In the days following the Dec. 19 death of my father, William Lauter, my thoughts drifted toward the closing scene of the holiday favorite "It’s a Wonderful Life." The events that led to family and friends coming to the aid of the main character, George Bailey, reminded me of the outpouring of love I witnessed from the Huntington community toward my father during his final days.
In the Frank Capra classic, George Bailey is rescued from financial ruin when family and friends step forward, one by one, showering him with the funds he needs to replace the money lost by his Uncle Billy. It’s a heartwarming scene! In the end, it wasn’t the money he received that made George rich; rather it was the generosity and love from his community. It is a moment that serves as a wonderful affirmation of the power of friendship.
This memorable scene mirrored the real-life compassion, admiration and appreciation directed toward my father, a decorated World War II submarine veteran, the Friday after Thanksgiving, at our home in Huntington.
On Thanksgiving Day my father was discharged from Huntington Hospital. He had previously endured a grueling three-month period where he was in and out of nursing homes and hospitals. During those months I tried to plan for the future: When could he come home? How long before he’d have to return to a hospital for another emergency procedure? Would there be a 100th birthday next October? What about the parade that would be given by the veterans in his honor? Would Pop be able to attend the wedding of his granddaughter in April or his great-granddaughter next November?
The doctors’ prognosis made all those plans seem unlikely. It was important that Pop be given the tribute he deserved while he was still able to appreciate it. I began to organize things the day before he came home.
The people of Huntington came through for him just as the town did for George in "It’s a Wonderful Life." Word-of-mouth, social media platforms and an overall determination to brighten his final days were the key elements behind the success of this homecoming, just one day after Pop returned home.
Friends, neighbors, fellow St. Peter’s church parishioners and even colleagues from the Flower Hill Primary School, where I used to teach, gathered on two days’ notice.
One by one, approximately 40 cars and one fire engine formed a caravan on Nov. 27 that paraded through our half-circle driveway, pausing near the front door where Pop (donning his USS Ray 271 submarine cap) was seated. The fire engine saluted Pop with sirens blaring.
Passersby greeted him, each shouting a hearty "Happy 99th birthday!" and a "Thank you for your service!" There were balloons, banners, signs and, above all else, as in the case of George Bailey, there was love.
Pop acknowledged each greeting and kind gesture with a broad smile and a grateful "Thank you very much!" Most impressive, perhaps, was the trio of local musicians who, to the delight of my father, performed "Anchors Aweigh." George Bailey himself would have been proud.
For all those who touched Pop’s heart (as well as mine) on that memorable November day, I know that Pop salutes you and would agree wholeheartedly, "It’s a wonderful life!"
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