Today is the day my Daddy died. It's been years now but when I woke up, got my coffee, looked out the window - those were my thoughts and that's when I began to cry. Just like I do every year. July 5th - I can count on it.
There's no getting over some things. As a woman told me who had lost her husband six months ago, "I'm still not over it,"
Of course your not, I said. You aren't meant to be.
She nodded. Seemed relieved and said, "That's right. That's right."
She left our meeting in a better mood.
We aren't meant to stay stuck in grief to the point we aren't enjoying life but the getting over it. I'll leave that to the other people.
He was a life-long Army man. Loved Holmes creek where he grew up. Knew it better than the back of his hand. After his death I have replayed moments where I wish I had made a different choice. Conversations where I wish I had communicated better. Times he had put out an olive branch to a stubborn teenager or young woman with a wild streak - and I just didn't take it the right way. Those times echoed to long and loud after his death. I wanted to take them back. Over and over again. Fix them. Perfect them. Don't we all. Always.
I pulled in the driveway a few days ago from a family vacation. One of those family get togethers where I flashed all my disfunction obsessions. We must be together. We must all sit next to Nana. We all must pay attention to each other every moment and tell stories. And, and, and - - - this vacation time together must be . . . perfect. Again. That word. My determined expectations. I am precious in my passions. As well as a pain the butt. I'll save that little blog I call Dysfunction Junction what's your function (being mine) for next week but the thread here is the same.
I'm a family girl. One that wants to run and roam. But I'm also the girl that packed her bags when I lived out in New Mexico after Daddy's health took a bad turn. Me and the boys moved back home. My sister packed up her stuff where she was in Georgia and did the same. No matter how crazy our times together may get when we are trying to take a break from life, it's real life we get great. It's real life where we tag-teamed when daddy was in the hospital. She took one shift, I took the other. We rode up and down that elevator so much that people thought we were twins, clones, time warping. We confused them in our coming and going but that weren't at all confused about the fact that we didn't miss a beat. Daddy wasn't there alone.
Daddy died today. One day after the 4th of July. Fireworks now, the sound of them from inside a house brings to mind that night. That last night. I think it was his stubborn that kept him alive that night. A soldier that didn't want to die on Independence Day. He passed the next morning.
My stubborn streak. I come by it honest. I got a double dose. His kind - quiet final, conclusive and my Mama's kind - determined, hard-edged, tenacious.
When I pulled up in the driveway after all those days of family togetherness, after July 4th crazy traffic and traffic jams, heat and more heat, a broken air conditioner. Too many hours on the road. There was Daddy's memorial stone right there in the circle as I turned in. The flag I put up for Mama on the porch blowing in the breeze on the hill. Daddy's old boat sittin' on that broken trailer. Me and sister begging Mama when she moved to please not leave that boat. We couldn't leave that boat. We had to have that boat. No matter how long it had sat up. No matter if we couldn't use it, float it. We had to keep Daddy's boat. It was his lifeblood. It's a freshwater creek boat, the kind you'd use with a cane pole and a red bobber. It's worth nothing but everything.
They fished from that boat just like me and sister did. He took em up in the creek in it when their heads couldn't clear the edge. Showed up how to fish and where the clear springs bubbled up in the swamps. Where you could scoop a cup of water up right there and drink it down. Him grinning to beat the band. Those Cyprus trees rising to the sky, him skulling that boat with one hand, whistling through his teeth.
That man survived Korea. Survived Vietnam. But still --- time and time and time.
Today instead of those missed opportunities, those imperfect moments that stuck out in my mind for years where I didn't say what I wish I had said, I thought of all the times we laughed. Together. Of the way I'd say, Daddy that would light up his smile and no doubt his heart. I saw this wild, long tapestry that was us, our relationship, and I saw how very, very much of it was good. How most of it was really, really good.
And I think about those boys of mine. (Yeah, I call them mine whether they want me to or not.) And how I gave him the greatest gift I could ever have given him by making him a PawPaw. About how my boys became his boys. And as much as this gypsy heart of mine wanted to roam the earth and exotic places, this Southern girl stayed close to home so that they had each other. So we all had each other. While there was still time.
In Daddy's memory I went to chapel and lit a candle. Whispered a prayer. Then bought a watermelon to eat with my baby boy's baby boys. I'll tell them creek stories of their Daddy's Pawpaw and help them remember a man I won't forget.
I think I hear him whistling.
My mother has moved in with me. It seems like only yesterday that we were just like this, her in the drivers seat, her being the one to keep me steady on my feet, her keeping me balanced so that I didn't go careening off into the dark night, bad decisions, high fevers, or swampy creeks.
Now I'm the one that is trying to keep things balanced. Keeping them from tipping over. We are having such a great time. Really, we are. You laugh? You doubt it? I can see why. There are days that I stomp through the house exhasperated by her every sigh or comment. Days where I turn fourteen and want to go to room and slam the door. But my door doesn't slam because its just one more thing I have to fix in this house so there's no point. Instead, we find something we can agree on to watch or we tell old stories and laugh. Thank God she has a sense of humor. Most days I have mine. She follows me around the house with lipstick trying to get me to just "put a little color on" and reminds me to use lotion on my face. A lot. Like every time she looks at my face. She is also the Queen of the List. There is always a list of things we need. As soon as I leave for the store a new list has begun. Daily trips to the store are a bizarre part of my family history. It's as if we can only buy one thing a day. Or three. But never all of the things. When I was in high school and was sent to the store that was fine because Cousin Deb was with me and we always took the really, really long way which means we did everything we wanted to between the house and the store. Now the store is a chore. Particularly when someone is following your around the house with a plastic bag that has the name of a particular brand of three ply double roll extra size super soft paper with no truck tracks in the middle of it so that you can "READ every word so you get it exactly right." This is why I studied literature. I just know it. It's come to this.
But I get it. The little things matter when they seem to be the only things you might possibly have control over. The pressures of giving up your home after fifty years, making a move to the mountains after being a flatlander all your life (her words) and giving up so many shades of independence are challenging in every way. Trying to still find things when many are still in storage, reaching for the light in the middle of the night and realizing it's in the wrong place. That everything is in the wrong place. Mourning an old house like a family member. Because it was such a part of the family for so many years. The shelter for every tropical storm and hurricane. That little brick house held every family member far and wide while the storms raged outside. It was our lifeboat and our arc. Through the literal Florida storms and from life's storms. When grandparents grew sick and elderly and moved in with us. When there were car wrecks and bad news. The death of pets. Of bad grades. Broken hearts. Celebrations. Birthdays. It was all right there and my mother was the captain of that ship. Period. My Daddy was in the Army and away much of the time until he retired. Then he came home and took his place without ever removing her from hers.
Now so many things fall to me. Just cause this is the way that life shook out. It has a way of doing that. Taking a road we didn't expect but then that is life. And as family we make the best of it. As a writer I empathize with my mother making a change so significant we don't discuss it too much. The decision to let go of the car keys - one of the hardest of a lifetime. My mother's parents never owned a car, never drove. If I felt the day I had my own set of keys and eventually my own set of wheels represented freedom - for her that had to be a kind of rising up and driving out that came from a much deeper place. It represented more than sixteen year old I gotta be me. It represented a rise out of poverty, a way to have a job and keep a job, a success that meant she could buy a little house, build a family, have a little girl that would ride shotgun some day.
And, I did. Those were glorious times. My mother finally bought the car of her dreams. A big Oldsmobile convertible. White with red leather interior. A dream machine. She drove with confidence behind the wheel wearing scarves over her hair and streaming behind her, cat eye sunglasses. She was amazing, looked like a movie star. Riding in that front seat beside her, the sun shinning down, the radio playing, I knew that Mom was in control, that we were traveling down that road, and that all was well with our world.
Now, a blink of an eye later, I'm behind the wheel. She's riding shotgun. And I can only pray that I will exude just a little of that air of confidence she possessed. The kind where she can truly I believe that it's okay. In spite of her home being shifted beneath her feet, her keys having slipped away. That in spite of it all - all is well with the world. That the road before us is a long one. To trust me enough that I do know the way. That life is still a great adventure. We just have to take it one day, one moment at a time.
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