I was asked to write my father’s obituary to which I declined. I have no answer as to why, other than for some strange reason it just didn’t feel right. Mom of course had no problem picking up the pen as it were then hammering out a short synopsis of my father’s life. After all having been married to the man for 55 years I am sure it came fast and easy.
I haven’t been able to open it.
Mom sent me the obituary in an email. Every day while checking my personal and work emails there it sat, unopened, like an unsolvable Rubik’s cube waiting for me to spin it around in hopes of unlocking its color coding on the very first try. There just hasn’t been any desire to try.
I am proud of my mother, she has handled this all with her feet firmly planted on the ground. Never once has she faltered or wavered in my presence over any decisions since her husband’s passing. She gets out almost every day visiting friends and running errands. She has handled the upcoming memorial with very little assistance from myself and is working on a full reorganization of her life. My mother is living up to the old adage; tough Old Italian woman.
We speak on the phone every day and through conversation she has discussed bits and pieces in regards to her final marital note. It is obvious mom has put time and effort into this little piece that will run in the local paper and yet for a week now, even knowing all she has done I just hadn’t been able to open it, to read it, to absorb what it means to her or anyone who knew my father. I just couldn’t do it, I would scroll past it, move it to another folder only to place it back into the main folder still unread, unopened, as if I was a cold and uncaring person. Scared of what it meant to me.
So with exactly 6 days to go until his memorial service and nothing remotely pressing on my gigantic plate of daily activities, my fingers (on their own accord) scrolled over the email and pressed the little W icon releasing information from the cloud into my server for my eyes to fixate upon and probably wonder why it had been hard for me all along.
And so I read it.
Halfway through my eyes glaze over and instantly I’m transported from my desk inside our fire station to a bench at Prestwood elementary where I sit waiting for lunch. I can smell it, feel it, I have chills upon my skin, my friends from years long gone are buzzing around me, laughing, joking, running playing, I am at ease. The fears of being a small child have enveloped my soul, scared of the bigger kids, jokester to my friends, a storyteller just trying to fit in. My little brain wondering if I will ever understand fractions while hearing my teachers telling us with effort we can achieve anything. Of course all this is happening while I daydream the day away. Yep I find myself staring at a white faced clock with black hands, the second hand slowly moving clockwise eliminating minutes from my daily school experience so I can go home and see what car dads driving home today and hopefully talk him into a game of basketball.
Lights passing overhead as the enormity of the freeway made my eyes larger than pie plates. Dad and I are on a trip to a dealership down south, he works for Kastner Pontiac/GMC and we are trading one car for a truck. I have never been to far from Sonoma in my 8 years and traveling through Sacramento onto 99 south was filled with new sights, sounds and my father singing country music on the radio. (Something I do to this day that drives my kids crazy). It was an all-night trip and I felt like a big kid! It is also where my early love for the GMC/Chevy stepside began. We ate out (something we never did) we sang, laughed and had fun. I slept most of the way home, but for that moment in time I was my dad’s friend, there were no girls (sorry mom) we were hanging out and it was an adventure. Just two men and a really cool truck.
Moving through time we are on a field trip, I cannot remember to where, but I am sitting in a bus full of students and parents. My dad is sits beside me smiling. It was one of the best memories for me as dad rarely made any of my school activities. I remember laughing, joking around and can even still feel the air blowing through the bus as a mixture of the suns golden rays and dust flows through the cabin.
Sitting at a bar while a man serves my sister and I 7up with cherries at Napa Valley Horseman’s Association. Dad was president and he would lead the Monday night monthly meetings. I remember thinking maybe that would be me one day. I can still see the lights of Napa off in the distance from this clubhouse on a hill. Soon we would be off to bed in the camper or later dad’s motorhome. It was the closest thing to camping we ever did and it was always fun sneaking out to watch our parents dance the night away after some of the meetings.
Driving dads Ford 8N tractor helping put fence around our property, mixing cement inside the rotating box scraper/drag that I guess I now own as it sits unused alongside my barn. Hearing him tell me exactly how to do it. Just the right amount of water, too much and it will be soup that takes forever to set, too little and it will crack and crumble never becoming a solid footing for these posts. Hearing him telling me just how far to back the tractor up, getting mad at me for almost smashing his hand with the bucket then forgiving me as I set my third post perfectly. I hear his voice, see him sweating and wonder why I can’t go back in time. I am talking to him but he can’t hear me. He only hears the very young boy on the tractor and not the 49 year old man trying his hardest to speak.
We are riding together, headed to test drive my possible first car. A 1957 Chevy Bel-Air. It was blue with chrome everywhere! The 57 was my favorite car next to the Chevy Stepside and as child I had built several models of this exact vehicle. When we arrived dad was the most charming man you had ever seen. He always knew just how to talk to people when it came to business of any type. They chuckled and laughed, went over the car from front to back. We jump started it as it had been sitting for a while and took it for a ride. It was everything I had ever dreamed of from the time I was 9. My dad was in love with the car, or so it seemed from the twinkle in his eye as we talked about it, how nice it was, how well it ran with a snappy little corvette motor wrapped neatly in chrome under the hood. I’m there all over again, I can even smell the interior. Several thank you’s were exchanged and my father left the owners with the old “we need to think about” line. On the way home I asked when we were going back to retrieve this heavenly piece of Detroit iron, to which he turned and with the same twinkle in his eye responded; we aren’t. The sixteen year old and 49 year old are yelling at him all over again. WHY??? That car is too fast for you, it shouldn’t be your first car. I can still hear him saying it. I was angry as hell, but he knew I would get over it. (I never really did) Dad was right though, as I wrecked my first truck sending it to the scrap yard. I had the pleasure of seeing that car while working at Aunt Josie’s restaurant as its owner would eat there once a week. It had an unmistakable license plate; 5SEVEN. That car lives in my dreams to this day.
Over the years there were times of laughter and great disappointment, times where we tested each other and times we just gave in, never acknowledging we had called a truce. As we grew older the equality of our stubbornness created larger walls between us. We talked once a week, grumbled about each other’s choices and would always part with an, I love you. But one thing is for certain, my father’s laughter, happiness and inexplicable ability to talk with people will always resonate deep within my soul. I have learned from him by witnessing both the success and failure in his life.
Reading the obituary today made it all too real for me. Yes I was there with him in his last moments, and was honored due to my position at work to actually be at his side when the ER doctor called time of death. I was able to hold his hand and cry, wishing he would squeeze back just one more time. I fully comprehend he is and always will be gone from this earth.
I just wish I hadn’t been so stubborn for I will never be able to take back all the times we butted heads or couldn’t come to an agreement on an issue, I’ll never be able to hear him tell me he is or was proud of me, never be able to apologize for the grief I gave him as a teenager. And yes I know I need to take it easy, and realize he had probably forgiven me long ago. I know, I have lived through death many, many times and it is what it is. But even after you put all that aside I think the hardest part for me is now that I have read this permanent record of decease, absorbed its significance, traveled back in time over the last several hours while sadly staring at the wall I come to the hardest part of this whole circle of life bullshit.
I no longer have a dad, and the little kid inside this aging man is crying his eyes out, holding a pillow across his face to muffle the tears wanting nothing more than his daddy to come home and play basketball with him one more time.
Just one more shot dad, it’s not dark yet I swear…….