“The Way We Were”
Light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were
Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?
Mem’ries, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember…
The way we were…
There is never an August 30th that goes by that I don’t think about my dad. It was on this day, 56 years ago, that he passed away. He was only 45 and died from colon cancer. Funny how time changes your perception. Back then, I thought 45 was old, but what did I know? I was only 16. Had only been sixteen for a month and a half. I’d gotten my driver’s license and I was now free and adult-like. But that morning, it was a Sunday, is a day that will forever be etched in my memory.
Dad had been sick for several months. The previous December, he had surgery on his colon. I remember that day too. My mom had allowed me to stay home from school to take care of my little brother who was only three. I remember her calling me and telling me that dad was done with surgery and everything was fine. But somehow I knew it wasn’t because she was crying; not something my mother often did.
I don’t remember much of his recuperation. I only have four distinct memories of that eight month period of time between his surgery and when he died. The next memory I have concerning his cancer, and I don’t even know whether the word “cancer” had been put on his diagnosis, or if it was, it wasn’t told to us, happened the following June. There were four of us kids, me, my older brother, who was 18 and just starting college, and my other younger brother who was 11 at the time, and my baby brother, but on this particular day, it was only my older brother and me. Dad called us into the living room where he was sitting in an overstuffed rocking chair. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, him sitting there with one foot underneath him and one knee bent and that foot on the edge of the chair. He began talking about his illness and told us there was nothing the doctors could do for him. I didn’t grasp what he was saying until my brother started to cry. That’s when I knew that the horror that had been lurking in the back of my mind was going to come true. I don’t remember hugging and kissing dad, but I supposed we must have, at least I would think we did, although neither one of my parents were very physically demonstrative. A kiss on the cheek good-night was about all I remember ever getting.
The next memory was when dad was very sick and he was in bed at home. I assume it must have been not long before he died because I believe he must have been on morphine. He was lying on his back in bed with his eyes closed, but his hands and arms were up in the air and I could tell in his mind, he was underneath a car working on something. I remember being very frightened by this.
Dad went into the hospital a couple days before he died. Dad was a smoker, he smoked Lucky Strike Reds, I remember that. Back then, it was still okay to smoke anywhere, including a hospital room. But since Dad was so weak, he kept dropping his cigarettes on the floor, the hospital decreed that he would not be allowed to smoke unless someone was with him all the time. I remember my mom, and her siblings and Darrell and I took turns around the clock to stay with dad. It was a Saturday night and I was with him from 6-8 pm. I remember sitting in front of his bed, but I don’t know if I was watching television or reading a book, but I was eating chocolate covered raisins. I asked dad if he wanted some and at first he said no. Then, he changed his mind and said he would like to try some. I gave him a few, but he was not able to eat them. When it came time for me to leave, I wanted so badly to tell Dad that I loved him, but I knew if I did, I would cry and I didn’t want him to hurt him by letting him see my pain so I left without telling him I loved him. That is something I’ve regretted my entire life.
The next day was a Sunday and I remember going to church with my grandma, his mother. I don’t remember if Darrell was with me or not. I remember the preacher said a prayer for dad and said that he was seriously ill. When we got home from church, I immediately saw there were other cars at my house. We walked in the back door and mom met us and said “your dad is gone”. There were other people at the house, but I don’t remember who they were. I think they were some of mom’s brothers and maybe her only sister and probably my Aunt Mable and Uncle Edgar. My next memory is going out our basement door and running all the way to my friend’s house about eight blocks away. Her mom met me at the door, and this was the place I felt I could openly grieve. Her mom hugged me and told me how sorry she was. I don’t remember much about the funeral but I do remember we were picked up by a limousine. I remember that two of the songs sang were “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”. To this day, I can’t sing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” without crying and it is something of a joke between my younger brother and I as to how many verses we sing before we start to cry. Dad was buried in the cemetery across the street from our home, a place that always terrified me at night but was a playground during the day. I remember the burial and mom being helped from the grave site when she stumbled.
Our life changed forever that year. Memories still haunt the corners of my mind. Mom went on to raise us all and married two other time; once disasterously and one that seemed to work for her, at least after a while. Mom died in 1987 from breast cancer at the age of 57 and my brother, Darrell, died five years later, also of colon cancer at the very young age of 40.