Friday, July 23, 2010

My Father's Daughter?

Shortly after I moved to Jacksonville fifteen years ago to help care for my mom, my father introduced me to the White Notebook. Actually he handed me several sheets of paper filled with his almost illegible writing on it and asked me to make some sense of it. Family phone numbers, military retirement regulations, insurance policy numbers and list upon list of what to do to see that my mother was adequately taken care of in the event of his death. According to most actuarial tables my mother would outlive my father by about 5 years. My father was a man who lived by the numbers. He was taking no chance that those of us left behind would NOT know what to do or where to look for all pertinent information.

Well, we know about the best laid plans of mice and men. My mom predeceased Dad by more than those 5 years. The White Notebook has been re-worked a few times to update phone numbers of his nomadic children, but mostly it's been moved to the back of the bookcase and forgotten. Last night I pulled it out and blew the dust off. I read through it, made a list of questions, then gently brought the subject up with my dad, pointing out the places that I thought needed to be tweaked some. Surprisingly what could have been a rather touchy subject was very matter of fact and un-emotional. Not cold, but neither accentuated by tears and breast beating.

Today while Dad ,who had a pretty good day yesterday, slept I got to work cleaning up the book. You know how at this time in our lives when the thing that we always swore would never happen happens as if it is as natural as water flowing down hill. Suddenly, without warning or precipitation, you realize you have turned into your mother (or father as the case may be.)Like when you are getting ready for a hot date with your Sweetie and you look in the mirror and see your mother's face smiling back at you with way more wrinkles than you ever thought you had and a patch of whiskers on your chin. Or when you the dog is following you around and whining like a temperamental toddler and you hear, you actually hear, the words, "if you don't stop crying, I'm going to give you something to cry about" coming out of your mouth.

Well this morning, as Dad slept, I meticulously combed through the white notebook, making all the needed corrections. I actually enjoyed the quiet stillness of the house and the feeling of getting organized. Yikes! Am I my father's daughter? Or have I been married to Sweetie long enough for his desire for order to rub off on me?

Later in the day I found myself tripping down memory lane, or maybe I should say tripping over the 10 boxes of slide carousels I had out on the floor. When my sisters and I were younger family slide night was always favorite. We followed the family's growth from 1 daughter, to 2, to 3 to 4. It is painfully clear that Dad gave up his photographic hobby way before my youngest sister was born. With no new slides being made we watched the same slide show every time and it never seemed to grow tired of it. We even watched after someone under the age of 10, about the height to reach the exact middle of a movie screen, scratched something into the glass beads, thus marring the center of every picture. After that we watched the slides on a sheet strung from corner to corner across the living room.

Sadly, like rotary telephones and weekly G-rated TV shows, the slides have been replaced by powerpoint presentations and digital snapshots posted on Facebook. Many of them are too warped to fit through the projector and too dark to see if they do. But the memories are still crystal clear. And that's what counts. I've found a few pictures of my Dad to scan into the computer. Pictures of when he was vital, and had a long life ahead of him. It's kind of surreal to see a photograph of a young naval officer wearing khaki shorts supervising a construction project on a Philippine island flash across a computer screen and realize it is the same man with the shaved head lying in what will soon be his death bed.

An old friend of Dad's called yesterday and told me a story that puts this kind of work into perspective for me. Genie's daddy died when she was just 18 months old. The only daddy she knew was the man in the stories that her momma told her over and over again. One in particular was this: Genie's mother asked her daddy, what do you think heaven will be like. And he answered (I cannot do this story justice, Genie tells it very dramatically in a southern drawl as sweet as cotton candy). "I think heaven is going to be a big adventure."

The Bible says there is a time for every season. A time to live and a time to die. The man in the khaki shorts has lived a long full life. Every day I notice he is a little more tired. He's sleeping peacefully, not fighting the inevitable. I take some comfort in the knowing that he's resting up for his next big adventure.

Wishing for you time enough,
Merry ME


Pamela Jones said...

It must be very reassuring for your father to know that he has raised a daughter who knows how to manage the White Notebook.

We had movies, not slides, with no sound -- and we also watched them again and again. I'm loving the way your Dad's life is flashing before his daughter's eyes. So much love in your words! {{{{Mary}}}}}

AkasaWolfSong said...

I wish for you time enough Mary...
Treasure these last moments now as I know that you will.

You move my heart in so many ways and I thank you for sharing this beautiful story!

Many Blessings...and lots of Love!