My dad has been on my mind a lot lately, especially as his mom, my last living grandparent, passed away last month, a few days before Mother’s Day.
Shirley Kelly Looper Kaylor was 94 when she died, and was someone I always admired, especially having gone through half of her life alone; my Granddad Carl died nearly 50 years ago, and Step-Grandpa Virgil died while I was in junior high, and on my dad’s birthday. (If you’re so inclined, you can make memorial contributions in her name to her church, Temple Baptist Church, 5100 S. 31 St., Fort Smith, AR 72903; or to stroke and/or Alzheimer’s research.)
Most of this column ran last year about this time, and I offer it again to you today. The topic always brings tears to my eyes, and I don’t need to be dehydrated right now.
I plan to do another, less serious post sometime this week, but for now …
With Father’s Day upon us, my thoughts turn to my dad and grandpa, who both passed on, the anniversaries of their deaths in just the past couple of months.
My grandpa was the only one I ever knew growing up; my dad’s dad and all of my great-grandfathers had passed on before I was born, so it was just Grandpa Grover. We lived about a mile away from my mom’s parents, and I spent a lot of time at their house playing or helping them in the garden. Anytime one of us kids was there when Grandpa came in (usually from the garden), the first thing he always said was, “Are you eatin’ my groceries?”
I still can’t help thinking of fresh vegetables as groceries no matter where they came from.
For the last year of his life, he spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. Just before his last Christmas, he’d just been released from a lengthy stay. I still can’t look at the pictures I took of him that Christmas because this pale, drawn man was not the wise-cracking Grandpa I knew.
When he died in 2003, it was a very tough time for all of us. At visitation at the funeral home, friends and family gathered (some after getting thoroughly lost on the trip from Oklahoma) just in time for a tornado warning. With the sirens going off, we spent hours sitting in the hallway waiting for the storm to pass, and getting to know each other all over again. I sometimes think Grandpa arranged that just so he could hear us laughing one more time about things he or Grandma had done. That’d be just like him.
My dad and I for the longest time didn’t get along very well. I was frustrated that he accepted so much without questioning it, especially when it came to his health; if a fishing buddy told him of a “miracle cure,” he wanted to try it … and usually did. And don’t even get me started on politics.
When I was a little girl, Daddy was the night-shift foreman at Baldor and, consequently, we kids didn’t see much of him except at dinner and on weekends, though much of his weekends were spent fishing. No matter; if we could look back at all those pictures (most lost to time) of him with his catch, you’d probably see, somewhere in the background, a curly-headed sprite photobombing him.
He took each of us fishing with him for a day alone with Dad, though my brothers got many more trips that I did—probably because I’m pretty easily bored and the fish likely weren’t crazy about a 6-year-old’s singing abilities.
As I grew up, we grew further and further apart in emotional and physical distance as I went on to college and then my first real job. Then I got the call.
My mom called just before I headed to work to tell me that Daddy was in the hospital and would have to undergo a triple bypass, but she said he was fine and she didn’t want me to drive up.
I went to work, my mind distracted, but still did my job. Our assignment editor, though, noticed I was a bit down and came to check on me. When he learned what was going on, he told me I needed to be with my dad, and he called in another editor to work in my stead for the rest of the week. I don’t remember if I ever properly thanked him for that.
When Daddy came out of surgery, I was there at his bedside, and he hugged me to him just like when I was a little girl. With that, all the animosity that had existed between us evaporated, and for the last 10 years of his life, we got along much better (still couldn’t talk about politics, but no matter).
The week that he died was Easter week in 2006. I went home to be with my mom and to cook the Easter dinner since she had been spending most of her time at the hospital with Dad since his heart attack and subsequent surgery the month before. I had gone to the hospital each day that I was there, but Daddy couldn’t talk; I could tell he wanted to tell me something, but I never knew what it was. I went by the hospital on my way back home and he gave me one last hug; he died four days later. It was like he held on long enough to tell all his kids goodbye.
Happy Father’s Day, both of you.
After this ran last year, I heard not only from family and friends, but also from some of Daddy’s fishing buddies and former co-workers, which was surprising, delightful and emotional.
As long as it’s been since his death, and Grandpa’s, it’s nice to know that there are still so many out there whose lives have been touched by them.
Now excuse me, please, while I look for another tissue.