17 June 2017

I Miss You Daddy...Thoughts of Saturday Mornings, Warm Coffee and Pipe Tobacco

Before dementia began eroding my parents' lives, and even after it began, every single Saturday Morning I would run downstairs, my Mom would be in the kitchen trying to figure out how to put cereal in the bowl but not wanting any help, and I would pour two large mugs of coffee with just a tad of cream, place it on a pewter serving tray that a coal mining executive had given my dad decades earlier, and slip into my parents bedroom. It was usually about 10:30 or 11:00 am, and my dad would be sound asleep. I'd put the tray down, run over to his desk and fill his favorite pipe with the proper amount of tobacco (I learned this from an early age), grab his lighter and then gently scoot in beside him and say, "hey, are you going to sleep all day?". After a few seconds he'd wake up, slowly open his eyes and I'd be holding his mug of coffee. A smile would light up his face. "Well, look at this - room service!! I love you, honey!". We'd settle in and I'd prop him up in bed with several pillows, by now either Sailor or Cleo would be on the bed along with us, and I'd hand my dad his pipe which he would promptly light and another smile would break out as he took possession of his coffee. "Mmmmmmm...now this is good.".

This became our Saturday and Sunday Morning ritual. After dad was awake enough to draw on his pipe and sip his coffee, he'd begin regaling me with tales...stories I'd heard countless times but with his Jimmy Stewart-esque delivery, I never ever got tired of hearing them. He'd tell me about the time his family moved from Itmann to Keyrock, and how his brothers, Otis and Dick were in charge of walking with their cow, "Old Pet", through the mountains to their new residence and how, when the rest of the family had settled into their new house for the night, his Mom and Dad were getting visibly concerned because Dick and Otis hadn't arrived yet. FINALLY, they arrived just as darkness was falling and the family was reunited. Or maybe he'd tell me about the times he had to "sit up all night with dead", a practice that was common back in the 1930's - 1950's in southern WV. "What in the world would you do, Daddy?", I'd ask every single time. "Well, we ate a LOT of food and situated our chairs around the coffin that was usually in the living room or dining room. We'd tell stories and try not to nod off!". I'd ask him, "why did people do that? what were they expecting to happen?". He'd laugh and say, "I don't know honey, it was just something we did...out of respect.". But he added, "oh sometimes we'd get to telling stories and laugh and have a good time!". I would smile because I knew if my Dad was in the middle of it, it had to be an entertaining evening.
Sometimes he'd tell me stories about his time in the US Navy...lots of funny stories and a few that would break my heart no matter how many times I heard them. Then, as I often did, we'd bring it back to the 1960's and I'd pull out a diary from, say, 1966 and the first time we vacationed at Wrightsville Beach and the little cottage we rented facing the Sound. He'd always vividly describe my eyes when I first saw the ocean - how mesmerized I was - "You LOVED it! Right away! You never wanted to leave!" and then, we'd marvel at how we lived just a few short miles from that spot and how much history had passed between us.

I now look back at those Saturday Mornings and I swear I can almost smell his pipe and see the steam coming up from those special cups of coffee. He'd throw his arm around me and always, always we finished up with a hug and he'd look me straight in the eye and say, "thank you for taking such good care of your old Mom and Dad". I drop tears when I remember those golden moments, but I smile as well.
When you're in the middle of such moments, on some level you know they won't last forever, but you can't and must not dwell too much on that because it will take away from the present, from the magic of it all. I never really allowed myself to consider that this wouldn't go on forever, even though intellectually I knew that it could not.
On this day before Father's Day, I look around my bedroom and I have a large bookcase next to the secretary that my parents bought around the same time I arrived on the scene. In the bookcase is every single volume of my Dad's diaries; forty-seven years of our shared lives are in those handwritten books. I haven't read all of them - but I look over at them and I feel my Daddy right here with me. Every word he wrote was deliberate and a tangible legacy of the lives we were blessed to share together.

My Dad was simply the quintessential perfect father - the guy you would surreptitiously connive with to get Mom to agree to something she wouldn't normally acquiesce. The man you could confidently share your dreams and also your deepest fears with in complete safety and without any fear of being made to feel silly or ridiculous. He was the comforting hug as I went through a divorce, the stalwart cheerleader when I acknowledged that it was time for me to get sober, the champion who always figured out a solution to a situation that perplexed me and the guy who made me believe I was so much more courageous, stronger and smarter than I would often feel. He became that voice that challenged me to step up to the plate, no matter what it was, and congratulate me when I did - whether it was finally leaping off a diving board when I was ten years old, or the night before major surgery when I was 34 years old or right before an interview for a job I really wanted. In my eyes, he was as close to the "perfect father" I could ever imagine - a fount of love, encouragement, understanding, humor and delicious mischief!!

Daddy, this is my second Father's Day without you and even though I miss you as much as I did in the hours after you left this earth, I'm so GRATEFUL for the stock of memories you left me with. I feel your direction, hear your voice and honestly am aware of your presence every single day and what an amazing gift that is!! I miss our Saturday Morning coffee klatches but my gosh, weren't we incredibly blessed to have so many of them?? I know that's what YOU'D say because you always spun grief into gratitude - and I'm learning to do the very same thing. Thank you for being the most incredible father anyone could ever hope to have and for loving and providing for our family through everything. I personally hope you're sipping a cup of hot coffee, drawing on your pipe packed "just right" with your favorite tobacco and holding my Mom's hand because if you are doing those things, then I know you are happy and content.

I love you, I love you, I love you...always and forever.