It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 25 years since we lost him. I reflexively wiped my thumb across the the picture, and stepped closer to the light filtering through the window to get a better look. As I read the obit again, it occurred to me that I am now just two years younger than he was when he passed away. A wave of sadness came over me and I fought back tears.
Back in 1986, I remember thinking how old he looked just before he died. The last few years of his life had not been kind to him and he seemed to look tired and frail each time we visited.
He worked hard as a welder for most of his life and he spent every free moment in the woods or on the river. He loved the outdoors.
After he got sick and couldn’t drive, he spent most of his time sitting in a recliner in the corner of the living room. I think toward the end, he’d made up his mind he was ready to go.
I was in Atlanta on business when my mom phoned my office to tell me he’d been rushed to the hospital. They tracked me down in Atlanta to give me the message. My boss at the time wanted me to stay for a meeting, but I told him I felt like I needed to go home.
He wasn’t happy, but I really didn’t leave room for negotiation and when I landed in Birmingham, Jilda picked me up at the airport and whisked me to the hospital.
I went straight to intensive care to see him and he gave me a faint smile when I took his hand.
I hadn’t been there 20 minutes before the machines began to beep slower and his vital signs weakened. With my brother Neil and I holding his hands, he slipped away.
Even though it’s been 25 years since my father died, I still smell the aroma of his Rose Hair Oil, and remember the short black comb he carried in his right hip pocket next to his wallet. I can hear the clattering sound his keys made when he laid them on the dresser next to his bed at night.
He had an Army footlocker as old as the hills that he’d painted white with a brush. It’s where he kept his personal things.
After he died, mama wanted me to go through the trunk and try to figure out what to do with what he had left behind. Inside the trunk was a life time of souvenirs. An Old Timer pocket knife, and an ink pen with the image a woman in a bathing suit. When you turned the pen upside down, the bathing suit disappeared. He also had some cat-eye marbles, and an antique Zippo lighter with the cover worn smooth on one side from years of flipping and zipping.
It was an interesting experience browsing through the things that my father had kept for all those years.
A ringing phone snatched me back to the present, and as I cradled the phone between my shoulder and ear, I put daddy’s obit back between the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird. I know it will make me sad again the next time I run across it, but this bookmark will also help me to hold onto memories of my dad.