My father, Henry John Miller [Hank] was born in Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon on April 2, 1908. He went to grade school and high school, was taller than anyone else in his class, I believe, at 6’4″. He had a chance to continue his education in college, for both study and basketball. In those days. basketball had a center-jump after every basket. No matter who scored. So, to have Hank Miller on your team…well, nothing more needed to be said.
That dream, though. Never happened. Dad was the only son in the family. His father came from Nordka, Russia and started a garbage-collecting business in Portland. Used to have horses pulling the large trailer. In high school my father helped, but the focus was on college.
That “never happened” because my Grampa Miller took ill. Being the only son of four children, my father had to keep the garbage hauling routes covered. He did. For over fifty years.
College never happened.
My father never lamented, nor did he ever discourse what he saw in his rear-view mirror. He never told me to be a make-up-guy for what he was unable to have or do. Never.
But, I suspect it was deep in his heart when his son was called into Mark’s first high school baseball game as a freshman. That hadn’t happened at Jefferson High School for decades. Before Mark threw the first pitch—all the warm-up pitches flew over the catcher’s head—Mark looked through the cyclone fence behind the first base coach’s box and there stood Mark’s father. Still 6’4”, had his garbage-hauling overalls on, watching his son. The energy flowing into Mark was more than God, although God was not a stranger.
Mark looked beyond the Alberta Park left-field sidewalk and there sat Grampa and Grandma Miller in their 1939 Oldsmobile, the kind with the clutch, a long pole, stemming up from the floorboard.
From that moment on, Hank and Es Miller never missed a high school game, baseball or basketball. And it was Mark’s father who told him to call a Dr. Holzmann, who told Mark he’d been admitted to Stanford on a Baseball 4-year scholarship. And it was Mark’s father who saw Mark pitch a semi-professional game in Portland that sent his team to Battle Creek, Michigan.
Why all this? Not. Double-not. A Mark Miller story. Nope.
Rather, today I’ve been thinking a lot about my father, all he gave up for me and my sister, God rest both their souls. Mother, too.
My father made a difference in my life. Oh, I could pick up garbage with the best of them…then no one had an automatic loader…it was walk to the back yards and dump the garbage into our own paper boxes, except in canning season, when we used a metal barrel.
But I knew the future could be something…wasn’t sure what…but today, at 78, about to head to catch my first summer steelhead in the Columbia River with my wonderful friend and guide, Zorba, I will go to 6238 N.E. 25th in Portland, stand in the driveway in front of the garage door and see Hank Miller. He was holding a bat and gave me what I needed, how to really hit the ball. Again and again he swung. Then said, “Got it?”
I nodded and then stopped popping up and hitting lazy grounders. 21 for 49 wasn’t bad; my father smiled, “You do get it!”
When I’m done with my father’s batting lesson, I will go a few blocks to Alberta Park, stand on that old pitching mound…the 1939 Oldsmobile will be parked and I’ll wave to my grandparents. And then look through the cyclone fence and next to that tall Douglas Fir tree will be Hank Miller. He’ll be taller than the tree. Still in his garbage-hauling overalls.
“Thanks, Dad, I’ve tried to do my best.”
Alberta Park, The Cyclone Fence…See My Father?