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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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’tis the season, a very hard season

’tis the season — for mankind and for football. It’s Christmastime and the playoff season. The Sunday of the semifinals and the final week of school before winter break.

And I have so much I want to do. Like to do. Am struggling to do. All the baking and buying of gifts, the playoff chili cooking and cheering for my student athletes and football family. I want to do all the things I usually love so much about this most glorious of seasons.

But then, my body rejects that desire. It shudders. And shutters itself inside a husk of general malaise. And I cannot.

My joy has been ransacked. I find tinges of it — glimmers of it shining in the rubble. Like broken glass or teardrops caught by glancing blows of brightness and light. Fleeting.

This morning, I watched the sun climb stair-steps of cloud over the river, the shelves of them distinct and layered like a smog and smoke parfait. It was haunting, the way it cast shadows over a split rail fence in the distance, a long, lean checkerboard where crows, not ridged game pieces, hopped the squares.

Their tinier siblings were there too, a carpet of blackbirds, rolling in low-slung, oily black clouds from yard to yard, scavenging in swirling, lifting tornados to light in naked trees, filling them with feathered foliage.

The King of the Crows, a giant among the blackbirds, scared them away and perched himself at the top of a wobbly, half-dead fruit tree in our backyard. He teetered from his own weight, wings outstretched for balance, a pendulum in chaotic motion, a blunderbuss of blackened breastbone searching for balast. He gave up and flew away.

Death never feels like balance. I’ve learned it topples you, leaves you yearning — for joy, for love, for the person you’ve lost. Everything feels off kilter. Out of balance.

But the experts tell us Death is the ultimate balance of Life. The two bookends. lMaybe so, but it never feels right for those left behind. I swear, my father’s book wasn’t finished.

I wish Death had failed to light that November night. I wish the balance had been off. The pendulum too chaotic, the ballast not there — not quite right for the Harbinger Crow. I wish that Newton’s Law had kept my father’s heart in motion.

I’m sure, somewhere on this earth, there was an equal and opposite reaction. The moment my father’s heartbeat ceased, some new one began. Beauty birthed in pain. Darkness and sorrow begat magic and light. So the pendulum swings.

I see both. I feel both — but the light side, the bright side, it comes only in flashes right now. Flashes of comfort and joy: cuddles with my twin boys at bedtime, curled like squirrels against my side while we read our bedtime books; Friday night’s quarter-finals game, stadium pulsing with our come-from-behind win; trips to the mailbox to find cards with well-wishes and Christmas greetings.

But then I swing back to the grayness and fog and numbness, and on into darkness and pain and mourning. And back again.

’tis the season. A very, very hard season.

Still, I am here to bear witness. To feel it. To live it — in all its shifting shades and sensations. The wildly-careening spectrum of color and composition that makes and brings the beauty AND sorrow.

The wins and losses. The memories and their making. The rise and fall. All the majesty and magic and quagmires and pain of Life. Without it all, we would be so flat and empty.

So I’m taking these broken wings and learning to fly again. Into the depths and heights of the pendulum swings. Into the light of a dark black night.

”tis that season for me.

Was I Responsible? A Brutally Honest Reflection on My Father’s Last Year

This week, we buried my father.

On the day after Thanksgiving, at the start of the holiday season, we laid my dad to rest. Among those present were five grandchildren, four neighbor friends, three mourning girls, two sons-in-law, and a pastor sans a pear tree.

We kept it small. We sent him to glory in a rough-hewn coffin among the smallest of crowds. In this time of coronavirus, we tried to be responsible. No sibling of his was present. No son. No church family, save his pastor and a crew of food pantry volunteers (of which he had been one) watching from the safety of a truck on the driveway.

We kept it small, trying to be responsible. We had been so responsible for so very long. Or had we?

I had not seen my dad since February. I was trying to protect him.

I called him. Often. In the beginning of the pandemic I called him every day. Then every other. Then when school started back, every other week. Things got really hectic. Teaching school and coaching football in 2020 is no small feat. But I spoke to him more than I ever had in my life. I can honesty say that.

Still.

I hadn’t seen Dad since February. The last thing he texted me as I invited him to a gathering at my house for the Saturday before Thanksgiving (outside in an attempt to protect him and my mother and her partner, all hovering around the 80-year mark) was, “The Lord continues to be merciful and gracious to the completion of my bucket list.”

Getting everybody together again after such a long absence was on his list. We were so close. Four days away.

As a matter of fact, my sister and I were even closer than that. We were supposed to meet him on Wednesday– the day after he died. We had an appointment to look at a cottage in an assisted living community, but Dad didn’t show.

I didn’t have an inkling. Not a premonition, one. I always thought I would. I always thought I would know if something happened to someone I loved dearly.

He’d had them. When his dear Aunt Emmy died, he woke in the middle of the night to see her ascend to heaven in a hot air balloon. But me, I had no idea. He did, however, send me a signal — I just didn’t realize it.

The Tuesday night he died, alone, in his basement, tangled up in a chair, I developed a pain under my left shoulder blade, a throbbing behind my heart under my rib cage. It started right after dinner and bothered me all night and all the next day. I’ve never had an ache there EVER. But it was persistent. I tried stretching my back, pressing against door frames, taking Advil. Nothing did the trick.

Then, after my sister and I realized Dad wasn’t at our appointed meeting place at our appointed meeting time — after I’d summoned help from a neighbor friend of his (a neighbor so kind and generous, who I can never thank enough) — after he found my father, after my father was no longer lying there alone… the pain went away. Vanished.

I believe it was a sonar signal from Dad. From his heart to mine. A beacon begging he be found, my sweet-hearted, broken-hearted, father.

He’d died, the coroner tells us, of a massive heart attack. Instantly. Approximately twenty-four hours before we found him — approximately the same time my pulsing pain had begun.

I had not seen him since February. I was trying to protect him. Instead, I lost him.

Was it worth it? I honestly don’t know. I want to say no.

But then I will also say this… Our family, who was so very careful for so very long, gathered together in my father’s honor, and Covid, despite our precautions and best intentions, caught fire and spread like lighter fluid on the flames of our grief.

Three of the third-generation family members who came in for his funeral have come down with the virus. Six more of us are now in quarantine. The three with Covid are young. They have been thoroughly knocked off their feet. I pray they are soon well — and the odds are definitely with them.

But at seventy-eight, the odds would not have been in my father’s favor. And the illness could have (would have?) wreaked havoc on his body. It could have proved a slow and painful, a brutal end.

But I hadn’t seen him since February. Was that not also a slow and painful and brutal end?

I am wracked with guilt. This virus is awful. But did it also make me an awful daughter?

I certainly feel that way. I feel awful.

The Most Interesting Man in the World Turns 75

dad

Today is my father’s 75th birthday. He’s a mountain man from Virginia, reared in Tennessee, and currently roosting in Georgia with a rambling tomcat, a chocolate lab, and a mare mule named Kate. A born-again bachelor for the last quarter century, he’s actively searching for the perfect woman – one ready to submerge herself in the throes of passion, pontification, and penicillin-prone farmhouse sinks. My dad is not your average septuagenarian, to put it mildly. He’s a semi-retired Physics professor and ordained minister, and his topics of conversation swing as far-and-wide as the pendulums in his lab or his interpretations of scripture: from the seismic activity in Sri Lanka to the virtues of flip phones; from the state of the secular world to the value of a round bale of hay, he’s the most interesting man in the world. And by interesting, I mean… “interesting” is his favorite word.

He maintains a cache of “interesting” topics and tales, which he then serves up at mealtimes. His lead-ins of choice, “Let me tell you something interesting…” or “Did I ever tell you the interesting thing that happened…” or that old familiar stand by, “Interestingly enough, I once…” Regardless the build-up, rest assured that whatever he’s about to wax poetic over, it is guaranteed to “interest” only fellow astrophysicists, Pentecostal scripture enthusiasts, or mule farmers. He lives vicariously through himself. He’s the most interesting man in the world.

He’s quite the proud promoter of theoretically appropriate cuss words, as well. Bitch is his all-time favorite – and always used when referencing his dog. He gets his subversive jollies off using proper canine terms. He doesn’t always talk dirty, but when he does, he uses bitch and dam. He’s the most interesting man in the world.

And speaking of proud promoter – he’ll never shy away from discussing his storied career and numerous patents – from university to industry, from geophysics to astrophysics, from patents pending to patents expired, patents current and yet to be conceived – you name it, he’s done it. And been published. Google him, if you don’t believe him. He’s won the lifetime achievement award – twice. He’s the most interesting man in the world.

dadlab

Now, he’s a good-looking man, my big-talking, bitch-dropping dad. His hair, once full and dark as coal, is now pale at the temples and sparse at the crown. His joints are arthritic, and his hands are spotted, but his mineral blue eyes are still piercing and his long, lanky frame is still imposing. And so is his didactic style. He’ll preach till the mules come home on science, politics, and God. For him, the world is black and white, just like the scripture on the page or the hair on his head. He sits tall in the saddle of his moral high horse and his seventeen-hand roan mule. His ten-gallon hat holds twenty gallons of opinions… He’s the most interesting man in the world.

 

I’m sure it baffles him beyond all belief that he’s raised such a liberal-minded daughter. Well, to give him credit, he’s raised three. Three outspoken, independent women. I was the firstborn. Long and lanky and leaning decidedly to the left. And then my two sisters came tumbling after. Three stair-stepped, progressive daughters sired from the seed of a staunch patriarchal papa. I don’t know how he stayed in his right mind.

Growing up, we girls would hear him commiserate with fellow fellows that he was the only male – besides a neutered tom cat, so he didn’t count — in a house full of females: four women, two bitch dogs and a mare horse. His universe was plagued with Premenstrual syndrome, prone toilet seats, rogue lip gloss and tubs clogged with long, chestnut locks. We caused him endless hours of angst. And then his most fervent prayer was answered: my brother was born. The son of his right hand and heir to the throne.

As I’ve hinted, I’m nothing like my father. He’s a far-right conservative; I’m a far-left liberal. He’s a man of science; I’m a woman of the humanities. He loves quantum physics; I love Quantum Leap. He quotes scripture; I quote Shakespeare. Given a chance, he’d shoot doves in the field for dinner, while I’d shower them in symbolism. Me, I’m reserved; my dad, he’ll share his life story with the cashier at Walmart. He has inside jokes with perfect strangers. He’s the most interesting man in the world.

And while, we’re polar-opposites, we’re also exactly alike. I’m stubborn and proud and opinionated and outspoken. I’m faithful and frugal and full of forgiveness. I cry easily, can consume ginormous amounts of popcorn, and am insanely proud of my family. I also got his height, his love of jalapeno peppers, and his passion for the stars.

One of my strongest, best memories involves me trailing after him as a youngster, the dusty clutter to his meteoric majesty, up into one or the other of the two Ole Miss observatories. It was pure perfection to stay up past my bedtime and view the moon and the planets with his astronomy class. I was in awe: of him, of his students, of his galaxy. (Had he hung the moon? Hell, I was fairly certain he’d strung the whole Milky Way.) By the first grade, I’d memorized the planets and their order. When he came to my elementary school to give a demonstration to my peers, I preened like Orion in October – all bright and blustery and bigger than the belt in my britches.

But by the sixth grade, my brother was born, Ole Miss was left behind, and a crazy cult eclipsed our cosmos connection. I don’t remember a lot of interaction with my father in those dark matter days, except for him lecturing and me not listening. Things grew twisty and tortured, and then tanked altogether. Only through the miraculous intervention of a Wise County wise woman, my fairy godmother and paternal grandmother, did we emerge on the other side of the darkness and find our way to a daughter-daddy do-over.

We haven’t always had the best relationship, my dad and I. Our philosophies are polar opposites, and our belief systems are equally rigid. But the older we grow, the closer we grow. We meet in the middle over family and food, mutual respect and love.

He’s fond of acceleration spectral density, discount stores, and long walks on the beach with a metal detector. He is left-handed and right-handed. His conversations have lost more people than the Bermuda triangle. He is indeed the most interesting man in the world. Happy Birthday, Dad.

dadandboys

 

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