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I’ll meet you at the lamp post Daddy

By Walter Geiger We buried my Daddy the other day. He now rests with his parents in a beautiful, historic cemetery within a stone’s throw of the Wilmington River in Thunderbolt, Ga. I am the eldest of his four children and his namesake. It is a name I carry proudly. Daddy was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1926. My grandfather, Bernard Geiger, brought his wife Bertha and young son Walter to America before Daddy’s first birthday. The young family entered legally through Ellis Island. Bernard was a ‘˜wurster’ – maker of liver- wurst, bratwurst and the like – and a skilled meat cutter. He had a job lined up and a sponsor when he fled Europe which was still recovering from World War I. They settled in New York City and learned to speak English. The three new immigrants were all gifted with the German work ethic and thrived. They became naturalized citizens. Daddy attended Stuyvesant School for Boys in New York. Bernard later moved them to Chaplin, Connecticut. He continued his work as a butcher and Bertha worked in a dining hall at the University of Connecticut in nearby Storrs. Bernard died shortly before I was born. I wish I had known him. It took courage to bring his family here. He was an achiever in a time when America appreciated achievers. Daddy was also an achiever. He served his adopted nation in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He got a degree from Connecticut and followed it up with a master’s degree in forestry from Duke University. He was hired by Union Bag and came to Savannah to find pulpwood to feed into the great maw of the new pulp mill there that turned out paper bags by the millions. Pulp mills stink today but they really stank back then. When I turned up my nose, Daddy said, ‘It smells like bread and butter to me.’ He needed bread and butter to feed me, his wife Vivian and my two brothers and little sister. Daddy had a company car with a two-way radio and an aerial that looked like a cop car. He was on the road a lot. He often left on Monday and returned on Friday. Many nights he came home with sacks full of hamburgers from Kelly’s on Derenne Avenue near our home – the smell of french fires overwhelming the stench of the mill that permeated his car and clothing. At night we would say our prayers beginning with, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take’. After blessing a host of relatives, the prayer would end. Daddy’s final words after turning off the light were always ‘Night, night. Sleep tight. See you in dreamland. I’ll meet you at the lamp post.’ I never remember my Daddy throwing a ball with me. When he was home, he worked around the house. Our yard was perfect. I cut already manicured grass many times when I couldn’t see where I had cut and where I hadn’t but Daddy could tell. He worked as our Cub Scout leader. He worked as the PTA president at our school. He and a couple of neighbors worked to found the Republican Party of Savannah. Later he was transferred. We moved to Ailey, Ga. (population 350) and he opened a chip and saw plant in nearby Higgston. It became the top producing mill of its kind for the company. My two brothers and I all worked there. We weighed log trucks and spent long nights walking security. We did hard labor aligning pine trees on the log deck or clearing lumber along the sorter chain. We kids moved from large city schools to one where all 12 grades were in one building. Mama and Daddy worked to make sure we fit in out in the country and we did. Years later, after transferring back to Savannah, Daddy finished up his time at Union Camp/ International Paper and retired. He stayed retired for about three months before going to work at Habersham Beverage down the road from his home. He walked to work and back every day for 22 more years. His yard remained the most well-kept in Ardsley Park. As we gathered in the graveyard, these words from Dan Fogelberg’s song ‘˜Leader of the Band’ ran through my head: I thank you for the music and your stories from the road. I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go. Daddy sent me off to college with these words, ‘If you are willing to work, you have 90% of the people out there beaten from the start.’ He never, thereafter, interfered in my life in any way, leaving me to follow my dreams. I’ve tried to live up to his example though I’ve often failed. Daddy’s four children all have degrees. They all work and work hard. The same can be said for all his grandchildren. They all have degrees or are working toward them. That German work ethic lives on in the extended Geiger family. As legacies go, that is far better than most. Inevitably, age took its toll. Daddy could not work like he had. He was frustrated. Mama took excellent care of him and he died at home with his family around him. On my last several visits with him, Daddy said he was ready to be a spirit. I knew he soon would be. He almost made it to 94 before that spirit slipped away from his worn out earthly body. I know we will meet again out in that spirit world someday Daddy. I’ll meet you at the lamp post. Note: A word of thanks to all of you who have taken time to reach out to me and my family in our time of grief. All the calls, texts, e-mails, cards and memorial gifts are very much appreciated. We are all blessed to live in such a kind and caring community.

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