Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memories of Dad



Today, of course, I am thinking of my father.  He passed away when I was 18 - just six minutes after my birthday expired. Life was crazy then and the whole thing was surreal.  I watched him waste away from cancer the preceding months.  Everyone told me that he waited to pass so he wouldn't foul up my birthday.  I like to think that is true, but who knows?  If so, it was a nice present.

I didn't have the same experience with my dad as my siblings.  They knew a man that was gone a lot. They remember a father who probably drank too much and was prone to be a little scary as a result.  I am glad that isn't my memory.  In my years with dad, he was a nondrinker who made my dinner every night because my mom worked.  He was the guy that took me to every little league game and even coached a little for my team.

Dad was responsible for giving me my first friend of another race.  He helped a black man that he worked with get his son into the little league I was in.  A few times he and I, his friend and son went together to the games and got a bite afterwards.  I thank him for showing me how normal life should be.

My father had a keen since of humor which involved his own vocabulary.  He had names for everything.  He called orange juice, "Simpson," water was sky juice, and because we always tended to leave the vacuum cleaner (the tank kind with the hose), in the hallway as a hazard, Dad called it an automatic tripper.  There were MANY more names he had for stuff, I wish I could remember them all.

Dad loved corn bread and made it practically every day.  I never cared for corn bread as a child, but dad was determined to change that.  He would change up the recipes and add stuff to it just to try to win me over.  I remember one day he took some out of the oven and there were pools of butter on the surface.  He said, "Jeff, take you a bite of this.  I know you'll like it."   I responded, "Dad, you know I don't like corn bread, why do you keep offering it to me?"  His response was, "That's not corn bread; it is buttered corn cake!"

When I was 16, I got into a car accident.  It wasn't my fault - REALLY!  Some guy backed out of a Pizza Hut across three lanes of traffic and hit me.  I was really scared to call my dad.  I don't know why; me being 16, I just thought somehow everyone would figure it was my fault.  My dad showed up and made me believe right away that it was no big deal and it wasn't my fault.  He even fixed the fender in our driveway with his auto body expertise.

Anyway, that is the father I remember.  I am blessed with those memories.  I do miss him more than most people realize.  I miss you, Dad. And dad, I like buttered corn cake now.
 

Leave it All on the Field

I AM DEDICATING THIS VIGNETTE TO A DEAR FRIEND OF MINE. SHE KNOWS WHO SHE IS.

She heard him say it a thousand times over the years. “Leave it ALL on the field,” Eric would bark at his players at the practices and games for the Freemont High School football program. That was his mantra and all on the team knew it well. Its aim was to make it quite clear that every tiny bit of effort, every ounce of strength should be expended in the attempt to win the game. He loved that phrase, but seldom believed it was accomplished.

Gina grew up with definite ideas about marriage and her duties as a wife. She was always there for Eric. She would run errands and provide drinks and fruit to the players. Every now and again, she may even cross the nourishment line and bring cookies. Whatever was needed, whatever she could think of to make things better or nicer, Gina was there to serve her man.

Although she took her role in the marriage quite seriously, she did have her own ideas and dreams. She did quite well as a kindergarten teacher at the neighborhood elementary school. She served in the PTA and had just published her first children’s book. Gina was a real go-getter and she knew what she wanted. She was successful at every endeavor, except for the one she wanted the most.

Gina was able to juggle marriage and career through love and conviction – the conviction of just doing what was right by her husband. In addition to her supportive duties at the field, she also tried to exhibit her dedication at home. She was always there to bring him a beer, chips and plenty of backrubs. She did love him and frequently told him that. But more than that, Gina gave her love hands and feet. This was just Gina.

However, this was NOT Eric. He was a perfectionist and was never able to find perfection. No matter how well his team performed, there was always something they could have done better. They won a few regional titles, but had yet to make it to the state finals. He would not be happy unless they brought back the state title, he thought. What Gina knew that Eric didn’t was that even THAT would bring only a fleeting smile. Eric was not happy and it seemed to Gina that he was determined to stay that way.

Unfortunately, Eric had this same attitude at home – particularly with his ever loving, and ever trying wife. He tried to do his part in his own way. He helped out at the house, especially the maintenance and outdoor chores. He would even manage to muster out a “thank you” when Gina was being her serving self. However, he never showed his love for Gina and seldom voiced it. He didn’t really understand it or what it was or wasn’t, but Gina knew. She felt it go right through her every day, sometimes every minute.

Gina felt that Eric’s affection was token as if he was hugging an old aunt that he hadn’t seen for years. When they shared intimate moments, Gina shuttered because she knew that she was a mere object to ease his frustration, not a wife to be loved or cherished. He was not always that way. Gina wondered how the change ever came about. She dealt with the temptation of blaming herself, but deep inside, she always knew that she could only do what she could do.

Day after day she endured this marriage, most of the time with a smile. She, in faith, kept serving him, loving him, being there for him at home, at the games, and in the bedroom. She was there, but she felt it dying. She wasn’t sure what it was that was dying. Was it the marriage? Could it be her love for him? Perhaps it was her life, itself. All she knew was that something important was dying and she was slipping, ever so assuredly, into survival mode.

One crisp October Friday morning, Gina started her routine. Knowing that there would be a game that night, she prepared for her husband a big, healthy breakfast. This got her up a full hour before him to clear out of the bathroom and have coffee and breakfast at the ready when he opened the morning paper at the table. Her preparations were made with conflicting emotions. She was excited to again go the extra mile for him out of faith and love, but at the same time, was agonized that it would be accepted with unloving apathy.

After breakfast, she sent him off full and awake ready to face his day. In return, he kissed the air a good two inches from her cheek and drove away. She noticed his game folder left on the oak secretary by the front door. She scrambled to ready herself for her day in a fashion that would leave her barely enough time to stop by the high school to “save his day”. She saw Eric outside the gym and rushed the folder to him. Her reward was a not-so-angry, “if you would have reminded me at the door, you wouldn’t have had to rush over here.” Tears welled up in Gina’s eyes as she turned out of the parking lot.

At lunch, Gina stopped by the supermarket and grabbed the makings of his favorite meal. Because her planning period was back-to-back with her lunch, she was able to get the meat and potatoes home and pre-prepped so she could have it ready and on the table after the game. She also managed to grab three cases of soda and four bags of apples to be put on ice in the back of her van.

She was there in the front row, when the Freemont Roughriders won in overtime that night. She cheered until she was hoarse. She supported her man. She presented the apples and soda to the players after the game and dashed off to make his meal.

Eric thanked her but never diverted his eyes from SportsCenter as she trudged up the stairs to bed. Somehow, she mustered enough hope to exercise her love and duty one more time before crossing off another hapless day on the calendar of their marriage.

She waited there for him in bed with a new gown that flattered her thirty-something body. Her wrists and body had the light scent of her most luring perfume. Anxious tears filled her eye wells as she heard him finish up in the bathroom a few feet away.

Eric knew what to do when he slid into bed. With not as much as an “I love you” or a mouth kiss, he finished his business with her and rolled over and fell into dispassionate slumber.

Saturday morning arrived not unlike other Saturday mornings. Eric slept in while Gina got up early. Normally, she would do laundry and prepare breakfast. Today was different; her chore was only for herself. She filled two suitcases, gathered her laptop, books and other important papers. Gina was nothing, if not consistent - always thinking of her man so she let him sleep. While he was snoring upstairs, she wrote him a note so as to not wake him on his cherished day off:

Dear Eric,

I devoted the last twelve years to you and our marriage.
I was there for you and I gave to you all I knew to give. I never asked
for anything in return, but I did need a husband - you know, Eric, a husband
to care for me, partner with me, but mostly to love me. Unfortunately, you can’t see that YOU need to be a husband for your own good as well as for the
prosperity of a marriage pledged to each other and to God.

I don’t know what else to do; I have nothing more to give to bring about
the kind of marriage I know that WE deserve and God wants us to have. You
should be proud of me, though, Eric. For our marriage, even though we
lost, I want you to know that I left it ALL on the field.

Your wife,
Gina