2013
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At least once per year, Jim and I load up the camping gear and head to the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in beautiful Live Oak, FL for a weekend of camping, music, friends and good times. We had to miss SpringFest this past March, so in October I was determined to make MagnoliaFest 2012 a very special experience.
I can hardly put into words how these festivals have changed my life. We attended our first MagnoliaFest in October 1999 as newlyweds. We’ve been back so many times I’ve lost count, and each time has been magical, restorative and just plain fun. I’ve been exposed to bands and artists I would have never heard otherwise. It’s not an overstatement to say that these festivals have radically altered the contents of my iPod. My appreciation for fast-fingered bluegrass pickers and 3-part harmonies with a high lonesome lead continues to grow.
It’s not just the music that makes these festivals so special. I love to camp and the park is situated along the Suwannee River. That’s right, we get to camp on the river that inspired Stephen Foster’s classic, “Way down upon the Suwannee River.” This place gives you a glimpse into the old Florida. The biodiversity is incredible, with oaks, maples, pines, magnolias and others draped with enormous quantities of Spanish moss covering the land and lining the edges of the river. This is a place where I can spend hours lying in a hammock, gazing into the canopy while my mind wanders.
Over the years, I’ve found that I’m graced with flashes of insight and moments of clarity during these festivals. Solutions to problems I’m not actively thinking about pop into my head fully formed. Visions of potential futures present themselves and it feels like I can try out different paths in my imagination. Somehow, when I step away from my day-to-day life, get close to nature, and listen to lots of great music, pathways seem to open up in my mind that are not always available to me. It’s truly magical.
The people also add so much to our festival experience. Over the years, we’ve had romantic festivals with just the two of us camping together, and we’ve had groups of friends as large as 18 folks come out for the fun. No matter the size of the crowd, we have a blast every time.
Walking around the festival is a visual feast as everyone digs out their tie-dye to let their freak flag fly. There are lots of kids running around, having a ball, and you often see multiple generations enjoying the music together. The festivals attract young hippies, old hippies, and lots of folks that are nowhere close to hippie in their everyday lives. I’ve never seen a fight break out, and everyone walks around smiling. It’s one of the few places where everyone is just exactly where they want to be in that moment. You can easily walk up to a total stranger and strike up a conversation. It’s not surprising to see even the most famous artists wandering in the audience, enjoying the music and the scene.
This year, I spent so much time lounging around camp that I didn’t see as much music as a normally do. Still, what I saw was phenomenal. Highlights included Bonnie Raitt, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Herring, and the Del McCourry Band. Donna the Buffalo did an awesome, but too short set that got us all up and dancing. It feels to good to feel my joints loosen and my muscles stretch out as I jump and dance with a frenzied crowd of Donna fans, better known as “The Herd.”
By Sunday, sadly, it was time to pack it up and head home. I had found a renewed sense of calm and optimism for the future. I had re-connected with great friends and my sweet husband. I was breathing deeper and seeing the world more clearly. It’s so good to come back to center and I look forward to the next festival with great anticipation.
October 28, 2012
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Yesterday I planted a raised bed full of annuals. There’s nothing remarkable about this. After all, lots of folks are out this spring planting and sprucing up their gardens. What’s odd is that I’ve never planted annuals before. You see, I’m more of a perennial gal. Those reliable perennials come back every year (or stay pretty year-round here in Florida). They’re low maintenance. They’re cost-effective. In short, perennials are practical, just like me.
Fortunately, when we planned the re-landscaping project last summer, we worked in two raised beds. I declared that one would be for herbs and one would be for colorful flowers. Yes, gasp, annuals! Well, the landscaping wasn’t finished until August and at that point I just didn’t have the energy to plant the flowers. The herbs moved in, but the flowers would just have to wait. So, the second bed sat empty. For nine months. But no longer, friends. The flower bed is a riot of yellow, orange, purple and white and I can’t stop looking at it!
Stay tuned for updates coming soon on how this streak of courage is showing up on my workbench. You’ll see some big-honking-rings made out of copper (from the girl who has never made rings) and a silver necklace made with 28 grams of silver (O.M.G. 28 grams!). I’m all tingly just thinking about it!
Check out the detail of the Cinnamon Basil flower against a background of Rosemary in the upper left corner. Those of you who know me well might be asking why someone who rarely cooks needs an herb garden. Well, as a matter of fact I do cook. Sometimes. Ok, not very often. You’ll be happy to know that the cuttings from the herb garden look beautiful in vases scattered throughout my house and they smell divine. So there.
May 6, 2012
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Back in the summer of 2009 I was fully involved in a demanding full-time marketing career and making jewelry on the side. During a visit with my Dad, I mentioned that it would be lovely if I could make jewelry design a significant part of my career and income. I was really just day-dreaming. That fantasy seemed very far from my grasp. Much to my surprise, my Dad’s response was, “What are you waiting for?”
What are you waiting for? Those 5 simple words from the king of practicality felt like chains falling away from my heart. If it didn’t sound crazy to my do-the-right-thing Dad, maybe this wasn’t such a far-fetched idea after all. I started to really ask myself that question, and lots of others like, “What would my ideal work/life balance look like?” and “Will I still be as excited about making and marketing jewelry in 1o years as I am today?”
When the answers began to gain clarity and “feel” right, I started putting a real, workable plan in place to scale back my responsibilities at the National Mango Board and get serious about my jewelry business.
My journey started with that simple but challenging question. I urge you to think deeply about what will make you happier, more content or more fulfilled. Then, as a wise man once asked me, I’ll ask you: ”What are you waiting for?”
March 2, 2012
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