These are the thoughts of a Texas transplant in West Michigan who makes his living as a newspaper reporter by evening, and a struggling novelist by day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

hey, old man

hey, old man,
oh, i've missed you so.

as of late, i've been thinking a lot of my dad.
on nov. 7, it'll be a year since he died.
it's funny how time flies in the afterward.
one day you're standing by the bed over his body
and the next you're commemorating a year.
so many memories came flooding back of you and mom,
me, noel or linda.
even the grandkids watched from the corner.

it's very difficult to come to terms with the death of a parent. i don't think we're ever ready. despite the warning we had with dad and the cancer and his inevitable death, it's still saddens me. i wonder why him? why was it hhis turn and to have such a vile disease, too?
he went from a vibrant, healthy rancher to a bed-ridden man -- who i'm sure felt so embarrassed by his situation. no longer able to care for himself. i think he felt demoralized. my dad was one who did certain things on his own.

this past week was the 10th anniversary of dawn's dad's death. there was a small get together at himmy's house. everyone was there, even aunt lynda and nanci. how great was that! it was wonderful to see everyone together. there wasn't much of what ou might think, 'oh, john, this,' or 'oh, john, that.' at all. i think it was a celebration of family and life.

so the built up for that has got me thinkingof pops.
i remember him the last time he had his eyes open on that friday we arrived and him asking for his gloves (work ones) when i talked of ranching and then me losing it, crying like a baby, knowing it really was over. he was going to die soon. and in the back of my mind wondering if i'd done enough, if i'd talked with him enough times or said i loved him enough times. i guess it's something i can ponder, but i believe it was all good.

i still remember me and my brother helping him as he held on to the walker, weak, barely moving his legs, and we ushered him onto the bed. we wished him a goodnight and kissed him. he never saw me again. i never saw those gentle brown eyes, either.

and the days, endless and timeless, passing like centuries, the blur of faces and voices,
the stream people coming and going. and wondering how long he would last. would he go while people were there or quietly in the night some time. i figured knowing pops it'd be when it was quiet. just like him. no fancy affair in life and no fancy affair in death.

if there is any regret on that wednesday night it's the phone calls i made. the nurse came back from the bedroom to fetch mom. linda and i were sitting on the sofa talking. we'd left the room just minutes ago. first mom on the phone with one of the other nurses, thenlinda. then me. i paused at the doorwy, put my arms up on the edge of the frame and stretched. then i walked down the hall. in the bedroom, things started to break down.

in the madness that followed, mom hurried back, the nurse, libby, saying, "mama, you'd better come." linda saying, "what'd wrong?" me saying, "is he going?" in that rush, i called upstairs to dawn to let her know it was happening. the breath of life was leaving my father. then i called meri and couldn't reach her. i didn't want to leave a message because of the kids. i tried again. i got her and said dad was dying. i hung up. i went to the bedroom. but it was over. he died while i was on the phone. he took his last breath while i was on the phone. he died possibly a minute before i reached the bedroom.

i regret that. i regret it like crazy. i don't think i've ever verbalized it or anything. but i wished i'd been there. it would have been nothing, really. still. oh well. what can i do now.

i did caress his forehead and pushed some of his hair back on his head afterward. i kissed his still warm forehead and told him i loved him. i stroked his thin arms and legs. his eyes were closed and it looked like he was sleeping. how i wish that was all it was and i'd jump on the bed like i used to do when we were little on saturday mornings and wake him and mom up. mom would have a sthin pillow and dad would have a thick one, full of cotton.

and the phone calls were made as he lay in the bedroom. tears were shed with most every call. i couldn't help it. noel and i divvied up the calls. i remember he went next door and told tia mine. he said he wanted to do it. i called aunt gloria and god knows who else. and people came. it was past 10 but they showed up. how wonderful. the tears stopped. i don't know if verbalizing it on the phone was the tough part. every time i'd say it, i'd break down. i couldn't help it.

and as the mortuary people arrived, the family was warned to stay away. mom, linda, dawn, meri and the kids were all in the tv room. i was warned, but i stayed in the dining room. i saw them wheel out his body, covered in a dark blue blanket. they paused as they were headed to the door and i reached out and touched him one last time at home. then he was gone. and the emptiness began.

the following days were maddeningly lost. we functioned. functioned quite well. yet i think we were all in a haze. more people came to visit. food was brought in loads and loads. i ate and ate.

we prepared for the services. we set them up.

the people came. over and over. the place filled. as i've said before, about 500 or close to that came to pay respects to my father. it was a proud moment. if that many people show up to pay their respects at the end of one's life, you had a good life and affected people in ways you never thought. that was my dad. he was always behind the scenes, in the background, the actor with the small part, a few lines. but you were drawn to him. at times he'd steal the show.

one man used to jokingly call my dad el ruidoso (the noisy one). it was funny and so far from the truth.

he was buried the next day, a saturday morning in san jose. it was a smaller crowd. but there were people there not at the previous night's rosary.

before we knew it, we were whisked away, back to michigan.

tonight after talking to linda, a flood of memories came back. i cried a little. softly.
i guess i miss my old man. my gentle old man.

a drink on me

a drink n me, a drink on you,
a flabby gut, a savvy shoe,
we skipped through meadows,
with none to be found,
we jumped through tangles,
yet none we found.

we scrambled through webs,
we huddled in masses,
yet the pulpit shouted,
"come faithful, come!"

so we gasped with surprise,
we sang in heed, we smiled in need,
we paused, we paused.

the voices sang and sang,
bad and bad, worser and worser
no survive to me, it was shit in the ear,
mostly noise to cmpensate,
blah, blah, blah.

and then chilled we be,
a quiet time,
a bell did sound to ...
ah, no one knows.

wolves, wolves,
sing and sing,
lovely praises, lovely shades,

and numb and number, still.
it seemed fine,
so i stopped, i tad, i had to.
oh, yeah, i did,
beloved being,
but i needed them all,
oh yes i did.

a drink o nme, a drink on me,
raise your cups and holler from the table,
"beware for i do not care!
change your tune, you man!


oh dead girl,
gone all these years,
yet so much remains.

taken by frozen water,
spit up again, unwanted,
you continue your ways.

i see your patterns in pod,
stored in boxes or strung up high,
some done and others unfinished.

i saw your mischievous grin,
or -- perhaps -- i fanced it,
from the corner of my eye.

there were papers, though,
so many,
recently found upon years of storage,
me thinks the key to the mystery is unlocked.

the book can now be written,
the phrases tell themselves,
the story unravels,
your tale is told.

but should it be here --
where i've fallen by the steps,
things scattered, head struck, arms scraped?

or should it be by the river,
where the walls protect and i'm
an unknown, seeking shelter
from the past and a future to start?

sing your song,
let the notes come forth,
let me hear why.

dead girl, dead girl,
sleep gentle,
your things lie safe with me,
the keeper of your tale.