“There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving
Thoughts From the Porch: Sometimes I wonder if my memories of childhood are mine or they were my father’s. His recall of the past was beyond my understanding. Heck, I find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast a couple of hours ago, but Dad – he remembered everything. On more than one occasion I’d wish his recall didn’t work so well. Embarrassment is one emotion I’d rather not deal with.
I sat on the porch this morning, drinking my coffee, watching the rain fall, and letting my mind wander across my memory landscape. It always seems cloudy the farther back I walk. The mental pictures become blurred and I don’t know if the memory is real or a story my father told me. They must be real. Dad would never had lied to me about anything. Still, everything in my experience seems just out of reach.
The one thing I’m sure is real is the green pickup truck my father had. The picture is crystal clear. It was a ’52 Chevrolet Apache, hunter green with high sideboards my father had made and put on. He had a second job delivering a Sunday paper called “The Shopper” and the sideboards were to hold all the newspapers. The papers would come off the press around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday. He’d fill the truck bed with papers and two assistants and off they go to throw the paper on their assigned route.
I was almost always asleep when Dad went to work so I don’t recall his absence, I remember the truck. I loved that truck. It always seemed to me that the truck didn’t belong in the city. It belonged on a farm – a big farm with wide, open meadows, horses, cows, and chickens – the kind my uncles and cousins had.
Suddenly remembering that truck this morning seemed so random, but little in life is random. Experience has shown that there’s usually some pattern, some order to life that can only be understood in hindsight. To quote Soren Kirkegaard, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards.”
I miss Dad. He passed away in 2002. Eighteen years later I find myself thinking of him regularly. It’s happy thoughts most days – he was quite special – but sometimes it’s a deep sadness that he’s no longer here. Today is one of those days.
When Dad passed, my life was total chaos – in and out of jail, unemployment, and degradation. It was a downhill slide for the next three years, until I hit bottom. I hurt my father in so many ways. He only wanted the very best for me and it was gut-wrenching to watch his son self-destruct. I know. I hurt when my kids hurt. Call it co-dependent if you’d like. I call it parenting…
Life changed for me on December 1st, 2005, and with it came the sadness that Dad wasn’t here to see it. He, above all people, deserved to see the change. I would give anything to hear his embarrassing and oft repeated stories one more time. I’d give anything to have him enjoy the peace that life offers today.
Thinking about that truck doesn’t seem so random anymore. It was always meant to be on a farm. Today I know Dad and I would be driving down to Opal’s Farm, working side by side, and telling stories. We’d laugh together and maybe he’d sing one of his silly songs. The dogs would be piled in the back. It’d be a gorgeous Spring morning. Life would be how it was meant to be.
It’s funny that old green Chevrolet shows a glimpse of the promised “new heaven and a new earth”. Sadness has turned to joy today thinking about that truck and Dad. I’m pretty sure he’s got her gassed up and ready. We’ll hop in and take for a spin around the farm. Life how it’s meant to be…
Thoughts From the Porch
Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…
A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.
I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.
I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…
I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.
“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin
The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…
When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.
My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…
Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.
Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.
When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.
I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.
As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…
“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28
Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…
Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.
Every time the Stock Show comes around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.
She emailed me a song a few days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI. I hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.
No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.
In his latter years, Dad would sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving my sister and me. I’d like to think so…
My sister and I are both adopted. Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!
Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday would have been my father’s ninety-third birthday. He passed in 2002 and nary a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Even after sixteen years there are days when grief feels overwhelming. I often stop by the cemetery on my way to and from so I can sit and “talk” to him. It’s a great way to work through the grief I feel some days.
One can argue that the cemetery is a resting place for the body only. For those that share my religious faith it’s understood that Dad’s spirit probably left that place to go wherever it is that our spirits go after death. It may sound childish, but I believe it’s a place for our spirits to be together.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead says something to the effect that when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow. I remember stepping outside the hospital to have a smoke after he had passed. A blustery wind made it almost impossible to light my cigarette. I was so overcome with grief that I didn’t put two and two together until a cemetery visit some time later.
On that particular visit, I had come to read my father a letter I’d written acknowledging the fact that I had caused a lot of harm while in my active addiction. In my program of recovery, it’s called “making amends” a cleaning up of the wreckage of my past. Some may doubt that amends, the process of amending or righting a wrong, can be made to someone who has passed away. My experience that day says otherwise.
I stood in front of the headstone, wiping away the tears, and reading my letter. The details of my letter are deeply personal and between Dad and me. Suffice it to say that my father was an incredible man who loved me dearly and I never gave him much to work with as a son. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized his greatness.
People often said that he was my chief enabler and, while that may be true, it was his love that showed me what God’s love was all about. As frustrated, and oft-times angry, as he could become with me, he never stopped loving (or forgiving) me. I can’t think of a better example of how the God of endless grace loves me…
I finished my letter. The tears began to subside. I looked up and the wind began to swirl around me. It had been still just a moment ago.
Our family plot is in an older part of the cemetery surrounded by beautiful old oak trees. I mention this because as the wind swirled about, I could see that none of the tree limbs were moving. That’s when it hit me: “when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow.” Dad was telling me one more time, “It’s okay. I forgive you and I love you more than you can ever know. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
I think of that day often, especially when life shows up with all its occasional difficulties. If Dad, a mere human, can love me that much – how much more so can the Creator of the Universe love me?
I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot this week. Not only was it his birthday, but the Stock Show and Rodeo opens on Friday. After Dad retired from the railroad, he would work the Harley Street gate for the Stock Show every year. He would be there a week before the show and a week after, so for a month straight he worked twelve-hour days. We usually didn’t celebrate his birthday until afterwards because he just came home, ate, and went to bed. As tired as he was, especially as he got older, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Since 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show was called the Southwestern Exposition and “Fat” Stock Show. Now it’s just the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. I’m not sure why they changed it. I guess it’s no longer politically correct to call livestock fat. Maybe “weight-challenged” is more acceptable. I’m not sure Dad would approve. Cows are supposed to be fat and it violates tradition. Dad was big on tradition…
Saturday I’ll watch the annual Stock Show Parade and I’ll think of Dad. Afterwards, I might go by the cemetery on the way home. It’s no surprise that Saturday is supposed to be a really windy day…