We crossed the Mississippi River bridge in Memphis in the rental car, ironically a Malibu, and remembered what the Arkansas Delta looks like in early winter. Many of the trees had long ago shed their leaves leaving cold bare branches that reach toward the sky, and those still holding leaves that had only recently been brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges had faded to the color of rust and stood clustered together for warmth next to the brown dirt of the silent farmland. The winter sun was setting, and it looked as if someone had plastic-wrapped the entire pastel sky. It isn’t your typical picture of natural beauty, but I now find it strangely wonderful.
It was good to spend time in my hometown. Seeing family and old friends was special as expected, but there was something special about just being there, too. I don’t miss temperatures in the upper twenties even a little bit, but it was even refreshing to remember what home felt like on my skin once upon a time. I went for a seven-mile run one morning that gave me a good long time to remember.
My wife and I went for a drive one afternoon to remember more. We drove by her first workplace and the places we lived together and even Joel and Alicia’s apartment where we spent many an evening in the early days of our relationship sitting on the couch and talking and falling in love.
And then we drove to the grave sites of my sweet parents. I used to make a point to do this alone on each visit home to talk to them; first, my dad, who died so long ago, and then more recently to both of them, sort of like I would go to their bedroom seeking comfort following a childhood nightmare in the middle of the night—comforting even when I couldn’t see their faces. But this time I went with my beautiful wife. We walked across the crunchy leaves under a cold sun and stood there as a couple — as my parents were a couple once upon a memory. There was nothing really to do other than stare at the flowers and the name plates and silently wonder where the years go and what to think about it. It was good to stand there together, like my parents who also made the choice in life to stand together. And who now Rest In Peace together.
I developed a strong sense that someone has pressed pretty hard on life’s accelerator and that the years are really starting to fly by now. It may sound a little spooky to say such a thing, but strangely enough I find it to be a most peaceful feeling. Life is quite the ride, and fear now seems like such a waste of precious time.
I think my parents are telling me this as I still stand by their bedside in the darkness.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arkansas, cemetery, children, comfort, death, family, fear, home, hometown, life, marriage, memories, parents, peace, time, winter
My parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December. Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart. My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday. Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack. While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.
This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth. Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers. Where does the time go?
The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain. The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room. When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.
But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays. What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles. Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head. Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters. That’s what I will remember this week. The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.
These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers. My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8. I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others. But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.
I do have an idea this year. This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world. I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street. Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me. The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside. I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.
I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories. And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arkansas, bing crosby, birthdays, christmas, death, family, holidays, home, love, memories, paragould, parents, pearl harbor day, smiles, world war two