Friday, July 2, 2010

"All I Have Is A Fifty Dollar Bill!"

There is a cartoon I cut out of a magazine in 1992 and pasted into a scrapbook I made for Mom and Dad for their 50th wedding anniversary of a husband and a wife on separate sides of a dollar bill.  Both are tugging on the dollar like two teams in a tug-o-war.  It was such a fitting cartoon to describe moments with them.  They didn't really fight much about money (at least in the later years), but there was always a running conversation regarding whose money was going to be used for a purchase.  Dad would usually tell Mom to pay for something small and her comment would always be that she had too big a bill or she hadn't cashed a check yet or she didn't have enough cash was usually something.  Dad would always respond in argumentative fashion just to give her grief.  He didn't deny her money or try to control the spending, it just became their banter.  Dad always enjoyed it more than Mom did.  She often didn't recognize the humor in his approach.  Hmmm, sounds familiar.  Anyway, this banter happened often enough that when I saw the cartoon, it immediately seemed fitting for the scrapbook.

Jim and I were driving around his hometown of Springfield, Vermont yesterday when I found myself smiling and laughing as I remembered a time with Mom and Dad in the Walmart in Sanford.  Poor Mom, it was a total set-up.  The three of us headed to Walmart for a few purchases.  As was usual, we ended up with a few more purchases than planned.  There were only one or two cashiers at registers and the lines were long.  For whatever reason, the three of us had drawn the attention of the other people waiting in line ahead of us.  Mom remembered something she forgot and quickly headed back to grab it.  As soon as she was out of hearing distance, my dad turned to the other customers and said in exasperation, "Watch.  I'm going to tell her to pay for this stuff and she's going to tell me that all she has is a fifty dollar bill.  She does it to me all the time.  She never wants to pay for anything."  He went on and on in comical fashion "entertaining the troops" so to speak.  Soon, Mom returned and she asked Dad how he wanted to pay for the items.  "Why don't you pay for it, Theresa," he said.  IMMEDIATELY, Mom said vehemently, "Ernest, all I have is a fifty dollar bill!  I can't pay with that!"  Uproarious laughter ensued from both lines and my dad just turned to them and shrugged like, "See what I told you?"  Mom just looked confused.

The thing my dad neglected to inform the crowd of was the fact that he'd just given my mom that fifty dollar bill before they'd left the house.  Total set-up. 

Dad always enjoyed a little joke.  Mom was often confused.  Gotta love 'em both.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Time Goes By

Two years ago today, I woke to the beautiful view of the Austrian Alps rising outside the window of the inn where Jim and I were staying.  It was the morning I was to open an email which confirmed what I had felt strongly the night before---that my dad was gone.  To think two years have passed since then does not seem possible.
                        The day Dad returned from a year in Seoul, Korea.  I was 10 y.o.
When I remember the last time I saw him, I always remember how his hands felt in mine.  Dad's hands always seemed massive to me, but as he aged they seemed to become more soft and gentle.  On his ring finger was simply a well-worn gold wedding band and his Army ring with the dark red stone.  I can picture those hands so easily and several snapshots come to mind.

The day I got married, both Mom and Dad walked me down the aisle.  I thought Dad would loop my arm in his as is the tradition, but no, that was       Mom.  Instead, Dad took my hand as we made our way toward Jim.  There was incredible comfort in feeling the warmth of my hand in his.  I was not nervous and I did not have doubts, but still I found comfort in his touch.  I knew as he took my hand that he was saying, "I love you, Jan-Marie."  I think Dad still had a few doubts about Jim in that moment, but he grew to love and appreciate the goodness of his son-in-law with time.

When Jordan was three months old, we held her baptism on Father's Day.  Back at our house afterward, Dad stood in the kitchen holding her up, his large left hand holding her head and his right hand holding her bottom while the gown Suzanne had made draped down.  He was talking to her tenderly and calling her "Little Girl".  My heart twinged with happiness to catch the sweet moments of the gruff and grumbly Army man holding this tiny baby girl.

When I was five or six, I watched those hands strum his guitar at Uncle Min and Aunt Simone's house while I sang "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".  Those hands were often strumming that guitar at family gatherings or playing that organ that I hated on Christmas Eve.  We could depend on a rousing rendition of "Look Out the Window, Look Out the Window, see the snowflakes fall..." or some other festive song while the rest of us loudly chatted and paid him no nevermind.  Of course, this moment of inattention was always addressed with Dad saying sarcastically, "Your applause deafens me, I'm sure!"

Oh, Dad.  I miss you.

The last time I was with Dad was when I went home for two
weeks the April/May before his death.  My little friend, Clella, was there the night before we returned to Indiana because she'd traveled with me to visit her daughter in Maine.  Clella slept in the guest bedroom and I slept on two loveseat cushions on the floor.  I didn't sleep well that night.  I truly didn't want to leave, but I also wanted to get on the road early in order to miss Massachusetts rush hour traffic and get home to Indiana in good time.  I was afraid my cell phone alarm would not go off and I would oversleep.  Well, that didn't happen---unbeknownst to me until after I'd already showered, I'd set the alarm for 3 a.m., not 4.  Clella and I decided to just get up and get on the road anyway.  I went into Dad's room  to let him know we were heading out.  Again, he held my hand and gave me a kiss goodbye.  I told him not to get up and he asked, "You don't mind?"  That killed me like a stab wound to the heart.   Those three words told me so much in that instant that I did not want to hear.  Dad always, always got up to make us breakfast before each trip back to the midwest.  It was just his way of showing his love (and it helped to dissolve some of his worry for our traveling).  For him to not have the energy to even get up to say goodbye told me just how far his illness had progressed.  But he still held my hand and he told me to drive carefully.  Before I left, I grabbed a little yellow 3" x 3" sticky note and wrote "I love you, Dad".  I stuck it to the coffee pot just before I headed out the door.  When Clella and I pulled out of the apartment complex parking lot, tears streamed down my face.  I believed it would be the last time I would see him.  I didn't want that to be true, but I knew and it was.  In all the years of living in Indiana, I never left a visit to Maine without knowing that I'd said what I needed to say.  I did not ever want to look back and say, "I wish I'd told them this or that".  Mom knew.  Dad knew.  My only regret is not being able to be with each of them when they died.

I left Sanford that morning the first few days of May.  When I returned to his apartment the week of his funeral at the end of June, that sticky note was sticking to the front of one of the kitchen cabinet doors.  I lost my breath and cried to see it still there.  I couldn't take it down in that moment, that would make it too final.  I would wait until it was time once again to leave Sanford for home at the end of the week.
                                                                On the visor of my Honda

December 27, 2007, Mom died.

June 9, 2008, Dad died.

October 21, 2008, Jim's mom died.

December 29, 2008, Suzanne died.

All in 367 days.

So, here it is two years later and I find that I don't miss Mom, Dad, Suzanne or Barb any less.  I just appreciate the memories and the photographs of them all the more.

The hands of time move on.  The hands of love hold us forever.