by Molly Jo Realy @MollyJoRealy
August 4th is always worth remembering. At least in my family. It’s not a holiday. No anniversary or birthday. It’s much more somber. It’s the day my Dad died.
And this time, it’s been thirty years. It just happened; it happened a lifetime ago.
I was young, then; in age and in mind. I was 13 with no mind to chase boys but less desire to play with dolls. I was in that stage. I sat at the kitchen table looking through the brand new JCPenney’s winter catalog. The one that every kid waited for. The pretty girls in sweaters on the cover. The hundred pages of toys in the back. The catalog was delivered in that afternoon’s mail, and it was always a treat when Mom said we could open its pages. She knew it meant wishlists and yearnings for things we could not afford, and days of begging for early allowances. But she was good about it all; taking it in stride of being a parent, and let me look.
It was hot. Hot the way August is always hot in the midwest: sticky and stifling. The air conditioner lent itself to a damp cooling inside.
Dad had come home from work early that afternoon. I was the only one around. It was a pleasant surprise, he wasn’t due back in town until that evening. Dad was the manager for a tri-state sales route. His team looked to him for leadership. He was good at what he did. I think it was in his blood.
He drove up, and I was thrilled. Just me. Just him. Some quality time. Unfortunately, at 13 years of age, a girl’s idea of quality time with her dad doesn’t typically mean house cleaning or mowing the lawn. But that’s what Dad had in mind. He wanted to do for my mom, what she always did. He wanted to take care of house and home.
I wish I would have known… I wouldn’t have complained. I would have helped, I would have been happier. I would have… done anything.
It was a few hours later when my brother walked home from his “business” of selling sodas to thirsty golfers two blocks away. It was his best day so far that summer. He was excited that Dad was already there to share in his accomplishment.
Mom’s coffeepot had a plug-in timer (before pots themselves were manufactured with them built in). The timer was defective, not always working. Sometimes the coffee would brew too early, or worse, not at all. So Dad had brought a replacement. “Shh,” he smiled, hiding the packaging after he installed the new one. “Don’t tell Mom. It’s a surprise.”
Mom came home shortly after and got busy making dinner. Corned beef and cabbage boiled on the stovetop in her old green pots and pans ~ the same green pots and pans that were mimicked in my kitchen playset. The aroma was Irish. Every so often, she’d ask me to put something on the table, or move something from it. As long as I could keep dreaming with the catalog, I was content to earn my pages.
Dad was in the Front Room. That’s what we called it back then. The living room. The TV room. The sitting room. All rolled into one. The Front Room. He was sitting in his black BarcaLounger, and it stuck to his arms and legs with a sticky ripping sound every time he moved for his ice water.
My brother was in the room with him; they were catching up, watching TV, being guys.
I heard my Dad call for Mom. She went to him, and I heard the panic in her voice. He wasn’t responding. I tried to look at the catalog, but it was confusing. The pictures blurred, but I didn’t want to look away. I didn’t want to be pulled from my dreaming into reality.
The neighbor-husband came. Did my brother get him, or did he just hear our screams? There was talk about phone calls, and people on the way, and more yelling.
This isn’t real. I stood between the Front Room and the kitchen; between before and after. I saw my dad laid on the floor, I saw the neighbor breathing into him. And I walked away. I went to my room and knelt and prayed.
This is my fault. I wasn’t happy to see him earlier. But, God, I’ve learned my lesson. And if you let him stay, I promise to love my dad more. I promise to do the chores without complaining. I promise…
But God had his own plans. Dad had a massive coronary. And at 6:04 that evening, I wrote in my vinyl-covered kid diary, “Dad just died.”
And my life was split between “Before” and “After”.
Before Dad died, we swam in the pool together. He took my brothers camping, but not me because I was a girl. I baked play-doh pies for him. We played Atari together.
After Dad died, we moved to California. I grew up. I had a daughter of my own. I take her to Disneyland. She paints. We play Wii together.
And I write. I remember, and I write.
I remember fireflies caught in spider webs along the highway. I remember backyard camp-outs and Sparklers on the Fourth of July. I remember the garden and big tomatoes. I remember teaching him how to read to us like Mom does, “with the voices”. I remember long drives to Grandma’s house, and beer-batter smelt, and a yard overwhelmed by dandelions which he always claimed was a weed but we didn’t believe him. I remember the story of the Bear Rug, that I still have. I remember the Rockford Files. I remember whiffle balls and crooked swingsets and building cardboard forts. I remember going into hysterics that night when Mom went to plug in the coffee pot timer; and I revealed Dad’s last act of love for her.
I remember you, Dad. I remember you like yesterday. I still miss you that much. And I know you’re proud. I love you back.
And Frankly, My Dear… that’s all she wrote!