My birthday is in late May and often falls on the Memorial Day holiday. This means that for most of my forty years I’ve celebrated with a pool party. I still do. Now it is pool, kids and chocolate sheet cake. But one birthday stands out as different. My sixteenth. You see, this was one of those years that my actual birthday was on the Monday holiday for Memorial Day – while many teens awake on this day to go directly to the DMV and get that wonderful rite of passage… the driver’s license… I could not. Instead, I awoke to cheers from my mother while she made ‘Uncle Buck’ pancakes and I ate from the red plate that has for years assured me that “I am special.”
I didn’t have a Sweet Sixteen dance at the country club and was not presented a car with a big red bow. In fact, it was my sister that got a new car and I inherited her car. Such is the life of the younger sibling, I suppose. There were no plans for anything on this day beyond the pancakes and some gifts. About mid-morning my Dad yelled for me to come to the top of the stairs and asked, really more told me “Come on, I need you to drive me around.”
I spend the next four hours driving my 1987 Pontiac Grand Am around the undeveloped areas of North Texas while my dad puffed his cigar from the passenger seat and said “turn here, now go on down that road, wait, stop here.” Four hours of …. Yep… looking at land. During the ride we chatted some, sometimes we were quiet each in our own thoughts, we played oldies on the new stereo that we’d had installed in the ole Silver Bullet. We talked about school and where I wanted to go to school. He told me how much he liked the University of Texas even though my sister went to Texas A&M. Then we simply went home. I think I did some homework and watched TV before going to bed. It had gone down as the single most depressing birthday of my short life.
Today, it stands as not just my best birthday but one of the best days of my life.
Oh, the things I would have said and asked and done on that day if I had known that I only had him for eight short months more. This is also an experience that I call upon often in life to remind me that sometimes what seems mundane, bad or boring – within a short time could become one of the most precious times of your life.
Today marks 23 years since I lost my dad. I am open about this loss and talk about him often as if he were still here…. Sometimes I think it makes others uncomfortable but I don’t really care. By being open about this experience I know that others feel they can come to me when they have loss or grief and find someone willing to listen and say “It sucks.” So today, I will indulge my sense of loss and reminisce a bit and tell you about my dad, Bubba.
This day, this date is the one day of the year that even after all this time I cannot escape. Do you know I always mark the date on my calendar with word “Dad” – as if I could forget. After 23 years you’d think I wouldn’t still need to write about this day. About this man. But I do. I always do. Two things have stood out to me this year… a sadness that he is missing out on knowing the twins countered with joy that they are so curious about their Papaw Bubba.
You know I believe Zack and Sara to be amazing creatures. Geniuses even. Every single day Zack does or says something that makes me almost believe in reincarnation and that he is actually my dead father reborn. He shows no fear, no shyness, no knowledge that any room of people won’t adore him… just like my dad. Never saw a hill he couldn’t climb, never bothered by new people or strangers and certainly loved to be the center of attention. They are twin souls for sure. I think it would actually be really helpful to my sister if my Dad were still alive so he could help her figure this kid out – cause you’ve never seen anything like it. I swear. Tenderest most loving heart encased in a bold, brash, hilarious personality. Zack and Bubba are both larger than life. Oh how I long to see those two together. I think they would be the best of friends. To see my daddy as a grandfather would be the most beautiful image. I’d give my eye-teeth for just one minute in a room with both of them.
Despite his brashness, tough demeanor and hard core discipline – my sister and I were Bubba’s girls. He loved us unconditionally – even if he didn’t always like us. He would be no different with Sara. I imagine her little feet would never touch the floor in his presence. Even though her Mimi gets her just about everything she wants – I believe it would be ten-fold if her Papaw Bubba were involved. I’d give my right arm to watch him carry her dolls or play dress up with her. And he would. My giant, hunting, fishing, golfing, football loving, baseball loving father would absolutely wear pink tiaras at Sara’s demand. I know this for sure, as I watched him wear a silver lame’ shirt and dance in public with my sister in the father/daughter dances for Planoettes. He was awful. Truly terrible.
Maybe the point of my ramblings is that just like that birthday so long ago, my grief has changed. My grief is more about what he is missing now. Sure, I miss him. I wonder what his giving heart but principled moral code would have to say about all the political hubbub right now. But it all feels different than it did years ago. Rose Kennedy once said:
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
For a long time I thought she was right but I think the scar becomes its own thing separate from the wound that healed. The scar says “I survived, though I’m changed, I survived.” And like true physical scars there is a story behind it. The scars of a loved one lost have a lifetime of stories. We’ve just started telling all those stories to Zack and Sara – they love them and to see how they light up when we tell a Papaw Bubba story is a gift and brings him back to me everyday.
Like all scars, I wish I didn’t have it – but ask me about it and I am proud to tell you all about the life behind it.