The last post made here at this little blog was on December 5. It was the usual snarky snark, a quick cherry bomb lob about politics. Little did I know that almost four hours later, my father would be gone.
I’ve written this post at least a dozen times in my head the last week or so. If it rambles a bit, indulge me. There’s never enough to be said.
December started out as usual: the monumental lists of things to do/buy/wrap/bake/decorate/sing/eat/wear and the usual moaning of not enough time/money/elbow grease/cleaning supplies to get it all done.
All that came to a screeching halt that afternoon when my sister-in-law called. My dad had a heart attack at home and was being transported to the hospital. In just a few hours, despite the heroic efforts of the ER staff, he was gone.
The next weeks were a blur.
After the funeral, Christmas quietly came and went. Many say the first holiday is the hardest, and boy, this one was tough. The rawness of the empty chair at every gathering weighed bittersweet as we shared our favorite memories.
Over those days, many talked of Dad’s propensity for telling jokes. Not dirty or off-color stuff, just corny. He’d rework them to try to snag you again and again. One lady told of how he’d ask her almost every week at church, “What time is it in Texas?” She’d said she didn’t know and he’d always answer “10 to 9,” forever remembering the Bulldogs victory over Texas in the ’84 Cotton Bowl.
In the mid-1950′s, a handsome young man finished his service in the USAF and returned home to Jonesboro. His parents had moved to Jonesboro from Grant Park. He was the youngest of twelve children. His older brothers served in WWII in Europe and the Pacific. One sister was a WAVE. The highlight of family reunions in the years to come was listening to the brothers share their war stories. And golf stories, lots of golf stories, but more about that later. He worked in communications and was stationed around the US, including Ft. Hood in Waco, TX. When it was time to re-up, his CO wanted to send him to flight school, but Daddy said, “No thanks, I’m done.”
Not long after returning home, he met the whirlwind girl that would become his wife and my mother. They were married in August in the un-air-conditioned Methodist church in Jonesboro. Evidently it was the social event of the little town’s sweltering summer. The wedding pictures were lovely. Everyone glistened with happiness. Four years later I came along and after another four years, little brother (known around here as “Obi”) arrived. He was a quiet man. He parented by example more than words. He could be firm (in later years we called it stubborn). I thought he was the meanest man in the world when he wouldn’t take me to see The Beatles when they visited Atlanta in 1965. Never mind that I was only 7. Only when I became a parent myself did I understand that he was protecting me from being trampled by the riot of screaming teenage girls that descended on Atlanta that weekend.
As we grew up, he came to all our ball games, concerts and golf tournaments. He especially liked attending UGA games while me and little brother attended the university. There were bumps in the road, of course, anytime you raise rambunctious teenagers there are bumps, but he handled them more calmly than most. He even welcomed an impromptu rolling Redcoat Band party that descended on their little house, playing the perfect host to a hoard of rambunctious twenty-something’s.
As me and my brother met and married our spouses, we saw another side of Daddy. After a breaking-in period, he welcomed them to his family as his own son and daughter. As Father of the Bride and my brother’s Best Man, he outshone us both. Put a tuxedo on that man, and he looked like a movie star.
Then the grandkids came along. He beamed with pride. He had a special way of making each feel special and loved. At the funeral, when my boy WeeHighlander TurnedCollegeFratBoy spoke, he started with, “I was the favorite grandchild.” Then Obi’s Eldest, RockStarInTraining, stood up and said, “No, I was the favorite.” Then Obi’s LeastUn, PrincessSoccerStar, piped up and said the same. Then my eldest, GradSchoolHornGirl, standing at the lectern for support of her brother, just shook her head with that look that said SHE was the favorite. Just like with us, he attended as many of their birthday parties, ballgames, concerts, tournaments as he could. He’d sit quietly in the midst of the bedlam and would tell corny jokes to whomever he could reel in.
He was the World’s Greatest Braves Fan; watching or listening to every game, every season, win or lose. Outside of Georgia, most of America doesn’t know about the long-running love-hate relationship with the Braves and their fans. But he was pulling for them, even when they were in the bottom of their division. And they were there alot, after the glory days of the early to mid-1990′s.
Dad was an avid golfer. He attended many Masters Tournaments and other PGA tournaments in the Atlanta area. When he was a member of East Lake Country Club, he won his flight in a member’s tournament. The prize was a shiny all leather golf bag. After a day of play, he’d bring home his scorecard and recount shot by shot how he beat and/or took his buddy’s quarters on each hole. He was especially proud of shooting a ’2′ on a hole and he’d brag on those. His devotion to golf, and the gentlemanly behavior that the sport strives to instill in its students brings to mind the scripture Obi read at the funeral. In Galatians, Paul speaks of running the good race. For Dad, it was always shooting for par. Then Paul goes on,
Galations 5 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
That was Dad. Quiet, loving, sometimes stern and firm, kind, generous. He loved America and expressed his concern repeated about the path the nation was on. His patriotism lives on in his family.
Last August, I took Mom & Dad out for their 59th Anniversary. We talked about the grandkids, neighbors, the Braves, doctor’s appointments, Hub’s new church, schedules, and I tried to convince them to travel to NY with us in the spring for GradSchoolHornGirl’s Master Recital and possibly attending her commencement as well. Everybody has hindsight, and with me, knowing this was the last meal where I’d have them all to myself, I wish we’d talked of less mundane things.
Thinking over the fall months the last few weeks, I believe he knew something was up and his time was growing short. He was tidying up his life, saying small goodbyes here and there. Things we didn’t catch in the daily hoopla, but looking back, we see them. Longer hugs, quiet I Love You’s, stories you’d never heard before, the way you’d catch him looking at you from across the room. Small, unexpected gifts.
The Friday night after his death, I woke up from a startling dream. Some people don’t put much stock in dreams, but it comforted me and to this day it is as vivid as it was that night. Uncle Henry and Uncle Marvin were walking down a gentle hill in some beautiful place, lush green, trees, blue sky, the sun behind their backs. There was a noise in the background. At first I thought it was birds, but after thinking about it a good bit, I think it was the crunch of cleats on a golf course cart path. My uncles were younger, like when I was a young girl. There is a spring, an urgency, to their step. As they walk closer, you see them talking. They say, “We’ve got to find Jerry, Carol is here.” That’s when I woke, sitting straight up in my bed. Daddy was OK.
Goodbye, my sweet Daddy. While I will miss you the rest of my days, I know that I’ll see you again. Thank you for your life, your example, your quiet witness and your love.