'My Father, the Reptilian' and other youthful memories

Squalling could be heard coming from the house at 1 Wimer Street in Ashland 106 years ago today.

The cries heralded the arrival of my father, who was born on June 17, 1906, to Jonas and Harriett Viola Fattig.

He was Paul R. Fattig, Sr. I'm a junior, the next to youngest of five siblings.

Of course, the word "senior" wasn't added to his moniker until the summer of 1951. I came along eight minutes ahead of my twin, no doubt both of us wailing.

This being Father's Day, not to mention the anniversary of my dad's birth, I can't help but ponder the life of the person whose name I bear.

Unfortunately, the man who smoked nonfilter cigarettes died of cancer early in 1961 when I was 9. I never came to know him well, to understand his hopes and fears.

When you are 9 years old, you don't have the faculties to judge character. Besides, even in the best of all worlds, assessing one's parents is a tricky business.

My memories are of a good man with a hearty laugh and a deep appreciation for the outdoors. As a youngster, I figured he was invincible, a smart fellow who could infallibly answer any question.

As an adult, I came to realize he must have been harassed by doubts like all of us parents. In retrospect, it's obvious that he struggled to find meaning in the hardships he encountered along the way.

My paternal grandparents owned the Wimer Street house that loomed large in our family legacy. Two years before my father was born, a sister he would never know — Bessie Belle — died in the house on June 10, 1904. She was 6, the victim of a high fever brought on by pneumonia following a bout with measles, according to her death certificate.

As for the Fattig abode, it seems to have disappeared early in the last century. Perhaps it fell into disrepair. Maybe it burned. Or perchance it was engulfed when North Main Street was enlarged back in the day.

My grandparents would settle in the Applegate Valley, where my father attended the Union Town School, completing the eighth grade. I remember seeing his last report card. All A's.

He would join the Civilian Conservation Corps, serve in the Merchant Marines, work for the U.S. Forest Service, then become a logger. He fathered a litter of kids at a time when most of his peers were becoming grandparents.

But a logging accident in the mid-1950s nearly killed him, taking his right leg at the hip. That was about the time I learned that the tail of an Oregon fence lizard would grow back if he lost it to a hawk or a predatory urchin. I remember thinking my dad would sprout another leg.

Yes, it would have made a great 1950s sci-fi movie, "My Father, the Reptilian."

Instead of a new appendage, he had to cope with a cumbersome wood-and-fiberglass apparatus that made his gait awkward, limiting his mobility.

Ironically, his namesake walks with that same awkward gait, thanks to a car crash after completing a hitch in the Marine Corps.

Yet we both pushed on, determined not to give in to the forces that would stop us from living a full life.

He would learn to walk on that wooden leg and build a greenhouse where he raised and sold potted plants, including orchids. The self-taught botanist could tell you the Latin names for many indigenous plants in our region.

My father was not much for alcohol, but I saw him drunk once. Yet even as a youngster I understand his rationale for getting snockered.

He had just learned he had incurable cancer, that he had but months to live. After surviving the logging accident and fighting his way back, he now faced a death sentence with no chance of a reprieve.

He drove down to the store, bought a jug of wine and returned home. He sat at the kitchen table, where he drank glass after glass of the grape.

He talked a lot that evening, even laughed a bit as he reminisced. The next morning found him back at the table, looking sheepish and nursing a black cup of coffee as he got on with the business of dying.

My father would die slowly in a hospital bed parked in our small living room adjacent to the tiny bedroom where his four sons slept in bunk beds. I can still hear his groans when the pain became unbearable. All my hopes and prayers were to no avail.

If he were here today, I would want my father to know I'm proud to carry on the name of the baby boy born on Wimer Street.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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