Excerpt from the 30th Annual and last Donder Society Report
What was it like having Don Heavrin, the Founder of The Donder Society, as a dad?
There are many answers to that question, but the one that comes to me now is that he sparked wonder. The way he spoke with so much authority and reverence about even the most trivial matters, made everything seem like part of the answer to the meaning of life.
For decades I wanted to read Atlas Shrugged to answer the epic question on my dad’s bumper sticker, “Who is John Galt?” Dad interrupted our Thanksgiving Day laziness to take me and Edward to Manual High School’s football stadium to pay our respects to the ghosts of Manual/Male games past. He and mom would sit in the dark listening to Pink Floyd for hours and I am still convinced that the next time I listen I will unlock a new piece of the mystery of existence. At random moments, dad would start reciting poetry through teary eyes and expect that you be just as moved as he was. The way he talked about the movie, The Maltese Falcon, you’d expect God herself to jump out the screen and pull you in. Dad believed he had a “cosmic connection” with the “Boys of Bastogne,” key soldiers in the Allies’ victory in the pivotal Battle of the Bulge, and would stand out in the cold on December 22nd to hold a toast of whiskey up to the stars. And out of nowhere, when I was eight and my brother Edward six, dad latched his fervent energy onto the most urgent of causes: raising awareness about the true name of the seventh reindeer — Donder.
Our first family reading of The Night Before Christmas was on December 23, 1990. With the importance dad placed on reading it and on us memorizing every word of the poem, it was impossible to know that he had just created this tradition out of thin air. Reading it became somewhat of a game, with one person taking the lead and stopping at certain spots for others to fill in the blanks. We did not read it every year and some years we read it more than once, for a total of thirty times in thirty years. I know this because, like every book Dad purchased or received, he wrote inscriptions on the inside cover. Each time we recited The Night Before Christmas, dad wrote the date, who read, and who was there to guess the ends of stanzas. Edward and I have had a couple of girlfriends participate throughout the years, and there have been times when either Edward, Mom, or I have been absent, but the constant at every reading has been dad.
After my dad’s strokes in the hospital, he was out of it for a few days. One night Edward played some old familiar tunes, including Vera Lynn’s ballad “We’ll Meet Again.” It was a song for WWII solders, like the Boys of Bastogne, who were headed off to uncertain futures. Edward had been independently listening to the song and was surprised when dad perked up and sang all of the lyrics with him at the top of his lungs. It goes:
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
When we brought dad home for his final days, I sat with him and played Pink Floyd’s “Shine on you Crazy Diamond,” on repeat. I recited his favorite poem, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”. Through tears, I sang him Manual High School’s fight song “Stand Up and Cheer”. However, I had failed to read our most sacred scripture. Sensing that the end was near, his wonderful caretaker, Sherry, suggested that we gather around and read him The Night Before Christmas.
I said, “good idea, let’s do it tomorrow,” then left for the evening. Once home, I was hit with a Don Heavrinism, do it now, there is no tomorrow. So I called Edward and we headed back to dad’s place to read The Night Before Christmas one last time. Sherry, her daughter Kaley, Edward, and I circled around dad’s bed. I read out loud with everyone else filling in the blanks. Dad gave no sign of hearing us, but maybe, just maybe, he listened and it gave him an ounce of wonder toward the mystery of life and beyond.
Sitting down to inscribe dad’s name for the last time on the inside cover and to close the book for good, I had a flash of wonder as I imagined what future names might be added beneath dad’s. Perhaps one day Edward and I will have wives, kids, and grandkids who will trace their fingers over the inscriptions and feel a cosmic connection with Father Donder.