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Senses of summer brought back- first through the smell of drinking water through a sun baked garden hose- the beginning of the stream hot, with hints of brass and rubber.
The Cannonball, probably the worlds’ most popular dive, sets off the senses too as chlorine gushes into my nasal cavity and I’m reminded of the glass amber bottles lined up along the side of my grandparents house in Florida next to the pool pump, croatan plants where lizards live, hide and sleep.
And then you wake up…and think about the past two years since my dad died in a car crash. Thinking, dreaming, one conscious the other unconscious but often times merging together, fueled by the other, crossing the double yellow lines blasting head on into the other leaving my dad still- not moving- eyes open staring at life’s next mystery.
Reading a story by Joan Didion in Slouching Towards Bethlehem on keeping a notebook. Thinking about my blog which I’ve neglected since my dad died last July. Maybe my neglect is partly due to the fact that I knew he read and commented on everything I posted.
It’s a Saturday morning, the kind of morning my dad would call to check in to see how things were going. We would make small talk about food, photography and my boys. Lately, there had been a hesitation when he talked about himself, alluding to some knee ailment, slight vertigo and just being worn out. There was something else wrong that went beyond his usual phsical ailments. I could tell there was a longing to say something that he just couldn’t- maybe about how much he wished he could be around and really be part of his 5 grandsons growing up. There was something sad about him telling me how he watched Sam’s graduation ceremony on a live stream from his computer.
Most times the conversation led to his timber frame house in Falmouth which he built in 1990. There was always a proudness when he talked about that house which had now been replaced by a certain longing. He wanted to visit there more often, he wanted me to bring all his grandkids there but because the circumstances surrounding his lifemade it too difficult. One of the sad ironies (and there are a lot of sad ironies) about his death was that he was on his way to Falmouth when he died in a car crash. He wanted me to meet him in Cape Cod in the fall to show me the house because he said this is going to be yours eventually. I would always shy away from this kind of talk perhaps because it alluded to him dying. I’m thinking now that I should have asked him what do really mean by that comment, “It’s going to be yours eventually.”
What’s mine now since the nine months he died has been spent deciphering what I thought was a fairly simple man’s life. It’s taken me countless hours of paperwork, phone calls and legal issues to realize that his life was never, right up to the second he died, that simple.
Lilly May was probably the first African American person I ever laid my eyes upon- probably when she changed my diaper. She has been a part of our family as long as I can remember. Amazing woman- ageless, timeless and priceless.
It’s been tough going following in my dad’s footsteps so to speak. When you lose a parent you really become an adult. I’ve been dealing with attorneys, insurance & utility companies, homeowners associations, family and newly discovered detritus circling my dad’s existence. I’m getting to know my dad better then ever before. Too much information is not always a good thing.
A two week attempt to clear up his AT&T account, became a trip down a rabbit hole because I could not come up the security question of, “Who was your childhood hero?” left me feeling drained, frustrated but also curious come Friday. Superman, Batman, Shazam!, FDR, Lassie and Amelia Earhart all were answered with, “I’m sorry that’s not correct.”
Finally, after hours of phone calls around the globe, starting and escalating tickets, being transferred to supervisor after supervisor, I was able to crack the code… John Wayne? Really dad? John Wayne was your childhood hero? I thought about the last time I saw him alive when he visited us last year. The way he hugged me I could tell he didn’t want to leave, but he did. And then when I saw him for the last time at the funeral home this summer in Ft. Lauderdale, his world, like mine had changed.
I’m driving Sam to Lihue. He’s leaving Kauai a week early to visit his girlfriend in Minneapolis. It’s been a day of showers, and the road is slick so I’m taking it slow especially around the curves. The sun is just starting to go down as we pass over the last one way bridge out of Hanalei and make our way on the Kuhio Highway. I’m concentrating on the road and thinking about my dad who was killed in a car accident a few weeks ago, and how he’ll never see his grandchildren again. He’ll never get to congratulate Sam on his first job he’s starting in the fall with the Iowa Senate. Sam breaks the silence by talking about the possibility of parallel galaxies, first contact and Carl Sagan. We talk about the universe and it’s vastness and how in order for our planet to survive we need to leave it. This kind of talk gets my mind off my dad and the countless things I need to do now that he’s gone. I always get sad when I drop Sam off at the airport but today is different. I know I’ll be seeing him back in LA when we come home but now that he’s graduated college something feels different- a different sadness perhaps ?
I park the car in front of the terminal and get out and give Sam a hug and ask him if he has everything. He says yes and I tell him I love him and he walks away.
Driving back, the lights of Lihue quickly fade in the rear view mirror and I start back towards Haena, it starts to rain again. I think about my father’s death certificates waiting for me in my mailbox back in Santa Monica. When I get back to the north shore the rain has stopped and I walk to the beach. The tide is low and I see dark outlines of exposed reef and catch glimpses of white water where waves are breaking. I look up at the night sky which is spread out before me like a beacon with unlimited meanings. I think about beginnings and endings as I look at my watch. Sam’s plane will be taking off soon heading east across the Pacific Ocean, crossing a couple of time zones with stops in Phoenix and Dallas before he reaches Minneapolis.
This is my favorite photograph of my dad who was killed in a traffic accident on July 11, 2016. It was taken into a bathroom mirror in the back bedroom of my grandparents house on Bayview Drive in Ft. Lauderdale. Just gazing at this photograph sends clues to me about the exact hue of the blue tiles and wallpaper, the camera that he is holding that he gave me, and the dock on the canal out the back window where barnacles and catfish still inhabit. Over to my dad’s right was a sliding frosted shower glass door with a flamingo etched into it, a crack running through it allegedly caused by a hurricane a few years before.
This photograph is dear to me and captures a moment not only in his life but in mine as well. His half smile expression, one of calculation and framing, his hands with wedding ring slowly pressing the shutter, I imagine my brother and I playing in the pool twenty five feet behind him.
Going back to the motel after Sams’ graduation ceremony, where I heard commencement speeches by an author, a representative from the U.S. House, a high school english teacher and a Jazz pianist, I passed a man raising a flag on the front lawn of his house on West Street in Grinnell, Iowa. I parked my car and walked over to him, introduced myself and shook his hand. He said his name was Paul Weber. He’s lived in this house sandwiched between an O’reilly’s Auto Parts store and a McDonalds since 1936. He told me he was 92 years old and what kept his mind sharp was mowing the lawn once a week and raising the flag once a day. Works for me.
Packed, dressed and laying in bed looking out the lone window from the second story room at the Days Inn in Grinnell, Iowa. Looking beyond the parking lot, beyond the trees just beginning to show some signs of spring on the rolling plains. My horizon is cars and trucks on the highway. I’m thinking about their cargo; false eyelashes, whopee cushions, air gap valves, candy and plastic trophies kids get for just showing up. Sad artifacts broken or consumed within minutes they are possessed.
Thinking about importance- about location- where we are- in the middle of the country. The idea of spinning cogs comes to mind. Coming full circle (for me at least).
Debbie and I are now sitting on the porch of Sams’ house waing for him to come home. I’ve never been in this position as a parent before- waiting for him to come back to where he lives. He’s always lived at our house. There’s a deja vu lurking in me even though I’ve never been here before.
We open the front door to air the place out-I get hints of fish sauce, sweat socks, cigarettes being put out in almost empty beer cans and Will Hamiltons’ ramen throw up. Even with the unusual array of odors I get a satisfied feeling, a feeling that Debbie and I have done a pretty good job of raising our first boy and yet, he’s done this all by himself.
There’s a wonderful scene (spoiler alert) at the end of The Big Night where Segondo cooks an egg and shares it with his brother Primo. The shear simplicity of this meal symbolizes the extreme contrast to the over the top crazy details and hedonistic attention that goes into the preparation of the “Timpano” which is supposed to be served to Louis Prima. It talks about excess, honesty, what it means to be at peace with yourself and how you will always be connected with your family.
Yesterday, while not getting very far trying to decide where to go to lunch with Sam before we flew back home to Los Angeles (your choices of places to eat in Grinnell on a Sunday afternoon are pretty limited) Sam said, “Why don’t I make you an omelette.” There’s something great about your son cooking for you and something even greater watching him put together a simple meal with ingredients on hand and pulling spices from his well appointed spice rack from his kitchen on High Street. What a great omelette, what a great boy.
I’m thinking this might be the last rain of the season and perhaps the last fire too. Seasons come and seasons go.