Living

Her dad died when she was 13, but he taught her to live with exclamation points

This typical early 1950s family portrait hung on the walls of a proud Cajun grandmother, even as the Bergeron family traveled as a Navy family and grew, as shown by the added cut-out at the bottom. Roy and Cotton Bergeron had four children, Richard (left), Germaine, Kathleen, and at the bottom, Estelle.
This typical early 1950s family portrait hung on the walls of a proud Cajun grandmother, even as the Bergeron family traveled as a Navy family and grew, as shown by the added cut-out at the bottom. Roy and Cotton Bergeron had four children, Richard (left), Germaine, Kathleen, and at the bottom, Estelle. Courtesy, the Bergeron Family

One incident, one phrase, one parent can cause us to raise our sails as children and never let them down again.

All these years later I still sail under Dad’s wind, although I do not lessen the encouragement, guidance and love Mom used to keep me on course.

I only knew Roy Bergeron for 13 years before he was swept off the deck of my life, but his essence remains present. That one incident, that one phrase, “Live life with an exclamation point!” continue to guide me.

I am now 24 years older than he was at his death. My memories of him, of course, are a child’s memories. Yet, they make me the adult I am.

Father’s Day is impossible to forget in this era of mass media, news overload, social media and advertising reminders. I gave serious thought to tackling a different topic today, for through years of writing this Sunday missive I have mentioned him before. The most recent time was of our family’s victory in proving Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roy Louis Bergeron is an unheralded casualty of the Cold War.

But today is about one incident, one phrase and one wise parent.

It was a rainy September day at the Barrancas National Cemetery in Florida. My father was approved for burial in Arlington but decided on Pensacola because it would be near our final homeport, the Mississippi Coast where Dad moved us after he realized he would die young.

Pensacola is also where he married Mom, in a union that birthed four children. I am the third in line.

In that one incident, the rain slowed and the 21 gunshots painfully echoed in my heart. Tears rolled.

“Daddy, how could you leave me?” My 13-year-old mind selfishly interpreted his passing.

In the poignant silence that follows the traditional military gun salute, my father spoke to me.

“Kathleen, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Live!”

Live with an exclamation point! That was the phrase he gave me to live by.

I have done my best to abide by Dad’s advice. That includes producing grades good enough for scholarships; crewing on a shrimp boat to make money for college; going into journalism where I might make a difference; carving out time for adventures, such as a year-long trek across Asia and another year studying folklore in Ireland.

The other side of the exclamation coin is more personal: in the rewarding and productive way we live our lives; in being willing to share that exclamation point with others in love, help, kindness and friendship; in quietly doing good deeds; and especially in being as good a person as possible.

“Kathleen, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Live!”

Did Dad really speak to me? Did I imagine it? I cannot answer that, but I have pondered the question for decades. I was not a child to make things up or to give religious or psychic interpretations to events. And I doubt I was mature enough to define feeling sorry for myself.

But I understood his words that day.

I hope to take his advice to “Live!” as I jog into my senior years, as salt seasons the cayenne hair, as the aches get achier, as maturity brings a richness I could not have understood or imagined when Dad first gave me his directive.

Disowning self-pity and living life with an exclamation point is my mantra. Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I don’t. But I never stop striving. When I was 13 I thought my father meant the advice only for me, but here I am sharing it again. Perhaps he meant it for all of us.

Kat Bergeron, a veteran feature writer specializing in Gulf Coast history and sense of place, is retired from the Sun Herald. She writes the Mississippi Coast Chronicles column as a freelance correspondent. Reach her at BergeronKat@gmail.com or at Southern Possum Tales, P.O. Box 33, Barboursville VA 22923.

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