“Hey Dad, hey Mom. Here I am ironing a shirt again. Pretty mundane I know, but it made me think of you today...
...Okay, the fact that your portraits were hanging right there in the same room helped me miss you a little.”
My parents’ 8x10s are such a sweet reminder of who they were. The shots are those famous Olan Mills portraits which so often seem plastic and posed. These were posed, but far from plastic. Thanks Olan Mills. You captured my folks’ entire personalities in 1/30th of a second.
It was one of those “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” days, a la Disney’s 1946 classic film, Song of the South. The sky was so blue you could reach up, grab a handful, and smear it on your palette to use for that “landscape in watercolor” you always planned to paint. A gentle breeze sang through the wind chimes hanging in the Chinaberry tree. Puffy white clouds coasted lazily by.
I’m almost certain a song-laden bluebird landed on my shoulder at least a few times.
My mother was one of those amazing people whose spirit and soul must’ve been cosmically tethered to the weather. (A Weather Tether?) She’d sometimes barely make it through the cloudy and chilly days by holding on to the hope of the Sun’s return. Those stormy days don’t seem to bother me as much – but these clear days where you can see forever seem to plant my feet about six inches off the ground.
The portrait on the left had Dad dressed in his best three-piece suit. He was a simple country boy, but had always dreamed of having a nice house, a long car, and enough twenties to fill his sterling silver money clip. My memories kept him in light-colored dungarees (forever endeared in our family as “Grandpa Dennis Jeans”) and a tight-fitting polo shirt with way too many pens stuffed in the breast pocket.
So, seeing him frozen in this framed portrait dressed in his Sunday best evoked a dichotomous smile. “Gosh, I love you Dad,” surprisingly sprung from my lips as I turned the shirt around to iron the button side.
I wanted so much to fix my eyes on that stately figure; the one with him clutching his jacket’s lapel and staring out at me with that debonair grin.
But as I did, I knew the “other” photo was there. I tried to convince myself not to look.
Try as I may, my eyes couldn’t resist making their way down to the lower left-hand corner of the wood frame. There, as adorned so many of our framed family portraits around the house, a 4x6 print was wedged in front of the glass – a subtle reminder of another slice of life captured on film that somehow related to what lay behind it.
This 4x6 was the very last photo of my dad and me; taken a few months before that Dastardly Disease robbed him away from us. In this photo, he was thin.
He was jaundiced.
He was dying.
Damn you, Cancer.
I mean that. Not as a cuss word, a popular explicative or a figure of speech; but as a sincere and genuine curse.
The number of loved ones prematurely robbed by this single human malady is staggering. No matter the worldwide statistics, (which are alarming) the gritty reality is how this Thief has affected us personally. This is where it truly “hits home.”
My dad. Your mom. His uncle. Her son. Their grandmother.
We all know that life on this earth is not forever. Something will eventually be the cause of the end of all our lives. It’s just the way things are.
So, what do we do with these “premature” deaths? How do we deal with those diseases and circumstances which are out of our control which take our loved ones from us?
Walking is something most of us take for granted every single day. It’s also nothing less than a miracle of muscle mechanics coupled with thousands of brain signals.
We put one foot in front of the other. We don’t lean too much to the right or the left. We keep ourselves about centered – not too much forward, not too much backward.
We see the 4x6 of their last image – but we don’t let it block the view of the Olan Mills. Focusing too much on one or the other gives an unrealistic view of life. After the anger of losing a loved one subsides, the beauty of the fullness of their lives must propel us to embrace every single moment we have left on Earth.
I finished ironing my shirt, went outside, and just sat for a while in the bright blueness of the day. The sun massaged my face with its warm hands. The breeze stroked my hair with its unpredictable fingers. I caught the pleasant smell of something cooking on the neighbor’s grill.
I closed my eyes and found myself wishing I had my dad back.