Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dad's Home.

I'm taking the day off, tomorrow.  I probably don't have to, but I am.  Since I'm my own boss now, I can allow myself to.

Tomorrow will mark the third year without my father;  the day he went Home.

I will celebrate him.  Play his favorite music.  Think about him.  Talk about him.  I will light my mother's Christmas candle that I loved so much as a child for him.  I'll pray.   I'll talk to him... and to Ma.  I will be alone, for the most part.  By that, I mean I'll be home.  The kids might be here, but since we are still officially still on Summer break, they will most likely be asleep -- they'll hug me, though.

I think about the days when I was a little girl.  I was too young to tell time, but I could tell by what Ma was doing that soon dad would be coming home from work.  I could tell by the light of the sun;  the way the highlights in the leaves and trees, and grass were so bright and yet the shadows grew long.  Or by the way the sky turned from blue to an almost inky blue -- not quite nighttime black.  Suddenly, I'd hear his footsteps.  With his leg brace squeaking, and his familiar uneven gait, my heart would leap,

 "Hey Ma!  Daddy's home!"  I'd run to him.  He always greeted me in the same way,

"Heeeeeyyyyy, Squirt!  How ya doin?"  Every single time! That was our ritual... for years.

I think about the times when he would to go to the store.  Grocery, hardware, liquor... I always went with him. He took me everywhere with him!  I just wanted to go everywhere he went, and I was blessed that he wanted me to go with him.  He made going to the hardware store so much fun, without even trying.  I mean, seriously;  what little girl wants to go to the hardware store?  And it wasn't because he worked in one.  It wasn't because for years I thought Frank's Hardware was just that;  His (He'd come back with, "Thank Christ it's not").  I loved boasting about that when I was a kid.  I loved learning about sheet rock and plywood.  I loved that I knew at age seven what Toggle bolts and Mollies were, and that I could tell you the differences between them.  I would always ask dad if he needed any drill bits or any ¾ inch screws -- at age six.  I know he loved that!  I know it!
I am happy! 1977

Not that I expected it every time, but if we went to Giant on Arliss Street, or Grand Union on New Hampshire Avenue in Langley Park, Dad would tell me to go get a Tiger Beat or Teen Beat if I needed the newest issue ("Because, you know you don't have enough Mr. Hair (Shaun Cassidy) pin-ups on your ceiling), or a Slim Jim from Larry's Liquors on University Boulevard  (I loved Mr. Larry... and Dad never paid for those Slim Jims).  If, to my despair, Mr. Larry was out of Slim Jims, a bag of Funyuns,  or a box of Boston Baked Beans would be substituted.  FOC, of course.  I used my allowance to buy my Butterscotch Life Savers, though.  Dad made me pay for them.  When Mr.  Larry would, again, tell dad, "No charge." Dad would shake his head.  "Nah.  Let her pay for those."  I felt so grown up, handing Mr. Larry my dollar.

I think about the days when I was older, and would sit on our stoop, waiting for him to get home.  I'd see him pull up in our olive green Chevy Malibu.  He would get out of the car and looked so tired.  I would look away, pretending not to notice that he was home because I didn't want him to know that I saw him grimace in pain.   But I would watch him.  He was hurting so much.  My dad hurt every day of his life.  He never let it show.  I would watch him walk toward the apartment.  His face would contort, but only for a split second.  That was enough for me to see.  He'd look up, and smile so big.  "Heeeeeyyyyy, Squirt!  How ya doin?"  I'd walk to meet him and hug him.  We'd walk, hand in hand, home.

Every time I see Zinnias or Coleus,  I think of him. 

When our family went to bed, we would always read before we turned our lights out.  Ma and Dad in their bed, reading;  Me in mine, reading.  They'd read for at least an hour, sometimes longer.  On those longer nights, I'd hear dad get up.  He'd peek into my room.

"Want an egg sandwich?"  I always did.   When Dad made us egg sandwiches at night, it meant one of two things;  Nobody could sleep, or he was in pain.  Still, even if it was the latter, he never let it show.  But I knew.  Most of the time, I'd take my sandwich back into my room and continue reading.  Sometimes, though, I'd go into their room.  I'd sit between them and we'd just talk into the wee hours.  I miss that.  A lot.

Every time I see a four-leaf Clover, I think of him.

I mentioned that my dad hurt for most of his life.  It's true.  He had Polio as a child.  His body was twisted from that and severe scoliosis.  One leg was considerably shorter than the other.  Spinal fusion surgery failed, increasing his pain. As a child, he was in a full body cast for a year... twice.  He wore a shoe specially designed to even his gait.  That failed.  He wore a leg brace with that shoe to try to support his leg.  That failed.  I won't go into the specifics, but eventually he would develop gangrene on that foot and it would need to be removed.  Eventually, the leg had to be removed as well, right below his knee. I can't honestly say much more, as dad never liked discussing any of this.  So, I go by what other relatives have told me.

I remember his recovery at home.  It was hard.  My father was a very proud and stubborn man, and I knew that at first, it was a huge embarrassment for him.  He hated being waited on and fussed over. He felt like he was a burden and he hated it. --  Sometimes I think that goes back to when he was a child.  He was one of twelve kids and I think he may have felt that he was putting a lot on his parents... I'm just guessing --Anyhow.   It was a stressful time for my mother, as well.  If I have to put my finger on a time where my folks went through a difficult time in their marriage, it was then.  Mom simply didn't know what to do, but she knew dad and realized it would soon ease -- that tension.  And it did.  His body healed and he was very determined to live life as he had before.  And he did.  Nothing stopped him.  He went to work every day.  Came home, and played cards with me.  Then, we'd all get comfy and watch TV... and he would fall asleep.

I think about the times we went blackberry picking at Northwest Park.  I think about the evenings when we would sit outside after supper.  I loved hearing my parents gossip.  They were like teenagers in high school, "Did I tell you about so&so?"  So much fun listening in.

I think about the morning coffee we would have.  He lived in VA (after Ma passed), and I lived in MD.  Every single morning, without fail, I would call him, and we would have 'our morning coffee' together.  Again, we would gossip.  We always had a lot to talk about!  When I would visit for a weekend or whatever, we would sit in his kitchen if it was cold out, or we would venture out into his back yard and have our morning coffee, again, gossiping like teenagers.  I miss that.

Hand me my leg, wouldja?
I think about the times when he was out working in his garden.  On his hands and knees, either digging or planting and his prosthetic leg would turn in an unnatural position.  The first few times I witnessed this, it embarrassed him terribly.  After a few times, though, we'd laugh about it.  Sometimes the leg would simply slip off.  I never thought anything about it, but boy if I had a friend with me... Dad would simply say "Whoops... lost my leg, there."  Or worse (and to my delight), "Hey Squirt.  Hand me my leg, wouldja?"  And he'd wink at me, giggling his maniacal laugh that I miss so much,  and nod his head toward my friend, whose eyes looked like they were about to pop out of their sockets.  And of course, there is the story about a poker game my dad went to.  With no pennies left to throw into the ante, Dad said "I have nothing but my leg.."  Losing that hand, he simply said, "Here ya go." and threw his leg onto the table, scaring the bejeezus out of his poker buddies and, again,  roaring with laughter.

I think about when he became ill.  He was a life-long smoker.  Lung cancer was inevitable.  By the time it was diagnosed, it was already at Stage 4.  Even then, he hated being fussed over.  Hated not being in control.  I hated taking over.  And he hated that I had to.  Our roles were suddenly switched.  Neither of us knew how to handle it.  I had a lot of help, but still, during the night, I had to do what I had to do.  I had to be firm with him.  He'd finally give in, but was close to tears.

One particularly bad night at home, he called out to me.  I ran over to him (We had a hospital bed brought in for him.  In the living room).  He looked so scared.  He held out his arms to me.  I went to him.  As weak and frail as he was, he pulled me to him and started crying. I was amazed at his physical strength, even then.  I was also very touched to see him weep.  I've mentioned that my father was a very stubborn and prideful person;  it took a lot for him to cry, especially in front of me.  My respect for him grew even more that night. I have always said that men that can cry are so much stronger than men who think crying is a sign of weakness.  He held me for a long time. I told him that he was my hero, and that he always had been.   He then pushed me away so that he could look at me.  I won't share all of what he said, but  he told me he was sorry.  Sorry that he could not be the strong father he thought I needed when I was little.  He spoke for a long time.  He then thanked me.   Thanked me for being  the best daughter a man could ever hope to have.  Thanked me for all I was doing for him. Thanked me for giving him two grandsons that he adored.  I knew this would probably be the last true conversation I would ever have with him, and when I think back, I think he knew it, too.  I held his hand.  Still the strongest, yet gentlest hands.  And a few days later, a hand that I held as he finally went Home.  I think about that, too.  Along with two of my dear cousins, and my Aunt and Uncle,  how lucky we were to have been there as he left.  How lucky I was.  It was one of the most precious moments in my life.

This was very hard to type up.  Why am I doing it, then?    I don't know.  Dad hated a fuss.  He never liked parties being thrown for him.  He never liked being in the spotlight.  He was emotional, though.  Not a lot of people know that.  He loved getting a reaction out of people. I do too.

Thanks, Dad.  For everything.


  1. OMG, Mary! Once again, I finish reading in TEARS! I think our fathers were brothers from other mothers, lol! My dad, too, had polio as a child and limped his whole life. So many parallels as I read this. Your dad sounds like he was a wonderful man, and a loving, caring father. I do envy you those last moments, my dad passed suddenly, massive coronary (myocardial infarction technically), and unexpectedly. I never got to say goodbye. I know you treasure these memories. Thanks for sharing them. Love ya! Kat

  2. {{hugs}} We are kindred spirits -- I just knew it! Love you! Thanks for reading!

  3. got any tissues? excuse me while i bawl! lovely, again. You are really lucky you got to hold your Dad's hand as he went Home. Having sat with Barb, and even though I and her family are no longer family, I count it a real gift being with someone as they die.
    Oh - and butterscotch lifesavers! LOVE them! Always did! My grandparents used to give us the little Lifesavers books (which btw are smaller than they used to be!) @ Christmas, and the butterscotch ones were my favorites. (don't know if they're g-f, tho; haven't checked)

  4. Okay, first of all I checked and it's BUTTER RUM, not BUTTER SCOTCH (how could I forget THAT!?) and all Lifesavers candies are GF -- except -- you guessed it, Butter Rum. AAAAAAAAAAACK!

    I remember our chat about that. I don't mean to make my readers CRY! Still, it's in my ♥ and that's the only way I can share it. Thanks again, Bestie.


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