Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Last Day of Summer

I was halfway through the day when I realized that today is the sixteenth anniversary of my dad's untimely death. He was forty-seven. He died on the last day of summer.

I remember odd things. The neighbors across the street brought over a homemade version of Dairy Queen's Peanut Buster Parfait. I can still taste the rich chocolate. I have the recipe, but I've never made it myself.

My sister (the one who doesn't speak to my anymore) arrived at the house too late. My dad had already died. I've never heard a human being wail as she did when she heard the news.

I wore a black wool sweater dress to the funeral, which I planned myself. My uncle conducted the service. Dad died on Thursday and the funeral was on Saturday morning. I was completely composed and dry-eyed until the moment when I realized I would be escorted down the center aisle of the church to sit in the front rows reserved for family. I wept as I walked up the aisle because my mind flashed back to my dad walking me up the aisle in my wedding dress only two years earlier.

I could not stop crying.

When the funeral ended and the church emptied out, I turned and saw a vaguely familiar face. Near the back of the church, a man sat alone. That man was my uncle, the brother from Wisconsin my dad hadn't spoken to in years and years. They were estranged. Days later, I found a typed copy of the letter my dad had sent to his brother years earlier--that letter said, "We never liked each other anyway. Just tell your children you used to have a brother and now he's dead." It was a long letter, full of hurt and anger.

I ripped up that letter, determined to end that feud forever. Now, I kind of wish I'd kept it.

So it was bittersweet seeing my uncle at my dad's funeral.

My brother wasn't there at all. He'd been estranged from my dad, too, and didn't reach news of my father's illness until after his death.

After the funeral, I changed into a cotton dress with kelly green stripes. The weather had warmed up and I just couldn't stand the wool anymore. So, all the post-funeral, quasi-famiy reunion pictures show everyone in solemn clothing and me in a very 1980s cotton green striped frock. I regret that.

My dad hated his last job. He worked for a newspaper as a technician. He despised the union he was required to join. That union sent a gorgeous plant to the house when my dad died. That beautiful plant dropped its leaves, one by one, died little by little. I watered more. I watered less. I fussed and coddled that plant. And then I saw it had bugs. And then it died.

When I had a garage sale after my dad died, someone stole his pool cue right out of my driveway. I'm still bitter about that, even though it only cost about $125.00. Who steals a dead man's pool cue from a garage sale? I hope that person was impaled on that pool cue. (Okay. Not really.)

My dad was a ham radio operator, a computer geek before there were computer geeks, a fan of Paul Harvey and Johnny Carson. He dabbled in photography, community theater and painting. He rode a motorcycle across the country. He drove a compact car back and forth to Ohio to visit his father, sometimes in the snowy winter. He stood in his bare feet in the snow at Mount Rainier just for the sake of a funny photograph. I always laughed at him prancing through the house singing, "I feel pretty! Oh so pretty!" and "Tip-toe through the tulips . . .!"

He hardly ever cooked, but when he did it usually involved buying a complete set of aluminum mixing bowls or a new set of knives. He loved kitchen gadgets. The only thing I recall him cooking, though, involved warm cantaloupe, which turned my stomach. He loved chocolate chip cookies and warm pudding with a splash of milk. He was the strong, silent type, a crusty guy who hid his gooey soft heart with a gruff exterior.

And the seasons continue to change, dragging us along by the hand, even as we look backwards for one last glimpse.

17 Comments:

Blogger Judy said...

Beautiful post, Mel.

I'm 47.

He was WAY to young to die.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

As you wrote this, you were remembering, and he was very much alive in your memory. It's a remarkable thing really.

6:16 AM  
Blogger The Scarlet Pervygirl said...

Thank you for sharing that.

7:39 AM  
Anonymous mopsy said...

Thank you for sharing your dad with us. Someday, your children will thank you for writing your memories of him, still vivid.

7:57 AM  
Blogger ...just-rambling... said...

Beautifully written post, Mel. Your Dad lives on in your memories and in your heart. (hugs)

8:03 AM  
Blogger Eyes said...

How wonderful your memories are...

8:22 AM  
Blogger The Dung Beetle said...

Thanks for sharing this with us.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Lizanne said...

Pray for us.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Cuppa said...

Thanks for the word picture of your dad. A beautiful vivid portrait I am glad you shared with us.

10:57 AM  
Blogger sallyrogers said...

As always you tell a special story in a deeply personal way and I feel as if I were there. I can almost picture you in the green striped dress among the somber grey mourners. I think... and I'm really being too forward here... that your dad would have liked that...

12:11 PM  
Blogger Vashti said...

This was beautiful. My dad died when he was 25. My memories of him are sketchy. My granddad became a lot like a dad to me. He died a couple of years ago. I look back often. That is how I keep him alive in my memory. Thanks for the post. It was lovely.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

From a Ham Radio Operator to a "Silent Key,"

73OM DE: AB5ZJ - Tom

12:45 PM  
Anonymous saramnou said...

Froma a long time lurker, I thank you for this post.
My Dad pased away 13yrs ago on the 21st of Sep at age 46. This post made me sit down with my kids 3 and 5 and tell them eveything that came to my mind about him. For I think of him often, speak of him seldom.
This post changed my day. Your an incredible writer and again I thank you.

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Simply Coll said...

My Dad died 6 years ago. I miss him still.

This is a lovely post. Thank you for sharing.

7:50 AM  
Blogger ilovecheese said...

Mel,Thank you for sharing. I feel, as time passes by, I seem to remember more of the nice things my Dad said and did, than the not-so-nice and some of the really not nice things he did.
But I cant forget the fact that he was a good father to me.
You express yourself so poignantly that I feel you take the thoughts right out of my mind.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

It always amazes me how clear you seem to remember the small details. You have done a great job sharing them...as usual...

6:34 PM  
Blogger CueSight Billiards said...

I'm sorry you lost your father at such an early age. I also hated to hear of the theft of the pool cue, since I know how personal an item that is for people.

3:43 PM  

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