“Whither the wind blows, there you will find me driftin’, my wings stretched wide, my chest full of song.”
Every time I’d come to visit Dad, he’d have some little saying all ready and practiced. I’d act surprised and compliment him. The truth was, I’d heard such quips and proverbs all my life.
He’d fold his notebook and grin that lopsided grin. Seeing him smile always brought me back to times when we were out hunting, fishing or just walking the dog along some misty morning river. Smiles came easy back then. Even crooked, they still stung the corners of my eyes.
I blink hard. “That’s one for Hallmark. What’d you think they’d pay for that?” Fortunately, today’s oration hadn’t ended in a fit of coughing.
“What kind a goddamn card would they put that on? Weepy will-o-the-wisp cry yer eyes out because I’m dead, card?”
Now the coughing starts. I pass him the box of tissues and he plucks two, but by the sound of it, he probably needs three. He wipes his mouth, the tissue catching at his unshaven chin. He waves the trashcan close, shoots and hits.
“Three points,” he says with a flutter still in his throat. He clears it and swallows. “Naw,” he corrects himself. “That only be a free-throw, one point.”
That’s a surprise. Growing up, he never used sports metaphors unless they were true sports, fishing, hunting, mountaineering, no points involved in those. If you needed a ball and rules, it was a game. He’d told me long ago he’d learned that from Hemingway. True or false, Dad’s life had been organized with classifications like that. “Sure you have to fudge from time to time. But most things fall neatly into their allotted place. Provided,” he liked to pause for caveats. Caveats always made him smile. “Provided you had the foresight to categorize correctly in the first place.”
We chat for a while. That is, I chat, he listens. That’s one of his redeeming qualities. “Gather all that’s offered before you make the mistake of blurting out some half-cocked interpretation.”
I tell him of my goings on and he tries to follow my too-technical descriptions of the kids and their lives and how they are in constant conversation with each other.
“Like walkie-talkies? They talkin’ all the time? That must get on your nerves. That would get on my nerves.”
I’ve explained how this all works before and he catches himself and this false assumption.
“Typing. They’re not talking, they’re tap, tap, tappin’. I recall, now.” He pauses for a moment. “But that must get on your nerves, all that tap, tap, tappin’.”
I notice he’s sitting uncomfortably and imagine he’s been that way for some time. “You want my help?”
The smile he gives me is not the cheerful one like before. This one is his, “shut up and don’t embarrass me with my decrepitude,” smile. I help him from his reading chair and notice the wet spot on his pants. He brushes off my help and disappears into the room’s attached bathroom for a while. He keeps a commentary going so as to keep me from barging in. I would never do that. I know the man’s pride is wounded by age and ensuring he retains the last fragments of his dignity is one of my highest priorities.
“Alright if I read through your Hallmark highlights?”
“You go right ahead. Always was a busybody, you know.”
I can’t help but nod in agreement.
He’s got some good stuff in here. Like he said, will-o-the-wisp kind of language, but there are other pieces that have a solid, melancholy ring to them. Then there’s this one:
—The day is gone. Night has come and soon, even it will pass. Morning was joyous, with berry-pie and swings and the sound of Forth of July. Noonday came and life was hard. But struggle makes you strong. Church bells rang and soon the laughter of children, stories before bed, and graduations flowed like river water. Afternoon, I’d hoped to be easy, but my Jemma ached for autumn leaves and their reds and yellows and she went with the coming of winter. The darkness is not complete, not yet. Lights come and go. My son, and Tina and their two make four and I make five and five alive and at times I think the night is not so bad. But, as candles go, this one has dwindled low. Between the flickering I see the space that’s filled with darkness, emptiness, and peace.—
I close the page and set the flimsy notebook back on his side table.
“Find anything you like?” he asks, as he emerges refreshed. This smile is his mischievous one and I’m certain he fully intended me to find that bit.
“A hard sell to Hallmark. But some would make pretty good tweets.”
“Tweets, you reckon?” He sticks a finger in the air. “I recall tweets. I ain’t that far gone.”
“Never said you were.”
“Well, tweet away. I’ll have more next week.”
“Great,” I say, thinking back on that last one.
“You’ll bring the kids next time?”
“You bet, Dad.”
“I could fancy a match.”
“Set ’em up. I’ll let you go first.”