Resurrecting Dad

Two years ago today, we gathered in Michigan to celebrate my dad’s life. In the days before that, the funeral director gave me a limit of 300 words to capture his life for his obituary. I couldn’t imagine summing up my dad’s whole vivid, detailed life in so few words. This post today is also exactly 300 words. Different words, for a different purpose. Not capturing the whole thing, but perhaps capturing a glimpse of the essence of Dad.

bunch of red strawberries

Photo by Alexandria Baldridge on Pexels.com

Whenever I tried to pay for my dad’s lunch, or coffee, or gas, or anything, he refused to let me. One time, at an Alabama farm market, I tried to buy a quart of strawberries and he about ran me over like a slightly bowlegged brown-eyed bulldozer. I’m 42 years old, I told the girl at the counter, and my dad won’t let me pay for my own strawberries. We all laughed. It was one of those times that slides into the big pile of memories you think will go on and on.

Except eventually you come to the end of those times. You can resurrect the old memories, but you can’t make new ones. Maybe that’s grief, the sharp knife of realizing there will be no new memories.

Lately I’d been thinking that sometimes the enormity of a loss nearly eclipses a life. And right out of the blue, at a restaurant, a man I’d never seen before showed up, jaunty little driving cap, brown eyes shining kindly, speaking softly, asking us to help his wheelchair-bound wife, with Dad’s same apologetic half-grin and quiet mannerism. Afterward he said he owed us cheeseburgers. I remembered all the times when my dad muscled me out of the way so he could pay for whatever I was buying, and how I never really got the chance to buy him lunch, dinner, or even coffee. Until then.

I finally repaid my dad that day, conspiring with servers to buy the couple lunch. When we left, the man thanked us with warm hugs, and in his embrace I could feel my dad. I learned a truth in that moment. Sometimes, by resurrecting what we miss most about those we have loved and lost, they show up unexpectedly on the wings of a new memory.

 

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Park and Walk

sunset on high bridge 3-27-16

Sunset on High Bridge, captured by Marley

There was the time where we stumped the map lady. Really. We were zipping along, following her directions, trying to be patient when she loudly interjected herself into our conversation (“Turn LEFT onto BROAD STREET in ONE CORDER MILE!”) (Have you ever noticed the map lady has trouble saying “Quarter?”) and then out of the clear blue, she informed us: “Park vehicle and walk to your destination.”

Charles Phillips - 7

“You have arrived!”

 

 

Beg pardon, map lady? Park and walk? We are in the middle of the Lower Alabama countryside without any kind of landmark or visible destination and you just abandon us here?

To reinforce her point, while we kept driving, she turned herself into a stubborn little blue stripe that refused to move. Anywhere. We were moving, and she was pouting. I mean really.

And THEN map lady turned herself into a STICK FIGURE! I kid you not! She took herself out of her little invisible parked vehicle and turned herself into what she must have intended to be a walking stick figure! She wasn’t speaking to us, but it was okay…by then we were laughing so hard we wouldn’t have heard her anyway. Note to self: map lady/stick lady does not respond to hoots of laughter and demands for more directions.

While we were still driving, a little more slowly because #ABANDONMENT, Jenessa spotted a sign. We headed toward it. And found this:

Charles Phillips - 6

But the destination that map lady stubbornly refused to get us to? So, so, so worth it.

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Waiting to be discovered…

Five buildings of architectural salvage. Big buildings. Barns full of old doors, and shutters, and ironwork, and furniture, and hardware, and all kinds of treasures from all over the world.

Charles Phillips - 2

 

No one hovering as we wandered from one building to the next, marveling like moonstruck extras from “American Pickers.” (I know. They don’t use extras on there. But still.) The best part, apart from the amazing selection? They don’t bother you.

They let you wander around forming half-words, hauling out a tape measure, squinting at various pieces jammed cozily against each other, tapping thoughtfully on drawer fronts and table tops, exploring dovetails and cubby holes and wear patterns and ingenious solutions to needs of years and cultures gone by.

Charles Phillips - 3

I discovered a large stack of sturdy grain bags with a beautiful purple stripe down the center – how perfect is that for fall! – and resisted the urge to buy them all. Barely. Mostly because I was reminded by a more practical family member that we don’t have grain in that kind of quantity, and they don’t all need a new home with us. Ditto on the dough bowls, cast iron bathtubs, shutters, and doors made from 1870s French lumber. I know. France, even! The thing is, old captures me in a way new never will, because, as my beloved best girlfriend says, “New doesn’t have a story.”

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Fairy tale inspiration

Everything at this place had a story. You could hear the murmurs of conversations before you ever entered a building. The whole property fairly thrummed with it.

We’d probably still be there, except some of us got hot and some got hungry and some encountered banana spiders and got discouraged and then we ended up turning the map lady off completely because we found our own way out and made tracks to a gas station where we could not, to save our lives, find one single healthy piece of food. There was no fruit, no salad, no fresh made deli sandwiches. It was a shrine to all things processed and preserved, and we were lucky to escape with cheese puffs, corn chips, a single bag of Bugles (“Corn! There’s corn in them!”), a couple king size candy bars (“They’re healthy! They have peanuts!”) and some cans of soda that I didn’t even know was made any more. (“It’s not like it goes bad, Mom.”) The girl at the counter just grinned hugely when we assured her it wasn’t dinner. “I know,” she nodded. “This here’s SNACKS.”

Will we go back? You know we will. Map lady can find her own way. We’ll stick to our own off-the-beaten-path.