My dad would have celebrated his 94 birthday this past week. Throat cancer got the best of him in May of ‘86 at the age of 63. He inhaled the gas and fumes released by the arc welders he used in …
My dad would have celebrated his 94 birthday this past week. Throat cancer got the best of him in May of ‘86 at the age of 63. He inhaled the gas and fumes released by the arc welders he used in his work. I’m sure that contributed, but I bet moonshine whiskey and Camel cigarettes didn’t help.
The last year or so of his life, he turned into a scarecrow of a man. He spent most of his time sitting in the living room recliner looking out the window at something in the distance. Something no one else could see. He scribbled notes on a tiny wire-bound notebook he kept in his shirt pocket. I never asked what he was writing and he never said.
After he died, we sorted through his things. There was an eclectic blend of things in the footlocker he kept beside his bed. There were pictures, buttons and souvenirs I’d never seen before. I know they must have meant something to him. Just inside the locker was a stack of old postcards that his friends sent to him when they traveled. He always wanted to travel but never had the chance. Under the postcards was his wire-bound notebook.
About half of the pages in his notebook were written in pencil. He wrote about dying. He wondered about heaven and hell. He wasn’t looking forward to being put to rest “in that cold, cold ground.” It was one of the saddest things I ever read. Dying by degrees seems like it would be a blessing and a curse. He had an opportunity to put his affairs in order, but he also had a long time to think about where he’d been and where he was going. I didn’t take any pictures of my dad during the last months of his life. That wasn’t how I wanted to remember him. The pictures that I choose to remember are the ones when he was happy and vital. He was at home on the Warrior River. We had a jon boat for as long as I can remember. He knew when and where to look for the crappy, and bream. He also knew where to string the trot-line to catch white-bellied catfish as big as your leg.
He loved sleeping under the stars on the riverbank while listening to a serenade of crickets and frogs. When the soft crackle and the blue flames of the campfire faded into warm pulsing embers late at night is when he felt most alive. He was a quiet man by nature, but I learned a lot about his dreams when we were camping.
Our family didn’t have a lot when we were growing up, but it wasn’t because my dad was lazy. He didn’t finish grammar school, but that did not keep him from working hard. We had all we needed and more. I appreciate all the sacrifices he made for my siblings and me. I miss him every day.
Happy Birthday, dad. I hope the fish are biting whereever you are.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org