Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'll Fly Away

For the past several months, since my sister introduced me to K-Love 107.1, I have listened almost exclusively to Christian music. I don't listen to the radio that much, but on the few occasions I'm in the car alone, I love to crank up praise and worship music. It gives me the homey feeling of a little country chapel, where everyone worships together and then feasts on fried chik'n (it's my dream), potato salad, and baked beans on the banks of a river. Most of my actual experience with churches looks and feels nothing like that, so this music is particularly comforting.

I like music, but I prefer silence most of the time except when I'm exercising or cleaning. Lately, though, I enjoy it--need it, even--when I'm showering. The day my dad died, I had a very bad feeling. Two days before, I had seen him, and it shook me how bad he looked. The light was gone from his eyes. He hardly joked. And when I asked him if he was feeling bad, he simply shrugged, and said, "I'm just old and tired." That morning, with that image in my head, I prayed fervently that if it was God's will, He would take my dad peacefully to heaven. Then I got in the shower, oddly comforted as the pounding water drowned out my sobs and washed away my tears. I stayed in there and cried until the water ran cold.

Two hours later God took him. I'm not used to having prayers answered just...like...that. I felt guilty. Responsible, even, as if I'd killed my dad.

Every time I go in my bathroom, I experience that morning again.

After several mornings of slathering my eyes with Preparation H--it really does reduce the swelling, and only Lily was bold enough to mention the odd smell--I decided to turn on some music. Pandora must have some good Jesus music, I mused, and my search quickly elicited traditional country hymns. Johnny Cash's voice reached straight to my heart and reassured me, "Some glad morning when this life is over, I'll fly away. To a home on God's celestial shore..." And suddenly, instead of crying in my shower, I was dancing. And giggling.

This was my dad's music. These are the records he played on the big old record player in the play room, as my mom and I played cards on the floor. Years later, on an eight-hour ride home from New York, we spoke very little, while listening to Randy Travis sing of just about every dilemma a person could face. He didn't mention my particular dilemma: 20, pregnant, just gave up my dream of moving to New York City to be a writer. But as the hours passed, my disappointment diminished, and I came home ready to be a mom, someday a wife, and not a New Yorker.

Funny, how that drive with my dad and Randy Travis sticks out in my memory. Even though we barely talked, he had a way of just being with me that brought me great comfort. Therapeutic silence, maybe. Sometimes Brad and the kids make fun of me and my "Jesus music." They roll their eyes, make snide remarks, and change the station. Someday, I wonder if the same music will comfort them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sunday Britches--my eulogy to my Dad

Most everyone who knew my dad had a story about him. The past few weeks, I've heard a ton of them. In his passing, in his memory, I would like to share a few of my own.

He fed the birds and shot the cats and squirrels—with a pellet gun, just to scare them—except mama squirrel. She ate peanut butter sandwiches out of his hand.

He loved pretty girls—look at my mom--and never missed an opportunity to steal a kiss from one. He loved fabulosity and used to say, “If you like it, buy it; don’t look at the price tag.” Good thing my mom tempered his extravagance with some common sense and frugality, but not before I lived that belief right into Chapter 13.

He had stories galore from standing next to Woody Hayes on the sidelines at a Buckeyes game, to teaching Jackie O to ride a horse. He applied makeup to some Hollywood movie stars, and once he told me that lip balm icon Bonnie Belle’s father had offered him a boat to marry her. Some of these stories we shrugged off as his overactive imagination, but most of them were true in some fashion. I half expected, like the movie, Big Fish, that some of those people would show up at his funeral.

He made up crazy songs and sang them LOUD and off-key, Ho hum Hilario, Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Clo-bird, the snowbird. Clo-Bird the snowbird, was also his doctor and high-kick partner.

He pushed my sister, brothers and me to be the best and never accepted anything less than our best efforts and often not even those. If you didn’t catch the football, chances were good you were gonna take it off the head. But as a result, we were all pretty good athletes. My sister, he said, could hit a ball farther and throw a football more accurately than most boys he knew. I haven't played football with her, but I have witnessed her blasting a baseball, and it's true. Whether it was because he spent time working with us, or we were just afraid to be anything less, he got what he wanted.

I spent part of my childhood being scared of his loud voice, but found a buddy in him when I was a teenager and he was retired. He would record my soaps for me when I was at school, then we’d watch them together. Even after I’d outgrown watching soap operas, he continued and would occasionally update me on the characters.

He cried watching movies and once told me he couldn’t read books because he found himself so wrapped up in the characters’ tribulations that he couldn’t sleep at night. Empathy. He used that word all the time. I didn’t realize until much later how much he embodied it.

He never said I love you, until my brother Chris died. Then he never missed an opportunity to say it. Really. It got to be embarrassing. He would tell telemarketers he loved them. But he evened it out. And by the time he passed, I think everybody who loved him knew that he loved them back.

He showed my sister and me what true love looks like in the way he loved my mom for 53 years. He gave our husbands big shoes to fill, but he loved them and seemed pleased with the job they have done loving us.

He was proud of his boys; I listened to him brag alternately about each of my brothers even though they may never have gotten to hear that. My brother, Jonny, said it best, “Later in life he became the dad that I had always wanted him to be.” But that we could all live long enough to accomplish that.

My dad was larger than life. Talking about him in the past tense remains almost too much for me to bear. He taught us how to live and how to love. He had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. He didn’t make to 106, but he sure had a hell of a life.

Peach wouldn’t want us to be sad, but I’m sure he was pleased to see how many people turned out to celebrate his life. So here’s to my dad, lover of all, slayer of hallucinated tigers, killer of bees, and destroyer of training wheels. If he were here right now, he would chuckle, shrug his shoulders, and say, “You know what happens, don’t you?” Yeah. Shit.