It was a Bolingbrook police officer. He told me that Dad had been wandering around the Kroger parking lot, looking for his car. He asked me if Dad suffered from dementia. He told me that an ambulance had been called and Dad was taken to Bolingbrook Adventist.
I immediately called you. I told you all that had happened the past couple days. You began to cry and said, "Oh my God, Beth. I think Dad had a stroke." I began to cry, too. Loudly. I felt as if my heart had dropped to my stomach, and I became weak in the knees and fell to the ground. Passersby just looked at me and probably thought I was crazy.
The next person I called was Jon. He got off work and picked me up and we went to the hospital.
It was a major stroke. Dad was lucky to be alive.
One professor was so understanding. His mom had passed away from a stroke. He could commiserate with me. Other professors were not so forgiving. They couldn't care less about Dad or what I was going through. One even told me that two of her student's parents had passed away from cancer that semester and they still did their work.
I was supposed to work the day I received the phone call. I called in and told my boss that my dad had a stroke and I couldn't make it in. I felt that Dad was more important than serving wealthy donors fancy food before a CSO performance. I was fired.
The next year was so difficult. I was so sad. I didn't want to do my student teaching, but Jon convinced me it was the best thing to do. I had two more English classes to take during the summer to fulfill my minor requirements.
The professor who was so understanding always told me, "Write what you know and the truth will come out." So, for my final paper that summer, I wrote a letter to Dad. I never read it to him. Here it is.
I miss you. I miss our talks. I may not have told you this at the time, but you always knew how to comfort me…make me feel better after a fall…after a boy broke my heart…you were there. I miss your bear hugs. Do you remember? You grew a beard by the end of the day even when I was just a child. You’d pick me up, squeeze me tight, and “swhisker” me before you went to work at night. You never said, “I love you.” But I knew. I knew you loved me because I felt it. I questioned this when I was much older…it was high school. I began to notice other parents telling their children that they loved them. I asked you why you never told us that you loved us. You said, “Of course I love you. I love all my children.”
“Then why don’t you ever say it? Promise me you’ll try to say it more often.”
After leaving for work the next day, you gave me a hug goodnight and then left. A few seconds passed and you opened the door and said with a big grin, “I love you.” It made me so happy that you continued to do it. Eventually, you only said it every once in awhile. But you know what, Dad? It only made it that much more meaningful.
I love you a bushel and a peck
You bet your purdy neck I do
Do you remember that song? You used to sing it to us. I would always sing it with you. Jon’s mom started singing it to her grandkids one day…only with different lyrics.
I love you a bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck and a squeeze around the neck
Oh yes I do, I love you
This upset me. I thought she had gotten the words wrong, but she insisted she didn’t. I felt as if she was calling you a liar. This was part of my childhood…a part that I cherished so dearly. I didn’t even know who sang the song originally. I didn’t even want to look it up for fear that I might be wrong. Then, one night I was watching a movie and the song started playing in the background. You were both right. Well, sort of. I was so happy. I got up and started dancing and singing. I think Doris Day sang it. I think Perry Como sang it, too.
You used to clean houses in Downers Grove. Oftentimes, you would have to bring us kids with you. Sometimes we would help, but I remember one particular occasion where you gave us money to go see a movie. I was about four or five-years-old. Ryan and Matthew didn’t want to hold my hand. You told them they had to if they wanted to see the movie. I was so excited. A real adventure with my brothers!
The movie theater was right down the street from where you were. We passed by a candy shop first. We went in. Matthew and Ryan bought some candy for the movie. I marveled at all there was in this candy store. They had those gum cigarettes…not the stupid sugar sticks, but the ones that were rolled in paper and when you blew, sugar smoke would come out. They were my favorite only because they were my brothers’ favorite. I think it made them feel cool. I wanted to be just like them. We got to the movie theater and they realized they only had enough money left to buy two tickets. I remember they turned to me and asked me if I remembered how to get back to the house you were cleaning. I was so scared.
“But, I thought we were gonna see a movie?”
“How about we give you some of this candy and you go back and tell Dad you changed your mind and would rather stay with him?”
“Can Daddy come, too?”
“No, you’re going to walk back right down the street there and help Dad. Do you remember which house it was?”
“I think so.”
“O.k. we’ll see ya’ later.”
I began walking down a street. I’m not sure if it was even the right direction. There were a lot of people on the street. It was a Saturday. I felt like I might get trampled. I began to cry. I was just sitting there in the middle of the sidewalk crying. And then you were there. You picked me up and hugged me and asked me what had happened. I told you all that had happened. I asked if I could go help you clean now. I don’t know how you knew I was there, but I was so happy to see you. You were furious. That was the most angry I had seen you. You put me down. You asked me to wait outside the movie theater, but I wanted to come inside with you. You asked an usher to watch me for a couple of minutes, and you bought a movie ticket.
A couple minutes later, you dragged Matthew and Ryan outside and started yelling at them. “I asked you to look after your sister and you leave her here? How could you be so irresponsible? What if something had happened to her?” You started spanking them right there in front of the Tivoli. You may have spanked them all the way back to the house. I felt bad. I felt guilty for not remembering where you were, which caused my brothers to get spanked and grounded, and you got so upset. You made them apologize to me and had them turn over the candy they had left. I felt like you had rescued me that day.
I miss your stories. You would always talk about the past. Sometimes it made me think you weren’t happy with the present, but maybe you just wanted to remember. You told me that your brother used to call you “Burdock” because you always wanted to be around him. He was so much older than you. You would always tell me that I would’ve liked him. Do you remember what you’d call us? “Bud”, “Missy”, “Forsooth”, “Rye” or “Ryebread”, and “Beth” or “Macbeth”. You taught me how to drive in the same cemetery you taught mom how to drive. She was so much younger than you.
Do you remember life before your stroke? I do, Dad. I remember it so clearly that it used to make it hard for me to see you. I kept thinking, “what if?” What if I would’ve noticed something different about you that day? You came down the stairs so slowly that morning. What if I would’ve stayed just a little while longer? I may have seen it. What if I came over to your house when you had called me and said your car wasn’t working? I told you that you probably left the headlights on and to ask a neighbor for some jumper cables. What if I never moved out? You’ve never lived alone a day in your life. What if?
I’ve stopped that now, Dad. I keep thinking, “What now?” I’m so happy you’re in my life. I’m so grateful for all that you are and all that you’ve done to ensure I had the best life possible. No material possession could ever replace any moment we’ve shared together. Right after the stroke, I sat there in the hospital room and I asked if there was anything that you needed. Do you remember what you said?
You said, “Just you. I need all my children.” And I need you, too. So, what now, dad? Shall we play some basketball? Do a crossword together? Laugh together? How about a song? I know a good one.
Your loving daughter,