I haven’t written anything here, or anywhere else for that matter, for some time because my father was dying, and now he’s been dead for a few weeks, and it’s taken me this long to sort out what I wanted to say. My sister, Julie, wrote a beautiful eulogy for his funeral. It’s never easy to eulogize someone, especially someone who was so loved by so many people and who lived such a long, rich life. Julie did a wonderful job of blending her personal memories along with family memories to express a full picture of our father. I’m not going to try to do that here. My relationship with him was complex in the way that happens when two people have very similar personalities and mostly different opinions. We often rubbed each other the wrong way. Probably because we saw the flaws we saw in ourselves in each other.
On the other hand, from a distance, I think we both appreciated each other. We shared a deep interest in people and animals and we were loved and trusted by a great many people. It took us a while to see that in each other, but I think we both got there. I never doubted that he loved me, even if he didn’t always like me, and I hope he understood that was true of me towards him as well. We argued a lot when I was younger, but as I got older I think we best expressed our love by not engaging in conversations we knew would piss the other one off. That may not seem like much, but it took real effort on both our parts, seeing as how we were both talkers and not afraid to pass our opinions. It was a much less contentious, much more quiet relationship than we’d had before, which if nothing else, was probably much appreciated by my mother. In the last decade or more, we’ve essentially stuck to topics like weather, football, dogs, and growing vegetables. The most interesting conversation we’ve had in years was this one about these two films. I still marvel that he wanted to watch them and that we actually agreed on their tragic similarities.
During the last month, in all the talk between Joan, Julie, my mother, my enormous family, and myself, one abiding memory keeps popping into my head. When I was in middle school, and we lived in Abingdon, Daddy and I were driving out of our subdivision when it started to rain. I have no idea where we were going or why but the sky opened up and it poured. We could barely see the road ahead when my father suddenly stopped the truck, put on the blinkers, jumped out of the cab leaving the door open, grabbed something from the side of the road, jumped back into the truck, and dropped a bird in my lap. It was just past fledging, probably only flying on its own for a day or two and it was completely soaked to the skin. I’m not sure what happened immediately after that. Did he continue with his errand while I waited in the truck with the bird? Did he turn the truck around and go right home? I don’t know. But I remember we put the bird in a cardboard box with a green towel and the next morning we took it out on the deck and it flew away. Why does this memory stick in my head with such unusual (for me) clarity? Was it the rescue of the bird? Was it the fact that he even saw the bird in such a downpour? I don’t know. But here’s my father in a nutshell: he was the kind of man who would stop in the middle of the road, in the pouring rain, to save a drowning bird. I loved that about him.