You would have been 91 years old today.
As it turned out, you left last year, three weeks short of your ninetieth birthday. You couldn’t hang around for the chocolate cake; you had places to go. You stuck it out as long as you could. But anyone with a brain in their head could see that you were finished.
You were my hero. I adored you, and I still adore you, and I always will adore you. My tiny house on wheels is adorned with photos of you and your art. It’s a rolling monument; you have no other, since you chose to be incinerated rather than buried…I always thought you’d make an ash of yourself….
I chuckle when I think of the horrible puns you managed to dig up on every possible occasion. You and I would roar with laughter while Mom twisted up her face in disgust. I wanted to punch her, but you either ignored her or said, “Aw, come on, don’t be such a fuddy-duddy.”
The week before you died, you complained of boredom, so I brought a book of short stories that I had given you many years ago. I began to read my favorite, then realized with horror that it was a very black story about death!
I said, “Uh, Dad, do you mind some black humor?”
Through blue lips you croaked, “The blacker the better!” And we had our last good chuckle.
You never laid a hand on me in anger, except for the one time you gave me a real over-the-knee spanking, at my mother’s insistence, for the crime of running away from her (again). But your anger was not at me, but at her, and after the deed was done, you left me crying on my bed and closed the door. I heard you tell her to do her own dirty-work. Then my door opened and you came in to make sure I was all right. You never touched me again, except for your bear-hugs and rides on your shoulders. I loved it when we came to a doorway and you would shout “Low bridge!” so that I would know to fold myself around your bald head, and you would crouch down so I wouldn’t get bashed.
Your body betrayed you, but you squeezed the last drop of your strength to make your beautiful art. It was only when your mind finally failed that you made your last body of beautiful work, walked out your studio door, and never returned.
You mourned your work, as I mourn mine. Our conversations about that laid to rest your bitterness about my leaving practice, and my bitterness that you thought it was out of laziness rather than disability. Once you had tasted the bile of being unable to do the work you loved, you apologized to me, and the sweetness of that apology erased my pain, although I grieved the fact that you had to live my experience in order to learn it.
After I left home, and my mother disowned me, you would sneak and visit me, wherever I happened to be, on pretense of work. We reveled in our stolen fruit.
Once when you came to dinner, I slipped on the kitchen floor and spilled the whole pot of home-made spaghetti sauce, full of sausages and mushrooms and wine, which you must have known had cost me a month’s worth of wages to buy. You made your “tsk” sound and grabbed pot and spoon, and scraped that sauce right off my kitchen floor.
“You mean we’re going to eat that?”
“Damn right,” you grinned. And we sure did, and chalked up another of our secret treasures.
And that time in Chicago, when you had dropped a machine on your hand and crushed it, and had it in a cast; and I had had a soccer injury, and was on crutches; and Chicago had had one of her epic snowstorms–we tottered around town, holding each other up, a couple of cripples, hilarious at every near-miss slip.
Oh, you taught me how to scare minnows from under their rocks and catch them in my hands, how to tuck a frying pan and some bacon and cornmeal in my creel in case one of us actually hooked a fish, and how to make a smokeless fire on which to cook it, if it came to that.
You taught me to chew tobacco (yuck), how to smoke a pipe of tobacco (blech), and how to get roaring drunk and laugh and talk philosophy till the wee hours (yum).
I could go on and on writing about the gifts you gave me, and someday I just might. However, since I know you want me to save some for later, I’ll just sneak these in:
Honesty, integrity, genuineness, ingenuity, and never, ever to do anything just to “go with the crowd.”
And to live and love fiercely.
Your loving daughter,
PS I miss you