Today would have been my father’s 85th birthday.
But Charles John LaRue, “Chic” to many of his friends and “Da” to me and my brother, died of a heart attack in 1992, just shy of turning 65.
He had gone with our mother, Thelma (”Ma,” to us), for a mid-day pizza at our beloved Gentleman Jim’s restaurant, then in Twinbrook. After they’d ordered, he told her he was going outside for some fresh air. He stood up, then fell down dead.
Da died long before I started writing for The Washington Post. He loved the Post. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of him sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of strong coffee, reading the newspaper from the front page to the very last, following an elaborate protocol for folding certain pages that he must have imagined he’d reread one day, smoothing the folds with his fingers.
Da was a proud graduate of the University of Maryland, where he earned a Ph.D. in his 40s. He taught high-school biology in Montgomery County before leaving the classroom (somewhat reluctantly, I recall) to become an administrator in the county school system.
He also wrote textbooks, including a volume called Biology for which I believe my mom still receives small royalty checks. I remember his writing that book; he even paid me, his budding English major, to proofread some of it.
I had forgot, though, that Da also wrote high-school textbooks about health and “wellness”— a term I thought was of more recent vintage. But when I Googled his name as I began writing this blog, there those books were, listed right at the top of his Amazon author page.
Da died before there was Google or Amazon; he would have loved having an author page. He would also have loved — and also perhaps been a bit bewildered — to see his bookish, fiction-loving, science-shy daughter writing about health and, yes, wellness, for The Washington Post.
My father enjoyed eating and drinking and living large; his lifestyle didn’t exemplify the principles a teacher would teach in a health or wellness class. But he sure packed a lot of fun into his too-short life.
Sometimes I think many of us fixate too much on eating just the right foods, exercising just the right amount of time, and fitting just right in our jeans. Of course, those of us with a family legacy of heart disease probably should exercise at least some such diligence.
But today, in honor of Da’s birthday, I’m going to take a break from all that and do something I rarely do: I’m going to eat a big piece of cake — and savor every last bite.