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  • Mj Pettengill

Dads, Donuts, and Good Advice: A Tribute


Mayflower Doughnuts, Public Domain
Mayflower Doughnuts, Public Domain

As you ramble on through life, brother,

Whatever be your goal,

Keep your eye upon the doughnut,

And not upon the hole.

—Anonymous

My father was a wise man of many sayings. The Optimist’s Creed or Doughnut Philosophy was one of his favorites—a most significant nugget of wisdom. I’m grateful for possessing a sound mind, guided by this motto while passing it along to my children.

Yes, he was a simple man. It served him, his family, and all who knew him well.

On this day, sixteen years ago, my wonderful father departed from his Earth Walk. The latter part of his life was filled with many physical challenges. He had succumbed to an environmentally caused neurological disease—Multiple System Atrophy—a terminal illness in the Parkinson’s family.

Although my friend would remind me that time is an illusion, it is what we know on this planet, and if I write about it in our terms, you’ll get it. So, let me say that since the day of my father’s death, time seems to have passed at Mach speed. Then again, it feels like it was just yesterday when he uttered his last words to me, Goodnight, Maryjane.

Of course, I said goodnight and sweet dreams. And I pray that it has been so.

I savor those simple words—so much more than the formation of sound upon the lips or receiving information into the ears. Again and again, it is awakening from the dream. My father would never bid me goodnight again in his physical form as I knew him. This is one of those things that lingers on the wing of your heart, considering taking flight but remaining close and intact.

My father had been dying for so long, that letting go was bittersweet. I can imagine the twinkle in his eye and laughter that filled any room he entered. His laughter, like all laughter in the best light, is medicine. Even his jokes that were not funny invited laughter because his good cheer was infectious.

I cannot, for a moment, imagine him in this world that we inhabit now. My father was a fair-minded person, involved in the betterment of the community. He was more than an accomplished athlete; he was a mentor and a coach. He was the chairman of the local school board and president of the band and sports booster clubs. He authentically not only wanted what was best for the children of the world, but he also rolled up his sleeves and participated in the betterment.

I think of and dream of him often. I am grateful that he was my father in this life and even more thankful that he did not have to witness the unimaginable challenges in our midst.

He raised me well. I learned about courage, compassion, love, and how to stoop down and do things like stack wood, maintain the hearth, shovel manure, and do other chores that build character. Stooping down is more than the physical act of bending down. It is about erasing the boundaries that separate one class from another. My father, Ramsey Pettengill, taught me about humility and grace. He told us to be thankful that it is no worse.

I can imagine his laughter and smile when thinking about him teaching high school kids—my friends and me—how to do the foxtrot, rhumba, and cha cha cha. I was proud that my father felt that it would be neat if we could at least try to cut a rug as he and others in his generation did so well.

I miss him calling me into the room to play the organ for him and his friends to dance. Just so you know, if you do feel like doing the Alley Cat, I got ya’ covered.


In remembrance of Ramsey W. Pettengill 1928 - 2006