Cindy Sterling jump punched me yesterday with her recent post "Snapshot Daddy." No fair. I was reading along, and then I was doubled over at my desk crying and trying to catch my breath. Read it.
I have many snapshots of my Daddy and me, but my favorite is this one, taken circa 1957 on the sea wall in Tripoli Libya. We lived there for the first years of my life, because my dad was stationed at the Air Force base there. This picture hangs on the wall over my bed, but I've been taking it down a lot recently and contemplating it and crying.
I had many more years with my daddy than Cindy did with hers, but Dad died suddenly without any warning. There was no long goodbye or sitting by the bed singing hymns. There was just the stunning phone call on the morning of Jan 2, my mother's voice: "I think your Dad has died." It's been several years, but I cannot get used to a world without my father in it. I want him to be at the table when the whole family gets together. I want to see his corny green sweatpants. I want to see him in his immaculate jacket and tie at the end of the pew every Sunday. I want him to barbecue ribs. I want him to be here right now to help me raise young men. I hold this picture and I remember he used to sing to me:
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.
Please don't take my sunshine away.
I want my Daddy.
This past few weeks at church we have been in a sermon series called "Family Tree." We have talked about the importance of passing on our faith and our stories to the next generation. I sat at my desk doing the research for these sermons and crying. I thought about the line of faith I have inherited. I thought about my great grandfather and grandfather Cox, who were preachers and revival leaders, I thought about the recordings we have of my father and grandfather singing on my grandfather's radio broadcasts. I remembered how my Granny Ruth's house always smelled like peas or beans. She always had a huge pot of them simmering. She was the preacher's wife in a little Louisiana town, so when the "hobos" would come through town, she was the one people would send them to. She was a very fancy lady who loved fine things, whose house and clothes were immaculate, who told me repeatedly, "Never marry a preacher; you won't have any money." I remember trips into the big city I think was Monroe, where she defined the phrase, "Shop til you drop." But she also made vats of peas and cornbread so there was plenty on hand.
Whenever I shell peas, I think of my mother's family, of summer at my great-grandmother's farm in Arkansas. My grandmother was the second oldest of 8 siblings. When they would all return to the farm with several generations of family in tow, there was a lot of cooking. They started at dawn making full breakfasts, requiring baking and frying, then clean it up and start baking and frying for lunch. (I'm sure this was the way you ate when you were out working the fields all day, but there was no one working the fields by this time. Still, there was flouring, baking and frying for every meal.) After lunch on a summer afternoon in Arkansas, it's nearly 100 outside. The kids were made to come in from our afternoon play and "cool off," which we did by sitting off the kitchen, where it was nearing 120, shelling peas for dinner. (No air conditioning.) In the evenings my aunt Thera would play the pump organ, while the sisters danced with my uncle Junior, who was a dance instructor at a Fred Astaire dance studio, I remember how strange and wonderful it was to see my grandmother act like a silly girl. My grandmother was sad most of the time, though she was a wonderful grandmother to little children. But with her sisters, she was transformed. They were a floor show.
I miss these people, just as a I miss my own babies, who are now men. We have lived in the same house for 21 years, so all around me are the ghosts of summers past. Every morning, I see neighborhood kids riding off on their bikes with towels around their necks, heading to the pool. I remember those days when wet towels and goggles and floaties hung on the pegs by the back door. Next week Matt will leave for Mississippi State. He's left for college before, but this time somehow I know it's for good. He won't live here again. Yes, I cry about that. I cry because I will miss this tall handsome man, but also because I miss the little tow-headed boy who sat on the front porch swing with me in the evenings and sang, "A whole new world..." from Aladdin. Elliott plays on the same fort we built for his daddy's fifth birthday. HIs daddy, who looks so much like my own daddy sometimes that it takes my breath away. This morning I was brushing away the last of the cicadas from my garden steps, and I thought about how they attacked us just a few weeks ago at Ben's graduation party. Then I thought that the next time they come out, Elliott will be graduating from high school. And there I was, standing in my flowerbed, crying over the future.
I cry a lot these days. I cry while watering the garden. I cry while shelling peas. I cry in my office. I cry during the evening news, because the Libya in that photo is no more. I cry over cicadas, for Pete's sake.
I often cry at the end of vacations. You know, at the end of a wonderful week at the beach, I slip away that last evening and stand with my feet in the surf for one last time. I say goodbye to the beach. I know we will be back again, but it will not be the same next time. We will be different. It will be different. And we can't know how. I feel that way lately.
I am not sad, but I am grieving. This is how it is with humans; we are finite. We cannot have it all, past, present and future. We cannot have the Tree of Life. Yet.
Is this how we know we are meant for eternity? If so, then I long for the day when the old order of things has passed away and time, as we know it, will be no more.
In the meantime, life is beautiful. But I wish they were here.