Fear And Loathing With A Dash Of Anger

When my dad retired about 15 years ago, along with wood crafting and front porch sitting, he took up metal detecting.  It’s been a great way for him to be out and about, get some exercise and occasionally bring home a treasure or two. 

He keeps a tally of his findings and on average he digs up a couple of hundred dollars in loose change every year.  He also digs up a shoebox full of Hot Wheels cars which he cleans up and gives away to grandkids or neighborhood kids or any other kid he happens to come across.

One morning last week, the weather was still nice so Dad decided he would go metal detecting one last time before it gets too cold.

He was walking in a familiar and well travelled area, near a school and across from a church, when he noticed a teenage boy walking towards him.  For whatever reason, he got a bad vibe and decided to head for his car. The kid came up to my dad and asked him for some money. My dad said “no” and kept walking. The kid grabbed at him.  My dad swung his metal detector and whacked him good upside the head, hard enough that it busted a chunk off the base.  My dad lost his balance and fell backwards to the ground. At that point, the criminal got up, pointed a gun at my dad and demanded his wallet.  Of course my dad handed it over. The kid took the cash, all of $21, threw the wallet down and ran off.

Since I found out about this incident, I have been sick to my stomach thinking of what could have happened. And I have also been thanking God over and over and over for what didn’t happen.

My dad twisted his back when he fell, but other than that he is no worse for the wear. He is 76 years old and for all intents and purposes he kicked that kid’s ass and I take pleasure in that.  A lot of pleasure.

I suppose I should be praying for that kid, that he will turn from his evil ways, but what I really find in my heart right now is the desire that he rot in hell.  When you mess with my kid or my parents all bets are off.

I am a Christian, just not a very good one.

Getting Turned Around

While both of my parents are easy going sorts, their parenting styles were quite different.

My mom had very elastic limits. You could push her quite a bit before she pushed back. And even then she would go out of her way to help you make a good choice and avoid getting into trouble. My dad on the other hand, although an extremely patient and quiet man, had clear limits. No meant no the first time.

Sean learned this the hard way when my parents were here visiting last month.

Wivian and Papa Ed were walking behind Sean as he screamed down the jogging trail on his red Radio Flyer tricycle. As they approached the street, my dad told Sean to stop and turn around. Being stiff-necked and headstrong like his mother, Sean decided that he’d rather go on ahead. My dad gave him one last warning to turn back, which is one more than I ever got. When Sean still refused to yield, my dad picked up his tricycle with Sean on it, still pedaling furiously like the Wicked Witch of the West, and turned him in the opposite direction. He set him firmly down and then gave his tricycle a little shove from behind with his foot for emphasis.

Sean was a bit taken aback but he got the message that Papa Ed meant business. And he hasn’t forgotten it either.

When I told Sean that Wivian would be here in a few weeks, he said, “Well tell her not to bring Papa Ed. He turned me around!”

Yes, Sean. Papa Ed turned you around. That’s what good parents do. They turn you around when you are heading for danger and get you back on the path.

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Departure Day

Nothing has been more healing to me this past week than to see Sean interact with my parents. He simply adores them. And the feeling, of course, is mutual. Whereas I shaved about 20 years off their lives back in the 70s, he has added that many years and more back, just in the past week. He makes them laugh, and to hear the three of them giggling together, all caught up in some private joke, is a joyful noise.

I did not grow up with grandparents. Regrettably. And I guess we all want for our children that which we did not have ourselves. To see his eyes light up when my dad walks into the room or to watch him maneuver to sit next to my mother or hold her hand has blessed me and filled me beyond what I could describe here.

Yesterday morning at breakfast, my mother mentioned something about when they would be leaving, and no kidding, in mid-bite Sean dropped his fork to his plate. He could not believe his ears. He was incredulous. “You can’t leave!” he gasped in disbelief. “You can’t go!” He searched all the faces at the table for someone who would tell him it wasn’t so. It had not occurred to him that they would ever leave.

Last night after Antique Daddy had bathed and dressed him for bed, he scampered up the stairs to jump into bed between them to tell them goodnight. Papa Ed tells it that Wivian suggested to him that she might just take him home in her suitcase. “Okay!” he exclaimed. And then he sprang out of bed, dumped all of Papa Ed’s clothes out of his suitcase and onto the floor, tucked himself inside and pulled the lid shut. Then he popped open the lid like a jack-in-the-box and announced victoriously, “See!? I fit!” As if that sealed the deal.

Then, in the middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of teeny tiny jingle bells – the familiar sound of Mr. Monkey accompanied by Sean, both stealing up the stairs to the room where my parents sleep.

“Sean!” I whispered in my stern mommy voice from the bottom of the stairs, “Get down here! What are you doing? It’s 4am.” He whispered back in a little boy way that is not really a whisper, “Oh, I was just going upstairs to look at Wivian.”

The image of him kneeling beside the bed, gazing upon the form of my sleeping mother made my heart stop. And in that split second of frozen eternity I allowed myself to wonder what he will remember of her. Maybe nothing more than looking upon the shadow and line of her face in the transparent moonlight as she slept. Maybe only that she adored him. And that would be enough.

Departure day is upon us and it is going to be a sad, sad day all around.

And let me tell you, there’s going to be an airport-style baggage check too.

What You Get For 52 Years

It is earlier in the week. We are sitting around the breakfast table. I am not actually sitting, I’m kind of slouched over in my chair with my head on the table because I’m still feeling like last night’s piñata from my adventures in organ removal. But I’m pretending. I’m trying real hard. My parents are reading the newspaper. Sean is being Sean.

My dad looks up from the newspaper and over his eggs and toast, he says, “Hmmph!” as though he’s just discovered something. And he has. He just noticed the day’s date and that today is their 52nd wedding anniversary. In the chaos and the crazy of the past week, everyone had forgotten.

Dad scans the heartwarming Norman Rockwell scene around the table: his doped up middle-aged daughter with her face in her plate, his grandson spooning yogurt down his pajamas and his bride of 52 years obliviously working a Sudoku puzzle.

From the look on my dad’s face, I was guessing that maybe he was imagining himself as a young man standing at the altar of St. Al’s 52-years ago, full of youth and hope, kissing my pretty mom with his hands around her tiny waist. Or maybe he was thinking he just didn’t see this coming.

Nonetheless.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad. We’ll celebrate next year, except without the morphine.

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Because My Dad Is All That And A Gourmet Cook Too

In 1965, I was in Mrs. Kelly’s afternoon kindergarten class at Wanless Elementary School. Because my parents were young and poor, my dad worked nights and my mom worked at a bank during the day. That meant that my dad had to look after me in the morning and get me to school.

My dad has never changed a diaper or gotten involved in the care and feeding of his kids. Most men of his generation just didn’t interact with their kids like they do today and that’s a shame. But that’s just the way it was. In spite of his nearly queasy discomfort with childcare, he took care of me every school day for an entire year. He fixed my lunch, made sure I had on some kind of clothes and then took me to school in our beloved car that we called Clunker #2 (which was later replaced with Clunker #3).

Every day before school, my dad boiled a hot dog, put it on a fork and served it up on a Correlle dinner plate garnished with a splotch of ketchup for dipping. I remember sitting at the kitchen table eating my hot dog in silence and watching my dad read the newspaper. He didn’t pay much attention to me, but I didn’t mind. Our relationship has always been about just hanging out.

After lunch, he would stand me up on the bathroom sink and awkwardly try to wipe ketchup off my face as I flitted and twitched and fidgeted. 41 years later, I now understand the difficulty of this feat. Then in an exercise of futility, he would clumsily try to convince a comb through my unruly hair before we headed out the door for school.

Looking back, my dad was a pretty sorry mom. He would be the first one to admit that. But I don’t remember it that way. I remember thinking he was a gourmet cook, even after hot dog #83. I remember sitting at the kitchen table and being fascinated with how his soft brown arm hair laid around his wrist watch. I remember sitting beside him on the front seat of Clunker #2 unable to see anything but the dashboard and bumping down North Grand on the way to school. But mostly, I just remember it as being a special time when it was just me and my dad.

And that gives me hope. It gives me hope that Sean won’t remember my many failings and shortcomings and ineptitude as a parent. But that maybe 41 years from now, he will just remember these days as a special time in his life.

Always

My parents left yesterday morning after a week-long visit.

When you start your family as late in life as I did, thoughts of time and how precious little there is of it, are never far away. When I look at my parents, I have to remind myself that they are not in their mid-40s, but in their mid-70s. I still think of my dad as a lean and wiry young man able to hurdle a 4-ft. fence. And I suppose that when they look at me they have to remind themselves that I’m in my mid-40s and not seven. No matter how many years go by, they’ll always be my mommy and daddy and I’ll always be their baby. After a week like this past one – one that went entirely too fast — I’d drain my bank account in exchange for the promise that I could get more time for Sean, for me, for all of us, before it all comes to pass.

The day after his Bivian and Papa Ed leave are always hard for Sean. He misses them and it takes some time for him to get over the fact that he is stuck with just me. So this afternoon as I was putting Sean down for his nap, I took some extra time to read to him and for a time, he let me just cradle him. His head rested in the crook of my arm and his long legs draped over the edge of the arm of the rocker. For a long time, we just sat there in silence listening to the sounds of the day – the creaking of the rocker, a lawn mower in the distance, an airplane, a passing car. As I looked long into his face, without realizing it, I wondered out loud “Where did my baby go?” He reached up and touched my face and whispered, “Here I am.”

When I’m 89 and he’s 46, I’ll still be his mommy and he’ll still be my baby.

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PHOTO: Sean with Bivian who showed him how to decorate a stick wasting using an entire bolt of Christmas ribbon. Liberal usage of ribbon, scissors and tape is just one reason why Bivian is way more fun than Mommy.