fathers

Breakfast at McD’s

place-setting-compToday I returned to the doctor’s office for my lab work. I need a big girl sticker for just returning after Tuesday’s misadventures in waiting. But this time the wait was reasonable, my appointment was a 8am, first on the list, so I was willing to give them the 10 minutes for set up time. Twenty minutes overall wasn’t too bad (I was early again).

Dr. M. told me that the tests being done get the best results if I fast and stay hydrated. I took that to mean that not only was blood being drawn, but also the good ol’ pee in a cup thing. So, I gulped a nice, large thermos of ice water on the way over to the office. Turns out the hydration was just for getting a good vein. I ended up hungry, but full if you get my drift.

Since the blood drawing (sounds rather Medieval doesn’t it, blood drawing…), anyway, since that didn’t take very long, I figured I could wait until I found a breakfast place to relieve my hunger and bladder. The less time spent in a place where sick people congregate, the better – especially in a place where you know they will have touched the same things you will.

I really didn’t want to stop at a fast food place. I thought I owed it to myself to have at least a decent egg and toast breakfast. But time and nature have their own ways and my nature call became rather urgent just as I was coming up on, you guessed it, MacDonald’s.

I succumbed to the lure of the golden arches and it’s usually clean bathrooms. What the heck, their iced coffee isn’t that bad. I pulled in and parked across from the door and walked in. I first hit the facilities, which thankfully, were in lovely order. Next, I moved to find something on the menu that didn’t seem to scream, “You are eating crap!”

All the cute little pictures above the counter seemed to feature some version of a biscuit sandwich. I wanted at the very least, pancakes. I questioned the woman behind the counter. “All you seem to have are biscuit sandwiches. I want pancakes.” She replied, “You can get a McGriddle with an egg and bacon.” I asked what a “McGriddle” was. She said it’s like two pancakes with the syrup inside served with an egg, cheese and bacon. I thought okay, it’s not Denny’s, but it will do. I placed the order.

What came back to me was a biscuit sandwich. Seems I should have paid attention to the ‘like’ portion of her statement. Oh, well. I asked for a fork so that I could take the sandwich apart and pretend that I was having the breakfast I ordered. (I did not eat the bacon. I rather figured it did not come from a turkey.)

My doctor’s office is located about 15 miles or so from where I live in town. The county where it is situated is developing and has quite a few businesses popping up all around. The countryside is fast becoming a quasi-urban/suburban area. Many of the residents, however, are still very rural. They are the ones who grew up on the former farms and country roads now being overtaken. The McDonald’s that chose me is also in this same rural/suburban crossroads and the clientele showed this with clusters of older folks speaking with deep, Georgia southern accents.

Not wanting to sit at one of the single barstool type places, I took a booth seat next to a group of three older gentlemen, who were deep in swapping stories. Expecting to hear tales of hunting or local politics, I was pleasantly surprised to hear what they were discussing – their families, more specifically, special family vacations! It was all so sweet.

One gentleman, who I shall call Mr. Buttonup, was treating his coffee clutch brethren with the tales of how he and his family used to take vacations in the mountains and tell ghost stories around the campfire. He laughed and laughed telling the tale of how he and his wife took turns inventing outlandish stories that took place “right on this very spot.” He added with a smile on his face that it never took long for everyone to end up in the same big bed for the night.

Another gentleman, Mr. GreenPolo, told of his inexpensive vacation at the beach. “Best time we ever had and all for under $300!” His companions were very impressed. “We walked the beaches for miles, it was just wonderful.” They all agreed that one could not get such a vacation for $300 nowadays. And at that they began to talk about moseying along.

My heart jumped a little when I realized they were about to leave for it had struck me a little into their conversations that they were all about my Dad’s age. I was eavesdropping with a wistful ear and wanted their stories to go on. It was so pleasant to hear these men teasing back and forth and regaling each other with stories, not of hunting, or business deals, but of times spent with their families. It was if I was listening to my Dad again. I wanted to thank them for that little piece of joy they had just given me.

As they started to leave, I called out to Mr. Buttonup, “Sir, if I may…” and I explained that I had lost my father this year and that their conversations about their families had truly touched me. I apologized for listening in, but I thanked them for letting me in for just a moment even if they didn’t realize they did.

Mr. Buttonup said I was most welcome and Mr. GreenPolo asked what I said. Apparently, he was a bit hard of hearing. (I guess that was one of the reasons I could hear them so clearly; they were compensating for Mr. G.) Mr. B told him the short version of what I said and they both smiled. Mr. B asked if I was from there and I told him no, I was only on this side of town for an appointment. Then he said I was welcome to come back anytime, they met almost every morning right there. That made me smile.

I may not have gotten what I wanted this morning, but I sure got what I needed. I cried a little after they left, both for what they had given me and for what I will never have again, but in the end I was left with a smile. Someone knew I needed that little slice of love even if it came wrapped in a fast food breakfast biscuit. Thanks, Dad. I love you, too.

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Lullaby

Naptime2    I am very weary these days, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of grief and stress. It is difficult to find a safe shore to rest upon and when by chance I do find a moment to lie my head down, anxiety churns the waters. So tonight I thought perhaps I could try a story of a lullabies – lullabies that eased weary souls a long time ago.

When my daughter Nene was an infant, she was at first calmed by the old standard by Brahms, but as she grew into toddlerhood, she began to prefer more rousing  tunes. She had a strange proclivity toward military anthems and Linda Ronstadt’s, “You’re No Good.”

I remember one particularly grouchy afternoon at my grandmother’s home. Nene could not be cajoled or convinced into thinking anything other than the world was coming to an end and she had to meet it with her lungs giving full voice to her song of woe. My grandmother, mom, and I were stretching to our respective wit’s end. Four generations of women were about to implode and bring Nene’s prediction to fruition.

When the tension and noise finally reached ‘this will drive out the armed fanatics holed up in the house’ level, my mom asked if there was anything else to try. I said well, it sounds odd, but we can try the “Marine’s Hymn.” Mama and Mom looked at me like I was nuts, but at this point it was that or actually call in the Marines. So, I started in with, “From the halls of Montezuma…” And it worked!

Mama and Mom started chiming in and Nene fell into a stupor that would have won a prize on “America’s Funniest Videos.” By the time we finished “Anchors Away”, she was out, lolled over in her little yellow walker. Always her own, that kid.

Sixteen or so years later, Yoda was a completely different story. He definitely preferred the more melodic, slow tempo themes. Often I would hum as smoothly and dolce as I could muster the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” or a quiet version of some folk song culled from my memory of “Sing Along with Mitch.” But the one song that would always close the deal, was “Little Red Caboose.”

Now if you Google this song, you will more than likely be bombarded with versions containing inane adults wearing engineer outfits and singing the lyrics in an over the top Barney fashion. The version I sang was one I found in my collection of old 45rpm single records – a slow spiritual, one sung or hummed right gives the slow, rhythmic rocking of a train moving down the tracks. It was a perfect tune for an active and sensory issued baby.

One afternoon while Yoda and I were out visiting my parents, he had reached his infant tolerance for sociability and began to fuss. So, at that point I swaddled him up tight and removed myself to the dining area to try and calm him down before it went over the top. I could recognized the signs a wee better with the second child…

My Mom stepped off to I don’t know where, to give us space to work I guess. My Dad went to sit in his chair in the living room, not too far from where I was sitting with Yoda. I began to run through my repertoire of songs and then moved in with the closer of “Caboose.”

I rocked, sang, and the hummed for about 5 minutes and the little guy finally settled into a nice little nap. I could even hear a small snore. I smiled and listened again. This wasn’t Yoda’s snargle (what we had termed his breathing issue common to baby boys when born small – another story). I turned my ear to the sound again and realized that my Dad had fallen asleep!

When it came time for me to leave my parents’ house that afternoon and I went over to say goodbye to Dad, he pulled me in and thanked me. When I asked what for, he said it had been a very long time since anyone had sung him to sleep.

Eleven years have gone by and it still brings a smile to my face to remember the time I sang a lullaby to my Dad.

Sleep well, Deddy-O, sleep well.

Let’s Go For A Ride

Dad_motorcycleIn the late 1960s, our neighbor Mr. Lynn introduced my Dad and brother Stavro to the exciting world of motorcycles and they fell in love. Soon our two car garage was filled with all manner and makes of bikes: dirt bikes, street bikes, minibikes and even a couple of mopeds (the kind that have pedals to start the motor).

Our weekends soon consisted of family day trips out to the Phoenix desert to ride until it became dark. Round and round we’d go, racing through dry river beds and over cracking dusty roads. I remember stopping only to eat lunch and gaze at the beautiful brown Arizona mountains. Even at that young age I was filled with an awe for their dangerous majesty. I love the memory of those times.

Sometimes the urge to ride couldn’t wait until the weekend and Dad would pull out a street bike and take me for a quick ride after he came home from work. At that time, there were still pockets of places we could take a mini-desert ride inside the city. Phoenix was still sitting on the edge of the mega city it was to become.

On one particular evening, Dad said, “Let’s go!” Never willing to pass up a ride, I climbed on the back of the motorcycle, safely wrapped my arms around his waist, hooked my fingers tightly into his belt loops and off we rode heading for the empty lots between two neighborhoods. We slipped past the bar recently planted to keep cars out and into the wilds of Phoenix suburbia we rode. We did our usual circuit and then Dad hit the little mounds of dirt to make me bounce and laugh. I laughed so hard, I was breathless, but with a child’s enthusiasm kept urging, “Again, Dad, again!” It was on one of those last go rounds that I happened to look behind us. Someone else was out for a ride and closing on us fast. He had lights mounted on his bike.

Hello, Officer.

I tapped Dad on the stomach to gain his attention and motioned for him to look behind. “I think he wants us to stop.” Seems the last bastion of space we could ride free in the city was now under police state and some non-motorcycle loving resident ratted us out.

We left our little haven with a blue slip of disappointment. Dad was a bit embarrassed to have to admit to Mom about the ticket we received, but of course nine-year-old little me thought it hilarious and kind of scary exciting. It didn’t occur to me that our evening rides in the last little oasis were over. In a child’s mind things last forever. But of course, they don’t.

Stavro traveled to Phoenix a couple years ago and visited our old haunts. The empty lots are filled with houses. The desert we rode upon is swallowed up by urban sprawl. The dusty roads and river beds paved over. The beautiful brown mountains in the distance are now crowded up to their bases and shaded with pollution.

And my Dad is gone.

I know that Dad would want me to keep pushing onward, to stay on the bike and keep riding, even taking the chance of seeing the lights flashing behind me again. He was proud of me for taking on some pretty bouncy and terrifying mountains throughout my life and conquering them. He never failed to tell me that.

What I failed to tell him was that in my heart I always had my arms around his waist, with my fingers hooked into his belt loops knowing that if I held on tight enough, just over the next hill was the promise of breathless joy and laughter. There would be an open space to ride free and say, “Let’s go!”

But there will never be another evening ride. No more, “agains.” Grown-ups know these things and that’s the hard part.

I’m trying Dad, but without you the motor is terribly hard to start.

To Dad, Love Sam

Nature Boy – eden ahbez

There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and Kings
This he said to me

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.

Once upon a time, in a previous lifetime when I was falling apart to come together, I was obsessed with playing cards. Solitaire was my constant companion; I played hour after hour, shuffling and reshuffling, black on red, red on black – a coping mechanism to soothe and wait for the world to make sense again.
In my present life, I do not play cards that often. Instead, I collect them. Each deck I acquire, either from a place visited or just an old, interesting design, reinforces the awareness of how far I have traveled. They are markers of all dark things conquered – trophies.
Nowadays, I use many distractions, FB, Pinterest, old videos, but mostly I’m found with my nose stuck in a crossword puzzle book. Codewords, cryptograms, syllacrostics and the occasional word find are my solace and escape today. They keep my mind awake and numb at the same time. They are also a touchstone to my Dad. “Great for waiting,” he said.
That’s what I brought to him in the hospital: a crossword puzzle book. Something to pass the time between the alphabet barrage of testing: EEG, ECG, EKG, CT,  PT, EIEIO…
Dad was not the best speller in the world, so sometimes his solutions to crosswords were a bit inventive. We think it has to do with the fact that he really should have been left handed, but back in the 30s left handedness was still seen as well, suspect – especially back in the dirt farm area Dad came from. The teachers tied down his left arm so that he would learn to do all with his right hand. It worked to a point. He ended up ambidextrous – I play cards and use a computer mouse left handed thanks to him – but his spelling was always lousy.
I was lucky to pass the time in conversation, as well as, work a puzzle or two with him that week. The talks were long overdue. We talked and talked for hours. I kept asking if he wanted to rest, but he kept declining, saying he wanted to chat.
We spoke of his love for literature and science. We pondered the energy of the universe – that energy is neither created or destroyed – and how he thought there is ancient energy all around us. He asked to borrow some of my archaeology books so that he could learn more. He said the subject always fascinated him – proper archaeology, too, not paleontology. We talked of passing age milestones; the psychological sense of relief both my sister and I felt when we successfully passed the age of 21, the age his sister was killed by a drunk driver. We talked about the new home Bashert and I just closed on and the things we were going to have to do to our fixer-upper, including the floor.
Dad told me that when he worked for Taylor Furniture as a young man, he hated when people would come in to look at flooring because he would have to move entire rolls of linoleum around from the back of the store to the front sidewalk and then back again. He would go “find” something else to do when he heard anyone mention flooring. That’s my Dad; work smarter, not harder.
We laughed at silly things and I kidded him about wanting his comb, so he could pretty himself up for the nurses. But he had eyes for only one person. Mom.
Mom, his favorite subject. He kept coming back to her. He told me that there was a beautiful nurse on the floor, but that she had nothing on Mom. Even when he was all woozy and waking up from one of the tests he went through, his first thoughts were of her. He wanted to go home because he, “missed his girl.”
On the Friday of his week in the hospital, he finally fell to sleep after Mom and my sister Calico Nell arrived. I guess he felt comfortable with Mom there. I visited with Mom and CN for a bit and then left, giving Dad’s toe a little squeeze as to not wake him, but to let him know I was going. I whispered love and that I really enjoyed talking to him about everything and that I would see him later.
CN told me the next day that Dad was upset that he didn’t get to say goodbye. I thought about calling, but she told me that Mom was visiting on her own for the first time. The weather had been so dicey the rest of the week, CN was driving her in to visit. I didn’t want to disturb their time together. Let him have those moments with ‘his girl’. I’m glad I made that decision. I had my time.
Dad died that night. Massive heart failure due to previously unknown, plaque filled arteries. He died of a broken heart and ours broke in the process.
I’ve had my head stuck in word puzzles ever since. Two months, now. Concentration on anything else hurts too much. Between bereavement, foot ailments and my own discovered hypertension, work has been a struggle. Our house, while coming along is still in flux. Schoolwork sits untouched, unread, unfinished, unwritten. But damn it, I have conquered the Dell no-clue, codeword puzzle. In ink.
Each book I finish stands in a stack, another legion of trophies to mark the passing of dark places. I am not sure how high the stack will have to be before most of the darkness fades, but for now it’s great for waiting.
I love you Dad.