I have a memory of my Daddy that I’ve thought back on so often that the corners of the memory are wearing thin like the pages of my favorite books. It is as comforting as the blanket I carried and then slept with for years and years (and still sleeps in the back corner of my bottom drawer). I pull it out and think on it when I feel small and lost.
When I was in early elementary, Daddy came after school to pick me up. That was very unusual because he normally didn’t get off from work until 4:30 in the afternoon. Mama nearly always picked us up. Except for that brief time in the third grade when they let me ride the bus. Until a couple of days into it when the bus driver passed my house and dropped me off four doors down. Back then it seemed like a very long walk home. When the driver came back by, headed to the school, Mama flagged him down and let him know she was not pleased. He knew where I lived, but he hadn’t stopped in time. Yeah, Mama could be a fierce Mama Bear when she needed to be. I hope to be just like her.
I think we’d had some kind of party at school the day Daddy came to pick me up, maybe even the last day before Thanksgiving break, I’m not sure. Mama had sent me with something incredible she’d fixed in a Tupperware dish. I had my bookbag, lunchbox, and this empty dish to carry. For some reason it seemed more hectic than usual that day with all of these big high school people wandering around, heads taller than me, seeming adult-like in their size and attitudes. I looked around and I remember seeing Daddy materialize almost in front of my eyes. This guy I thought was one of the high schoolers took a step towards me and I realized, That’s my Daddy.
He always did look young for his age.
And that’s what has always struck me about that day when I replay it over and over. Sunshiny day, vibrant colors, lots of people moving in crowds with a sense of purpose, and then he steps in front of me. I have laughed over the years about the fact that I thought my Daddy who was easily in his early thirties at that time was in high school.
I was remembering it the other day, and I looked closer. I always focused on the emotions I felt (relief, happiness, joy, love) when I saw my Daddy and realized who he was. But this last time, I looked at my Daddy’s expression. His eyes lit up, and he seemed relieved to have found me. It was obvious he had been searching through the crowds all over. And then we found each other.
I understand a lot more about God from how my Daddy lived and treated each one of us. I’m not saying he was perfect, but he did walk in the dust of the Rabbi, at least how I see it. My Daddy was a man of few words sometimes. He wasn’t a churchgoer for the most of his life either. But he set an example without ever saying a word of how to live, and that example was full of love, compassion, giving, truth, and kindness. When I was seeing this memory in a new light, I thought about how Daddy was looking for me in this great crowd and didn’t stop until he found me. I suddenly understood the story from the Good Book about the lost sheep so much better. According to the story found in Luke 15:1-7, the Shepherd will leave his 99 sheep to go after the one that is lost. It was always a comforting story and now even more so. He could have given up and let me try to find him when the crowd cleared or when I decided to go to where he was. He could have gone to the office and let someone else find me. No. He came and looked for me himself. Beautiful. And humbling, to think that I am worth that. That my Daddy and God would come after me whether I’m lost in a crowd of people or in a pasture of green grass, flowers, and trees. Neither of them gave up on me.
Today we drove out to Little Union Cemetery at the request of our Princess who will always remember the significance of this day, because it’s the day after her birthday. We passed by so many landmarks that trigger other Daddy memories. The road we biked on to get to our Granny’s–a LONG ride. The road that we drove on when he helped my oldest and me move to our first ever house. The road we turned on so many times I could do it blindfolded–the one that led to Granny’s. And then. The spot where Daddy had finally had enough. He had come as soon as I called and said I needed help. And with an intense love and protection that can only come from a good Daddy like him, he let anyone around him know, raising his voice choked with emotion, “That’s my baby right there.” And I was safe. I cried because I had made him tearful. I think maybe God is that way too. God looks around and sees the choices we are making and, as hard as it is, sits there biding time until we have had enough and cry out, “Help me. Make me safe.” And then God steps in with emotion and a passion born of great love for us, “That’s one of mine. Don’t hurt her anymore.”
Oh how my Daddy loved us. As my dear friend Weezer would say, “Warts and all.” He never stopped coming when we needed him, and he loved us with a quiet fierceness that was the greatest comfort of all.
It’s been two years ago this afternoon since my Daddy went on up to The House. It’s been a hard day. For so many reasons, but mostly because it’s been two years. We keep moving away from the time when he was still here to hug, to shake hands with, to listen to, to ask his thoughts about something. Or to make laugh. Oh goodness me, how I loved to make him laugh.
Thankful that these things matter to a new nine-year old, I took time to go out to the cemetery today for our Princess and for me and for our family. We stopped by Blackberry Flats, and I stood and looked out the window that was Daddy’s view for over thirty years from his recliner that sat next to it. When he came home from the hospital for the last time, we had a hospital bed waiting to keep him comfortable and to help us better care for him. And we put it next to his window. This was the same view I saw in the moments I stood with the strong women I love–my Mama, his sisters, my sisters–as we listened to his breath growing quieter and quieter until he was finished with this battle with Goliath, and it was over.
After I looked back at some of the pictures this afternoon and listened to the quiet, the crew and I loaded back up and headed over to the cemetery. I love the drive over there. It’s just over the county line, I think, and the land out there just feeds my soul. Mama said it’s because our people lived around there. And she might be right. That is one beautiful ride. It’s the kind Sunday drives were created for. When we got there, I stopped to look and remember. It was my Princess’ birthday two years ago just after lunch that I had planned to meet our sweet and kind funeral director out there about Daddy’s plot. We had just shared my girl’s birthday lunch with Mama, and Princess had finished her birthday treasure hunt. It was about to storm, and Mama didn’t want me to go. Call him. Just wait until tomorrow, she said. But I felt deep in my heart that I had to go then. I met Mr. K out there, and I loved the spot immediately. It had been a while since I’d been out there, but when I saw this path I knew. Perfect.
Mr. K nodded. “Yes, that’ll do just fine. But I hope I won’t be seeing you about this for a long, long time.”
It was a little over 24 hours later. Bless him, he and his wife are two of the most caring folks I’ve met. They were called to do what they do, and they are good at loving on folks in the hardest of times.
Tonight, two years after I tried to sleep with Mama in her bed, and then moved to lay with Mess Cat on hers and we all played musical beds, I am thankful for this day of remembering. My Daddy and my Mama are the reason I know how to behave. They often said, “Know better, do better, and folks’ll like you better.” And if that ain’t the truth, I don’t know what is. Some folks don’t have the truth in them and we call them “liars.” My Daddy was a truther. I expect he could tell a tall tale for entertainment purposes, but he didn’t have an untruthful bone in his body. As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, “…..the truth will out.” Daddy knew this, and he didn’t play. He didn’t accept less than the truth, from himself or others.
When our Princess walked up to the graves with me today, she smiled and said in that way she has that I’m sure has God and everyone else smiling and high fiving at what a good job they did on THAT one, “Oh look, it looks like they’re holding hands, the way the dirt goes across at the bottom.” Oh baby girl, there is NO doubt that is exactly what they are doing. Their love was something special.
I know not all men are created equally, at least when it comes to being daddies. Some know how almost instinctively, some don’t. Some learn as they go, and others never do. But I also know this–my Daddy was one of the best. He taught me more about God’s love and pursuit and protection of us than any preaching from a pulpit ever did. He was a good Daddy and a treasured friend, and I miss him with every breath.