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Reflections June 2014

Agelessly Yours

The Heart's Eternal Flame

By Karen White-Walker

But what about when life's trials knock you down and it's not just your fingernails and toes in the dirt but your whole darn face? And if that face is smeared with tears you find yourselves scraping mud out of your eyes. Those are the sad times, but what about the happy moments?

I miss Dad. You'd think that having him for 68 and 3/4 years of my life would satisfy that yearning for a father figure, but no, like some spoiled rotten ingrate who can't get her fill of people and things she cherishes, I wanted him and Mom to go on forever — at least until I went first.

"What an incredibly selfish hog you are," spoke up one of my sisters, "wishing on them heartache and unspeakable sorrow of seeing one of their children go first — again. What kind of daughter are you?'"

"An incredibly selfish hog," I echoed, deciding to keep spoiled rotten ingrate to myself.

Our parents did see their only beloved son go before them and, I tell you, if it wasn't for our deep faith, strong love and a high tolerance level toward one another's nerve-racking ways, we might have been thrown into a dark drowning abyss, never to resurface again. But we weren't and we did recover. Ah, the resiliency of the human spirit –  who knew?

Dad knew.

How could he not know with all the losses he experienced with his own parents and siblings? His antidote for handling grief was so Puritan — work, work, work, so he ingrained in us, his children, the cockeyed, lopsided notion that it was a privilege to get dirt under your fingernails and the “good earth” between your toes. But he didn't ask of us things that he himself wasn't willing to do. That's how you rope people in, you know, stooping down to their level so you don't lord it all over them that you're the big kahuna, the father who, as the head of the household, must feed his family, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I wouldn't have minded starving a little in any of those areas if only Dad hadn't bought that darn ten-acre cherry farm. He had a good-paying job at General Motors, but he wanted a hobby to keep little hands busy — mainly ours. '”Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” You would have thought our livelihood depended on the nickels and dimes we collected from our roadside fruit stand. Dad got the biggest kick out of all his kids making change long before the age of five.

"Not like today," he complained many years later when he went into a grocery store, the bill came to $21.36 and he handed the cashier $31.01 because he wanted quarters, the four ones, etc.

"Terror stricken, that girl might as well have been a deer stuck in the path of a car's headlights, because she didn't know what the heck to do. Wouldn't swap a bushel of my sweet cherries for that doozy!" he insisted.

Yes, Dad could be sarcastic, judgmental, and lacking in compassion, but he sure was a devoted family man, always home exactly to the minute after work. He loved Mom, she adored him, and together they managed to only minimally scar us kids psychologically. Somehow, some way they both instilled in us such an enthusiasm for life —  like Dad's exuberance over a bumper cherry crop, and Mom's delight over seeing his excitement. But what about when life's trials knock you down and it's not just your fingernails and toes in the dirt but your whole darn face? And if that face is smeared with tears you find yourselves scraping mud out of your eyes. Those are the sad times, but what about the happy moments? Ah, they can come so unsuspectingly and almost border on lunacy.

Even after Dad lost Mom after 68 years of marriage and he had developed that insidious Alzheimer's disease, there was a light moment that made us all laugh. Imagine that, the wonderfully secure world you had always known is suddenly shattered and STILL you can find humor in a grave situation?

Just before we lost Dad, my sisters, their families, Dad and I were having a summer picnic and we were so aware that someone was missing and, of course, that someone was our precious mom who had passed away just eight months earlier. Dad was sitting next to me when he turned and asked, "Karen, where's your mother?" Repeatedly we had told him, but he couldn't seem to grasp the unacceptable truth. The doctor had advised us not to keep telling him because he would become very stressed, but my brother-in-law thought that if he said it just one more time, Dad would understand.

"Now Dad, if I tell you will you try really hard to remember? Mom died, she's no longer with us."

Dad's brow furrowed and his lips quivered when he seemed to reflect on what he was just told, so maybe this time? Suddenly he turned to me, leaned over and asked, "Hey Karen, does your mother know?"

When something is so heart wrenching you have to laugh or you'll end up screaming your guts out. “Does your mother know?” Given Dad's condition, that was an antidote for our hurting hearts, and we almost couldn't separate our laughter from our tears. We laughed till we cried — life is funny that way.

 

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