I’m sitting at the Indianapolis airport early on a Tuesday–on my way home from my Dad’s memorial service this past weekend. Much of the time, I am surprised with how okay I am in the wake of his death–perhaps because, in truth, he had become less involved, more removed, in recent years…or not. I don’t know anything for sure right now. The night before we left L.A. I started to pack for the weekend, and the thought that when I walked in the door of my childhood home, he wouldn’t be there to greet and hug, hit me hard, and a cried for much of the evening.
At the same time, the open house after the memorial service was actually fun. Some good friends came from out of town, as well as family we don’t often see. Talk was talked, food was ate, and games were played.
The service itself was really nice. I hope my Dad would have liked it. My sister and her husband sang (my brother on piano), and it was so beautiful. I don’t think I have ever heard her sing so well. She also read a remembrance, as did I.
When my father was twelve he lived on a farm, building model airplanes, dreaming of the World War he was missing. He imagined that it would come to him in the form of a B-17 bomber, crashing over the fence into the field where he lay looking up at the clouds.
When I was seven, he taught me the clouds (like my sister before me): Cirrus, cumulus, stratus. When I was twelve we didn’t speak for almost two weeks after I stormed out of a tempestuous piano lesson and said that “I quit!” When I was four we sat together in his arm chair, carefully enlarging, square by gridded square, the pictures in my Planet of the Apes activity book, and pulled the cushions off every piece of furniture and made tunnels and architectural wonders. When I was born, my mother said I was rarely breast fed because she couldn’t wrest me from my father’s arms for long enough to feed me.
When my father was seven years old, his father caught strep throat. Old Doc Baker came to their house with a new medicine that had just come in, called “penicillin.” Our dad stood outside the bedroom door and overheard Doc Baker tell his mother that it “might just do the trick,” but if not, she could expect her husband to be dead within twenty-four hours. In his seventies my father finds himself telling this story, long forgotten, and says he can’t understand why it makes him cry.
When I was six and my sister was four, we had matching rocking chairs and we rocked and rocked as our father played the guitar and sang songs about a fella named Campbell, and the boy from Arkansas who became an auctioneer.
Our father told us, “Be anything you want, but first get a good liberal arts education, and it will serve you for the rest of your life.” And he was right. My father’s undying faith in us inspired and encouraged our career choices in the arts (although we always knew he would also support our decisions if we changed course to pursue other careers in say, real estate or academia. ☺)
Throughout his adult life, our father struggled with life-threatening and challenging illnesses, but he emerged, bout after bout, victoriously alive. He modeled for me the strategies I would need to survive similar hardships. In the course of his illnesses he explored spirituality, nutrition, and alternate modes of healing. By example he taught us to think beyond convention, he showed us that no one, not even a doctor, can predict the future, And he taught us never to underestimate the power of a strong will and a strong mind.
In remembering my father, I have chosen a handful of moments, from a life consisting of an infinity of such moments, knowing that each of you might choose others. To paint the complete picture of a man, even with a thousand moments, I know is a venture destined to fail. But still, I stand here, faced with choosing a final image share.
When our father was twelve, he built model airplanes. The summer before his 80th birthday, he sent packages of un-built models to his sons, to give his grandchildren when the time was right. I can see him, his fingers passing over the dusty cellophane of unopened boxes, pulling them carefully from the shelf, and I know he intends to pass on not just model planes, but the joy of building something with elements of both art and fantasy, the sense of wonderment that he felt in his boyhood and never forgot.
On the farm, real B-17 bombers never crashed over my father’s fence, but he built and drew and painted them all through his life in an attempt to express the awe and admiration he felt. So I, with all love and affection, assemble these words, a small and incomplete picture of my father.