My Dad on the Bottom Right, I’m Standing, and One of my handsome brothers on the left from a Christmas at Grandmothers Long, long ago!
From the moment I could distinguish anything I loved my daddy. I would wake up, run into my parents’ bedroom, and jump on his chest. I thought the sun and moon set and rose by him and mommy, well she would do when my dad wasn’t around. I love her, absolutely, but my dad and me…nothing was like it until I met my grandfather (Whom I called Maynard—no not his name and he called me Herman—ahem…not my name either but that’s what we called each other). Still my dad would make me a lunch by making huge sweeping movements and postulations about which little bottles to spritz and shake with little sayings like: “Hmm maybe a little of this, or maybe a little of that. Let’s see…” he’d hold up something up as if he couldn’t read the writing and then look at me watching him with glee, shrug his shoulders and act like he was shaking it hard with his back to me. I watched the master work until a culinary concoction was set in front of me and whether it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a leftover thinly sliced roast beef sandwich I was sure it was the most amazing taste sensation that was ever created with squeals of delight and joy. He’d tell me stories or recite Robert W. Service:
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Artic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold:
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was the night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Dad could quiet a huge room with everyone in different conversations when he would recite that poem and he knew every stanza, verse, word; all 884 of them by heart. His voice would rise at the right times and lull to a silent whisper capturing everyone’s attention and imagination as the last words trailed off into silence I’d fall even more in love with him (maybe that’s why snow horror movies creep me out more than others…hmmm).
When I moved away under the misinformation someone gave me just to get me to follow them to another state and returned expecting a “I could have told you she wasn’t really a good friend of yours and now look at you having to start your life over,” that didn’t happen. Dad sat me down and said “It takes great courage to realize something isn’t working and come back home. It’ll be hard, but you’ll get back on your feet.” He was right. I think back to the time I was 3 years old and mom had run him a bath and I wanted to help give him a bath unbeknownst to my baby brain parents actually use simple things like baths to steal romantic moments to themselves. I stood outside that locked bathroom stomping my feet and wailing that I wanted to help!!! I believe I cried myself to sleep outside the door on the floor and he was probably the one who put me to bed where I woke up the next morning wondering what had happened.
It wasn’t long after that that dad took me with him to my great grandmother’s house (Aunt Belle, she refused to be called grandmother even by dad and certainly didn’t want people to think she was old enough to have great grandchildren! So everyone called her Aunt Belle except my grandmother) He left me there while he worked and would come to a very unhappy me who was used to being with my 3 older brothers and sister. After about a week of my constant unhappiness and tearing down the curtains in the bedroom he and I shared he cried as he told me he didn’t know what to do because he couldn’t have me tearing up their house. I had torn them down screaming how lonely I was, but Aunt Belle felt that I was my dad’s responsibility especially since he had taken me and was hiding me from my mom. There are times I think about how very different my life and I would have been if I had grown up just with him. He knew I was unhappy about being alone all day and finally tearfully took me home, where no one seemed to care I had been gone. That was pretty much when our parents marriage ended although they have remained connected and concerned about each other and he still called her his wife to my mom’s chagrin (though I think she still loved it and continued to love him)
He rarely gave praise until you weren’t near then he would bust all his buttons talking to anyone else about his son the Actor, Daughter who fought in Iraq, Son who designed clothes and completed his degree at Evergreen State College, Son who was an officer in the Army, was a track star in high school, and the glassblowing, writing, daughter finishing her Ph. D. People were always talking about how proud our dad was of us when we’d hear “Hey aren’t you Berry’s daughter or son” He knew simply everyone from old time Seattle, I even know where the house is where he was born (they used to do that back then).
He was unusual in that he noticed every scar on my body and truly saw me. Once he asked me how I kept my fingers so long and thin (yes weight and I aren’t always friends) he thought it was from playing my guitar. When I named our Christmas tree Bruce and made everyone acknowledge Bruce as a living thing he allowed grandfather “Maynard” to plant him in the back yard after I convinced everyone that the cut tree would somehow sprout roots and grow. (I was 20years old!) Almost 15 years later dad told me he was selling the house and I’d better come get Bruce if I didn’t want to leave him behind. I had forgotten all about my old friend who by then was brittle, red, & long dead. Dad wasn’t making fun of me, just giving a memory when we were all last together in town at Christmas.
The night he died Pepper did something strange. She sat up whined a simple whine like she was seeing someone she knew behind me about 2 or 3 AM. I looked up from my schoolwork and realized she was looking at someone behind me. I slowly turned both left and right and she continued acknowledging them. I said out loud “If you are a spirit I need to know about I guess you’ll let me know soon.” She continued to watch them a few more minutes then put her head down. I had literally dreamed that whole scene a couple months back, but thought it was a nightmare. I didn’t realize it was a premonitory dream until late yesterday. After talking to my mom and siblings it appears dad had visited us all before passing completely on. They found him in the morning on the floor. Last night I cried, “Why couldn’t you wait until I graduated?” and a voice in my head responded “ Hey listen kid I’m tired you want me to be here forever” it was so like something dad would say, maybe it was him. The last couple weeks have been the best and happiest he has had since losing his last leg in January 2013. He’s had a long road of recovery and I am not so much sad as I ache for my daddy. He never molested or hit us out of anger and even though he stood about 6’2” tall and looked like a football player he wasn’t ashamed to show his tears and bear-hugged the air out of your lungs. He loved us, he loved me and that was the greatest gift my dad every gave (along with our rough sense of humor and the Berry legacy that you may learn to run from).
I once asked my dad if I could have his bones when he died and he asked me why. I told him I just wanted the bones to sit in a chair and keep him near like the bones you see in anatomy & physiology class. He said: “Hey listen kid after I’m done with them you can do what you want with them.” I love you dad; I always will.