Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lodi, Jerusalem and the Land of Cotton

I don't know what my dad's last words were.  And that bothers me.

My dad was alone when he fell down the stairs on Thursday, December 17.  It took four to six hours before a neighbor came by and knocked on the door.  The neighbor called my mom, who was with me in Nashville, and asked if she had any idea why my dad wouldn't be answering the door.  She asked him to get the spare key and let himself in to check on Dad.  That's when he found my dad on the landing, underneath a University of Alabama football flag. 

Because I don't know what my dad's last words were, I keep trying to make them up in my head. 

We think my dad's last conversation was with the neighbor, Gary.  Gary had promised to bake a pizza that afternoon and bring a piece to Dad.  Dad had asked him to make it "juicy and spicy," which means a lot of sauce.  It was hard for my dad to eat pizza unless it had a lot of sauce and was soft.  He did have dentures but he didn't like wearing them, so instead he relegated himself to foods that were easy to chew.  Like juicy and spicy pizza. 

Not long ago we were having dinner together and I noticed my dad didn't have his dentures in.  "Dad, why aren't you wearing your dentures?" I asked him.  "Oh, I only need them when I'm eating!" he answered cheerfully. 

The beauty in that conversation is all that is unsaid.  But my dad I both knew exactly what was left out of that conversation.  Here's what was left out.

"But Dad, you are eating."

"I know Druse, but the truth is, I don't like wearing my dentures." 

And that thing about him not liking to wear his dentures?  That is probably the essence of my dad.  My dad did what he wanted.  All throughout his life, and especially in his later years, he did what he wanted.  He didn't care what society or good manners would dictate.  In fact, he frequently cautioned us girls not to allow ourselves to become "civilized into a stupor." 

"Civilized into a stupor" meant doing what society told you to do even if it made no sense or brought no real benefit.  Things like coming to a full stop at stop signs, and flossing, and taking your Christmas lights down in January.
My dad had a strong urge to resist societal pressure.  In fact, the more that was applied, the more he would resist.  I don't fully understand this aspect of my dad, even though it seems I inherited it.

My mom is the opposite of my dad in this regard.  My mom does what she should most of the time.

Do you know what happens when two people like that raise children together?  The children turn out pretty balanced, I think.  My sisters and I do what we should most of the time, and we do what we want some of the time.  And for the most part, we do okay. 

When Gary said he would be back in the afternoon with a juicy and spicy pizza, he says my dad said, "Hoo wee!"  I can hear my dad saying that.  It was an expression of anticipation and joy.  My dad's later years were filled with joy and little things. 

He got a lot of joy out of doing the word jumble in the newspaper every morning.  When we got to the house the morning after my dad died, his body had already been taken away to the funeral home.  If you didn't look at the stairs, it looked like my dad had stepped out for a minute.  The newspaper was on the dining room table, opened up to the word jumble page.  He had scribbled words and letters in the margins of the paper as he tried to solve the jumbles that final morning.  He hadn't finished solving what was to be his final jumble.  His reading glasses were just at the edge of the paper.  Like he had just stepped away.

I would love it if my dad's last words were, "Hoo wee!"  What a way to go out. 

It's also possible though that my dad's last words were words he sang out loud, to no one in particular.  That was a habit of his.  My dad would often sing a line from a song that happened to be running through his head.  It was just one line, a few words perhaps, but it was a very short insight into what was going through his mind in that moment.  One of his favorites was "Oh Lord, I'm stuck in Lodi again!"  Another was, "Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton!"  Then he would pause and say to himself, "Wait a minute!  We are in the land of cotton!" 

So maybe his last words were a line from a song that was running through his head at the moment.  One that he sang a lot in his later years was, "I want to be ready, I want to be ready Lord, I want to be ready Lord, walking in Jerusalem just like John."  I'd love it if those were his last words.  

Incidentally we sang that song at his funeral and I was annoyed that the words in the hymnal were different than the way Dad sang them.  The hymnal says, "I want to be ready to walk in Jerusalem just like John."  My dad had been singing the song wrong all these years. 

Well wait, he wasn't wrong. 

He was singing it the way he wanted to sing it. 

He was not civilized into a stupor. 

Pat Tillman had some of the best last words ever.  Pat was an NFL star who left his professional career and enlisted in the army after 9/11.  

He died in the mountains of Afghanistan at the age of 27 - which was exactly 1/3 of my dad's lifespan.  Exactly. 

It's been reported that Pat was shot by U.S. troops.  On accident, of course.  They call that "friendly" fire but I cannot call it that, just like I cannot say that a homeowner came home and "surprised" a burglar. 

Anyway, Pat's last words were, "I'm Pat f*#ckingTillman!"  Apparently he knew he was being shot at by his own team.

I love everything about those last words.  There's self-worth.  There's courage.  There's dignity.  There's righteous anger. 

I would love it if those had been my dad's last words.  "I'm Joe f*#cking Parsons!"  That would make me so proud if my dad had gone out that way.

But honestly, I know he didn't.  That just is not my dad.  That kind of righteous anger would have been, frankly, too much work for him.

The reality is, I need to accept that I will never know what my dad's last words were. 

I will never know exactly what time he fell down the stairs.

I will never know what caused him to stumble. 

I need to let all of those questions go.

I need to open my hand and take those questions one by one and toss them down the staircase, and let them rest with my dad, somewhere out there. 

Somewhere where there are no traffic stops and no cavities.  Where it is Christmas every day.  A place where my dad and John go for daily walks on the streets of Jerusalem and engage in a lively debate about what the words to the song really are.

Maybe he'll meet Pat Tillman there.  Pat will be swaggering his handsome self down the street and when he sees my dad and John, he'll straighten up his already tall frame and he will howl at my dad, "I'm Pat F*#cking Tillman!" 

And my dad will give him a joyful high five and shout back, "Hoo wee!"