Here in the Tennessee Valley the season of spring has passed and summer continues, displaying itself in the misty, rainy, warmer days and cool nights, greener grass, budding flowers, and hot afternoons.
It is this time of year when thoughts of my dad visit me more often and with more intensity.
Dad would say, “Time to go fishin’ girl, the Dogwood’s are bloomin’ and the crappie are bitin’ and we can put food on the table.” I would happily help him get the tackle ready and climb up in the front of the Bronco, the white seats worn but clean, the top off, as we bounced along Boy Scout or Lower Mill, or the roads out towards Chester Frost Park and the grassy dirt roads near Pinkie’s Point, or down near the dam, on the lake side.
Dad had the radio tuned to Country music—Merle Haggard, George Jones, Willie Nelson—all of the songs that we consider today as “Classic Country.” I still love those old songs. He sang along with every song and he encouraged me to sing, too. Most of the time I was too self-conscious to sing, but with my dad it was easy. My first alto/second soprano mingled nicely with his mellow baritone.
I can still see him in his Army camo and a Marlboro held tight by his lips, standing along the shoreline of the creek or lake, as he casts his line and pulls in one crappie after another. His skin is dark where he has worked outside most of his life. His hands are large, rugged and calloused from construction, carpentry and mechanic work. His dark brown hair is sprinkled white around his face, especially at his temples and across his hairline. His eyes, keen as a hawk’s and capable of penetrating the hardest armor, are blue-gray beneath his dark brow.
I recall a couple of years ago when I was on my way to help my father-in-law at the skilled nursing facility, which is situated behind the high school in Hixson, and the new middle school. I drove from my old home down Middle Valley Road, past Boy Scout, Lower Mill and Shelby Circle.
My thoughts turned to memories of my dad.
Though not an uncommon occurrence, I found I was having difficulty remembering details—such as how he smelled, or the sound of his laugh, or even the tenor of his voice. Time has blurred and blunted the edges of all my memories. What I have left of my dad can only be recalled in pieces and parts, faded pictures, the way he said my name or sang a Willie Nelson tune.
In May he was gone twenty-nine years. However, I lost him long before May 28, 1988. When I was thirteen, mom divorced dad after fourteen years and he took off to Florida to work for his dad in construction. He ended up working for a friend, driving a rig to haul mobile home wheels and axles all over Florida. I never knew the full nature or details of his job, but I later learned it had little to do with work.
He also began to live a completely different life. He didn’t go fishing anymore. He stopped listening to country music and instead he listened to rock or pop music. He gave up his camo and jeans, bib overalls and t-shirts and work boots for Panama shirts, shorts and flip-flops. Instead of driving his beloved Bronco, he had a cream-colored T-top Corvette. He grew his hair out and permed it. He wore a gold chain around his neck and a gold ring on his pinkie finger, his skin even darker from being on the beach, and his new pastime was women, alcohol, and drugs. Most of the time, one could find him at the nearest ABC Liquor Lounge, somewhere along US 19 in Pasco or Pinellas counties.
We all lose people in different ways, at different times, and in subtle or sudden moments that take our breath and leave us lying flat on the ground. Sometimes the memories are sharp and stinging. Other times, they waft over us like a gentle breeze.
Today, when I realized I could barely recall my dad’s voice, I grieved his loss all over again, in a different way.
Grief does that to you. You don’t lose people all at once. You lose them over time. No matter how it happens, the pain doesn’t go away, but dulls and fades with the daylight and grows dim in the accumulation of nights under a moonless sky. A lost moment of memory, the inability to picture a smile or remember the sound of a voice, brings the pain back with clarity—but the diminished pieces held remain faded. Nothing can bring them back, and nothing can stop the deterioration.
On Mother’s Day I heard from my two oldest sons and my step-daughter. My daughter? She continues to cut me off. My youngest son won’t answer my messages. Even when I called my daughter on her birthday at work, she hung up on me.
They don’t realize how fleeting this life can be. My dad died when he was only 41 years-old. Any of us can go at any time, for any reason. Life is fragile. We don’t respect it nearly enough.
So Father’s Day is hard, like Mother’s Day. It seems we make things harder than they need be.
Go hug your mom or dad, spouse, sibling, child or friend. When you do, make a mental note of the feel, taste, and smell of that moment. One day, even when the memory of it is all you have, you will lose it, too.