“I noticed that he had all these small coffee cans.”
David Shea tells his friend Alice Doyle about learning something new about his father, Denny Shea.
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David Shea: After my mother died, I'd moved home to live with my father, and one of the things I noticed early on was that he had all these small coffee cans lined up in the garage. And I said to him one day, "Dad, you know, wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a larger can of coffee and have less garbage?" And he'd say, "Oh, leave me alone. It's just, never you mind. It's my house. I do what I want." Anyway, they kept stacking up in the garage and the day before Memorial Day he said, "I want you to go to Walmart or K-Mart and buy a bag of sand, some rolls of colored aluminum foil, and as many silk flowers as you can get. And just don't ask me. Just, just go do it for me, would you please?" So I said, "Sure, no problem." So I went and I loaded up the garage with all the stuff he had asked me get. And then on Memorial Day he said to me, "Would you mind helping me with the graves today?" And I thought, well sure I'd love to do that because, you know, I thought it was my mom's grave and my grandparents' grave. And we get out to the garage and he's got shovels and rakes and coffee cans full of bouquets. And I said, "What are we doing?" And he goes, "We're doing the graves. Just, just be quiet and let's go." So we get in the car and he'd packed a lunch and we started driving around the cemetery looking for graves. And I said, "Well, who are these people?" And he said, "Well, these are the people that helped me through my life. And they don't have any relatives and they don't have any survivors and every year I do their graves." So we stopped at a grave and it was the Torpey's. Mr. and Mrs. Torpey. And I said, "So, who are these people? I've never heard of 'em." And he said, "Well, we were poor. We didn't have anything. And when I needed to learn how to drive a car, Mr. Torpey taught me how to drive a car. And when I had to have a car to go on a date or something, Mr. Torpey would loan me his Buick." That's pretty much how the day went. I heard my dad's whole life through the process of paying tribute to the people that helped him out. And all my dad never spoke about his past. We never talked about where he came from. What a way to learn about your personal history. You know, that it's typically you think you're going to sit down and have a conversation with somebody, but this was actually just the process of doing what had been a ritual for years that I didn't even know about.