Sunday, November 23, 2008

Election Night: How I said Goodbye to my Father

--- In, "Forrest A. Wright" wrote:
> I think life, even in the ideal world, must grieve. I think grieving> is an essence of eatings, drinkings and sexings.>
> Let us say good bye to the dead with tears but without damnation.
> Good bye old friend, mother, father or others. Rest in peace. Tears> and snots.> > Any words?

Hi Forest.

This is something which has been on my mind a lot these days because my father is dying. We don’t expect him to last out the month. I’ve mentioned it here before. He has been battling leukemia since February this year. He went through some hard chemo therapy which appeared successful, all the cancer cells were gone. Then he went in and out of a coma, and a few weeks ago the leukemia cells were back. The American health care system, second to none except Costa Rica and about 32 other countries according to WHO, told him to have a nice trip and that was that.

When I got the word I had to decide how to say good bye to him. He and I are both fierce Democrats and were excited about election night so I proposed to spend election night with him, as a final father and son thing we could do together. I arrived on Monday the 3rd.

In the evening my sister Anna and I dug out some photo albums left by my Uncle Tony. They had pictures of dad long before I was born. Images of him as a young man in the Navy, and National Guard, then as a teenager, then as a child, then as a baby. It had photos of my ancestors going back 5 generations, almost to the very invention of photography. We spent the evening before election night in the living room, my Dad tired but spirited, the leukemia blisters ravaging his face like ulcerous warts. I scribbled fast in a notebook I’d brought along for a short story I’m writing, as he went through each old picture explaining who it was and what the story was behind it. It was as if his life was flashing by him, but one black and white image at a time. They were incredibly sharp images, and in pristine condition. One image shows the shadow of his brother snapping the camera with the sun behind him. The shadow is hunched, looking down, the images 2 ¼ by 2 ¼ (“two and a quarters” in photographers terms) confirming that these were shot by an old Kodak ”Brownie” camera, the camera of the masses for generations. They were ghosts. Many of the people, even the children, were all dead. Their time, their generation had passed as Dad, the youngest of them, was beginning to pass away.

What a strange thing it must be to see the changing faces of yourself as a teenager with all the mystery of your future in front of you, and now to meet these ghosts with your grown son, knowing that death is finally coming down the road for you, to see it at the door and looking you in the eye, to know your fate, to have no doubt of it and to wonder what the answer to the next great mystery will turn out to be. What will it turn out to be; who finally got it right? The great religions? The mystics? The atheists? Heaven? Hell? Graduation? Reincarnation? Dumb oblivion?

At the end of the evening he went upstairs and came down with something I had requested he give to me. Some things can’t be taken. They have to be given. It was an antique in perfect working condition, which fifty years ago had been the jewel of his eye back in the day when I was too, when this thing and I were both brand new. It was an old professional camera, a German made Zeiss-Ikon twin lens reflex. When I was a little kid, Dad earned his living with this beautiful machine as a photo-journalist. For years I coveted it, even though no one made film for it anymore. It was the old samurai handing down his Katana sword. He passed it down to me. It was a pleasure to hold in my hands, the finger the dials, frame the image and to remember how it was when he was my Dad and I was his kid. It’s the way I want to remember him.

On election day we took it easy. Dad had voted by absentee ballot. We raked leaves and smoked a cigar together outside and talked politics. It was if the past had never happened. As we raked the leaves out front, friends drifted down the sidewalk on their way to the polls. They stopped or pulled over to chat with him as he introduced me. This was an upper middle class neighborhood such as I will never be able to live in, the neighborhood I might have had if I had chosen differently as a young man. Almost every front lawn, in an unbroken chain had a big blue Obama sign on it. I felt sorry for any Republicans in the neighborhood, they must have felt defensive. I looked at this stream of people, popping in to pay their respects and wondered what it would have been like to have been one of them. What a tribute to have so many friends come by to see you in your last days.

In the evening we went downstairs to the basement where the big TV was, and ate popcorn and drank beer and watched it all happen. My sister Anna, another sacrifice of my religious life, a person who grew up without ever knowing me, came in and hung out with us for awhile. I kept switching over to Fox News, which Dad hates, but I always find losers more interesting than winners. It was fun to hear the other side. We were tuned into Fox when it was announced that Obama would be the winner. You could see a noticeable sag in the announcer.In the morning it was time to leave. We parted in tears. I had failed to shed tears for my mom when she died, and when you’re seeing your parents for the last they deserve your tears, its your offering. My last offering to my Dad was my tears when I told him I wouldn’t see him again. It reminded me of the old days, saying goodbye to the old gods and the ghosts of what might have been.



Jeanne said...

Wonderful post, Garce.
I'm a sucker for old photos. When you mentioned the Brownie Kodak pictures a memory shot through me of the little booklets you'd get of pictures. You could tear off the ones you wanted to share, and of course, make copies with the negatives.
Great start.

Patti said...

A beautiful tribute to your father. I had to wipe away a tear or two at the end when you described how you said goodbye.

The last time I saw my grandfather, I thought it might be the last time, and yet I pretended it was just a normal goodbye. I never did see him again, and regretted not telling him I loved him when I had the chance.

Now, every time I say goodbye to my mother, I tell her I love her. I've become superstitious about it, even though I've never been superstitious about anything before. I think to myself, what if I forgot to say it, and then she died? I wouldn't have taken the opportunity to say it to her that one last time and I'd regret it to the end of my days.

Remittance Girl said...

Hey Garce,

brilliant post. I really enjoyed reading it.