What Gets Lost (2)

We ran circles around each other, Amber and I. We played in the front yard of the house we had rented in East Tennessee. Amber was four. I was older and starting to feel it.

“James, your mom is on the phone,” Linda called from the open front door.

I walked into the house, picked up the phone, and said, “Hello.”

“James, I have some bad news. Your father is dead.”

It was October, 19th, 1982. He was 71. Milligan College, where I had just begun teaching, was on Fall Break, I had just returned from visiting my parents in Georgia. The ’82 Chevette we had driven down to Georgia was still half-packed.

Only a day or two before, he had handed me a check for $100. “Take this and buy yourself some tires,” he said. He always checked my tires and my oil whenever I visited. “Don’t tell your mother, She’s funny about money, you know.”

A few minutes later we drove away. I glanced back and saw him standing in the driveway waving then….”James, your father is dead.”

“How?”

“He was under your aunt’s house fixing a water pipe and just died.”

Sudden cardiac arrest.

She found him one his knees under the house. Some pipe tape dangled from the leaky pipe he was fixing. He had slipped away so suddenly that he didn’t bother to fall over.

I told my mother that I’d call her back and hung up. I sat down on the edge of the bed and cried.

After a bit, I got up, told Linda what had happened. Amber overheard me.

“We have to go back but I can’t stand the thought of riding in that tin can again,” I said.

I sat down at the kitchen table, the phone in hand, and called the airlines.

“Daddy, what are you doing?” Amber stood by my side

“I’m calling to see what it would cost to fly,” I said.

Her eyes widened and she said, “Are we going to heaven?”

We drove.

I dropped Linda off at her parents’ house in Atlanta and went on to my parents’ house in Carrollton. It was a tiny house. Built in 1950. I was born in July of 1950. We moved into that house in October that year.

My mother and I sat down at the yellow Formica kitchen table in the kitchen. That’s where we had eaten every day, except Sundays, when I was growing up. (Sundays we moved into the dining room.)

We talked from the time I got there about 11 p.m. until about 4:00 a.m. the next morning.

“I’ve got to go to bed,” I said.

Just before I got up, she said something that taught me something about what gets lost when a loved one dies. She said, “You know what I’m really going to miss with him gone?”

“What?”

“I’m going to miss sitting on the front porch, drinking coffee with him, talking, and waiting on the mailman.”

I thought about that comment a lot. I would have thought she would have simply said, “I’m going to miss him.” But, she didn’t. She pointed to a specific moment they shared day after day and said that that was the thing she was going to miss most!

I knew why that meant so much to her. They had both worked hard for years. Neither of them made any money to speak of. That didn’t bother them. My mother was fond of saying, “James, remember: if you have a roof over your head and clean sheets you just about have it all.”

No, they had other problems. My dad was fond of certain libations and my mother was absolutely not. It caused a lot of tension in my growing up years.

But then, one day, just out of the blue, he quit. By the time that he died, he had not had a drink in 5 years. So, to sit on the porch, drink coffee, talk, and watch for the mailman was to my mother a taste of heaven.

What gets lost when a loved one dies? The Person, yes. But, also the Patterns, those daily rituals that seem such a commonplace.

When the beloved one dies, so do the patterns, the commonplaces that constitute our existence with them.

We drink our coffee…alone.
We talk to ourselves.
We wait for the mailman…

We grieve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s