Friday, June 24, 2011

My father's voice

As most of you know my Dad died last week. I'll be writing about it here and there for awhile I am sure. Let's just call this Part One of who knows how many.

My dad was not a big talker. He just didn't have a lot to say. Not that he couldn't hold up a pretty decent conversation, he just didn't want to. He didn't have a lot of use for small talk. Though he could tell a story like nobody I know. He would suck you in to his story, lead you right down the primrose path then BOOM hit you with the punch line. And you never knew it was coming. Ever. I would always swear I wasn't going to fall for it again, but then he would start talking and reel me right back in.

So last week as we all started the long process of adjusting to the fact that Dad was gone we shared stories about him. Mom even had us write down a few remembrances and then had everyone at the service who cared to, to do the same. There were themes. My father was a kind man, he was a quiet man, he was a dignified man, he was a funny man, he loved his wife and his children and their children and their children. But the thing that struck me was how often I would hear my father's voice through those stories. Almost as though he had told them first and people were just repeating them.

It's not unusual for me to hear my dad. He was very frugal. A depression era kid he never threw anything away and he could make just about anything you ever thought you needed and a lot of things you didn't know you needed until he made them. Looking through a Sky Mall catalog I can always find one or two things my dad made years ago out of spare parts that they are now selling. My mother on the other hand loves to shop and loves a good sale. She would buy something and tell my dad how much she had saved and he would tell her she would have saved even more if she hadn't bought it. I made the mistake of sharing that story with Brent early on in our marriage and so every once in awhile I hear my father's voice come out of my husband's mouth! Though truth be told I am a shopper like my dad. I just don't need to do it and I cringe at spending money on things like clothes. Shoes are something else entirely...

Because of this aversion to just shopping (just shopping as opposed to shopping with a purpose) I didn't have a dress to wear to the funeral. I owned three dresses. Two casual summer things and one dressy dress. I didn't want to wear the good dress to the funeral. It was the dress I wore to C's graduation and though it would have been perfectly appropriate I knew that after that point it would always be "the dress I wore to my dad's funeral" I made that mistake with the dress I wore to Jack's funeral. I had worn it to a wedding the weekend he died and wore it again to the funeral. When the pictures from the wedding came back and I saw myself in the wasn't happy. So a new dress would be needed.

I found three black dresses to try on. The first one I tried showed a lot of cleavage and I heard my dad's voice in my head, "Are you planning on wearing a sweater with that?" I always joked that my father was much more modest than I was. So that one was out. No way was I wearing a sweater the end of June in Albuquerque. The next two were pretty close to each other. I took a picture of each and sent them to Brent to look at to help me choose. He felt the same way, 6 of one, half dozen of the other (another saying of my dad's). So I looked at the price. One was on a bigger sale than the other I figured my dad would approve. Look how much I will save...(look how much you would save if you didn't buy either).

My eldest nephew has an incredible singing voice and my mother decided she wanted him to sing at the service. After much debate we got her to narrow it down to one song and we all decided "The Old Rugged Cross" would be a good choice. It's a fairly well known song, it's not too complicated, it was one of my dad's favorites. I am not sure how my nephew held it together to sing but he did a wonderful job. Up until that point in the service I was doing pretty well, but in the chorus there is the normal line and then a low part. My father always sang the low part. So as Brian sang..."I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross" I heard my dad come in on rugged with "the Old Rugged Cross" and I lost it. Completely fell apart, ugly cry sobs. But still heard him every time Brian got to that part. It was a horrible and beautiful moment.

When we wrote down our stories my youngest nephew wrote that when Dad would tell him to "fly his flag straight" after he messed up it would mean more to him than anything else anyone else could tell him. When I read that I remembered the times my sister and I would be fighting in our room and my mother would tell us to stop and we would get quiet for about as long as it took her to walk back down the hallway. But if my dad came down the hallway and told us to knock it off, we were done. Not another peep. When you don't say a lot, what you do say carries much more weight.

But I also thought how interesting it was that I had never heard that particular expression from my dad. Which made me think of being 14 and playing cards at my oldest brother's house. People were getting things to drink and I went into the kitchen and made myself a rum and coke. At 14. With my parents there. Yeah, my brother couldn't believe it either. He announced that the people raising me were not the same people who raised him. And in a way it was true. He is 14 years older than I am and we have three siblings between us. By the time they got to me they were pretty much done. I had a small handful of rules and was left pretty much to my own devices by the time I was a teenager. I wasn't driving (at 14? don't be silly it was illegal), I wasn't going to get drunk, I was in a safe place so yeah, I could have a drink.

So it wasn't that unusual that the father who raised me was different than the grandfather who helped raise my sister's sons. What dad would tell us was "we better straighten up and fly right" this was the warning shot before punishment was handed out. I guess for a cowboy my dad had flying on the mind a lot of the time. Or at least when the kids were screwing up. Maybe he was thinking how nice it would be to throw us?

I figure for the rest of my life I will hear my father's voice. And I am glad. For a man who didn't say much he said a lot that stuck.

I love you Dad. (my father's response...Oh goody!)


  1. Excellent read. It's funny that your dad (and now Brent) say that about saving even more money if you didn't buy anything at all. I say that nearly on a weekly basis to Anita!

    Denise, thanks for the story...

  2. love this one.......great memories....