Pragmatic enough to believe life has a beginning, middle and end. Empathetic enough to know loneliness can be great when a spouse or love leaves first, the other of a pair wanting to follow. It was that way with my Grandpa and Grandma, my Dad and his wife.
Today was my Dads birthday. I prefer was because birthdays define life and blood and the first cry, a joyful noise. But today there's no cake or voice on the line to tell me crankily I spent too much on a gift. I think of him often, odd triggers like when I hear any song by Johnny Cash or crave fried green tomatoes and potato pancakes. Or watch “Shrek.” When I sing “Margaritaville” and replace the real lyrics with, “Nibbling on spongies, watching the grungies.” The family secret of what he called brazil nuts. The clicking sound of tongue on the roof of his mouth, loud like the pop of a cap gun, when something tasted good.
Thought of him when an old friend got in touch yesterday afternoon asking if I could spare a couple minutes. She’d found out her Dad is facing a cancer, a bad one, a scary one. She said it’s not enough time, that there still too much of him to know. Maybe we’re never meant to have enough time to devour it all, family or friends or anyone. Maybe we have to feed and savor constantly like hummingbirds, until we can't drink anymore.
My Dad would have liked to know I have a manfriend. Forget education or career or house or health or happiness, in small town Pittston, PA the measure of success is based on landing a traditional relationship and babies for the girls. I used to wonder if (or how often as I got older) chat at the extended family table turned to a knotted brow and chin down question of, “Is she gay, Joe?” (I think the term would have been “gay” at best, “dike” at worst.) I’ve always been one to buck tradition, still do to a large extent. But once my Dad found that kind of happy late in life, he simply would have liked me to have that kind of happy too.
Pablo Picasso's last words were, "Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink anymore." I've come to appreciate my Dad's drink of choice the salty dog, his "juice."
I drink him in even now.