My dad left this world long ago but my memories of him shine clear and bright and true.
I think of him often. I picture him fishing. Smokin’ and jokin.’ Telling stories. Making me laugh. In every memory, his laugh is the same old chuckle. His eyes are as blue as the lakes he loved to fish. And the thought of him lights me up like the little girl who lay awake at night waiting for him to come home from the mill.
When I was a child, I felt sure the sun rose and set in my daddy’s eyes. My mother did not share that feeling. Maybe she did the night they ran off to get married. She was 15, he was 25. They divorced when I was 2.
I lived with my mother, but often spent weekends and holidays with my dad on his parents’ farm in the mountains of North Carolina. Most of the year, we were 40 miles apart. Yet he remained an everpresent and reassuring light in my life.
That is love. You don’t need to be together to feel it, to know it’s true. Love doesn’t end when loved ones are apart. It stays with one and follows the other over space and time and even over death, never letting go.
My dad wasn’t perfect. Neither am I. If you think you are, you might want to think again. Dad was stubborn. Hard-headed. Opinionated. And after years of changing shifts at the mill, he had a tendency to fall asleep at inconvenient times — in church or in conversations or occasionally at the wheel.
He never wrecked, but came close. I’d yell, “Daddy! If you kill us, Mama will be mad!”
He taught me to ride a horse, milk a cow, drive a car and speak my mind. He tried to teach me to fish, but saw that it was hopeless. He’d give me a dollar and say, “Don’t spend it all in one place.” He never forgot my birthday. And he sent me notes in a secret code: “Hope 2 c u b4 _!” (“Hope to see you before long!”)
I remember seeing a scar on his back that he said he got from a Nazi bullet in WWII.
“Mama told you not to go,” I said. “Why did you enlist?”
“I loved your mama,” he said, “but I loved my country, too.”
My mother was often the talk of her mother and sisters, but my dad never spoke ill of her. I loved him a lot for that.
He bought one suit and wore it three times: To my graduations from high school and college; and to walk me down the aisle.
In his late 50s, he suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. I remember visiting him in the VA hospital. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. Doctors said he’d never leave the hospita, but they didn’t know him as well I did. He worked hard learning to speak and walk again.
Seven years later, when he was finally released with a bad limp, slurred speech and a paralyzed arm — he flew to California, to get to know his grandchildren.
The last time I saw him was on his porch in North Carolina. We had a good visit. He seemed happy. I fought back tears, said “I love you,” and drove away.
In the next few years, we spoke often by phone, but he never told me he was ill. I learned that fact from the note he left the night he took his life.
He said that he had cancer, and wasn’t up for another fight. He’d had his fill of hospitals.
That memory is one I’d rather forget. But we don’t choose our memories. They choose us.
His final moment is a hard one to picture. But it’s only one of the many pieces of a beautiful puzzle that I cherish.
On Father’s Day, and every day, I remember my dad. He loved fishing. Smokin’ and jokin’. Telling stories. Making me laugh. He loved my mother. He loved his country. He loved my children. He loved me.
And he always will.
He was my father. I am his daughter. And some fine day, I “hope 2 c him again b4 __.”
(Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, Calif. 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.)