By William Carter
In just a few days it will be twenty-five years since my dad passed away.
On that day, I will call Mama and we will be sad together for awhile, and on that day all of my many sisters and my brother will show up at her house and they will all be sad together, too.
I don’t think the date is fixed in any of our minds. We don’t count down the days or make preparations. What happens, I think, is that a week or so before there is a tug on the invisible threads connecting my Mama and my brother and my sisters and me that reminds us it is time for remembering what we have missed…that it is time, just for that day to somehow with our memories make the family whole again.
Mama will cry a little bit when I call, and so will I. But, inevitably, one of us will ask the other: “Do you remember when he…?” And we remember and remember and then the laughter comes when those stacked up stories about my old man are taken off the shelves in our memories to be dusted off and read again. That day turns into a celebration of sorts.
We remember how badly he danced and how he somehow managed to find and loved to
wear the most hideously-patterned Bermuda shorts known to man. We remember when he destroyed one corner of the living-room floor with a garden hoe while valiantly trying to protect the family from an evil, eight-inch chicken snake.
We remember rides with him down rutted, red dirt roads and we remember plum-picking and illegal fireworks smuggled out of Alabama and how he couldn’t be beaten at Scrabble. We talk about the time he brought a smelly, old Billy goat home and conspired with my sisters and me to keep it hidden from Mama.
I remember trips to “Mr. Joe’s”—an old honky-tonk on the edge of town—with him when I was 5 or 6 years old where I watched him play pool and drink beer and joke around with his buddies from my bar-top perch with a bottomless bottle of Coke in my hand. It was bribery in exchange for my promise never to tell Mama where we’d been.
We remember weird times and strange times and fun times and even think kindly on times that were not so good.
We remember and remember. And we cry some and then laugh a lot more. We wish he were still with us because no one wants the love of their life to leave them; no one wants their daddy to die.
Sometimes when the days are gray and there is no one else around and every move I make seems hollow or wasted or untrue, I want to talk to him. I want to tell him things no one else will ever know and for him to tell me that everything will be okay…that everything is all right. I want his hand on my shoulder and the sound of his voice in my ear.
I want to be that boy on the bar-top again.
My old man was not perfect by any means except that he was perfect for us. There was absolutely nothing storybook about him, or typical, or even remotely “Father Knows Best”.
Days with him were filled with extreme and unexpected things…from surprise gifts to his sometimes terrifying, black moods. A room full of people could seem empty until he walked through the door; parties never really started without him.
His work ethic was matched only, but never surpassed, by his penchant for play, or poker, or Pabst Blue Ribbon. I can barely take a step through my hometown without being stopped by someone who wants to tell me a story about him or tell me how much they miss him. I can barely take a step down home without feeling he is right beside me.
My old man had demons, but he fought them later in his life and I like to think he won. I like to think that on that final day of his too-short life, as all of us gathered around him hoping against hope, that he knew he absolutely left us all with enough to remember him by; that, even twenty-five years later, our memories of him are still brand new.
I like knowing those invisible threads connecting my Mama and my brother and my sisters and me are still being tugged by him.
He’s reminding us to cry a little bit; to laugh a lot more.
He’s reminding us to celebrate.
William Carter is a longtime Franklin city employee and published author.
Posted on: 9/18/2013