Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A day

I read on facebook a note from my childhood pal that he was remembering the death of a parent seven years earlier that day. My thoughts turned to my own father's funeral, perhaps because I think that was the last time I saw my friend, and I realized that I couldn't remember when my father died.

That's not exactly true; I knew it was 1984, because when I got the news I had just been on the police department a year or so and was living in that big apartment in Magnolia. But I couldn't narrow it down much more than that.

I could remember that Pop had been diagnosed in late 1982. I can remember my brother-in-law Gene filling me in on the situation, that Pop had lymphoma.

"So, it looks like this type of cancer has two kinds, the kind that kills you slow, and the kind that kills you quick. And your father don't have the first kind."

That must have been around Christmastime 1982. When I next saw Pop it was when I made a mad cross-country dash back to Brooklyn in June 1983 for his and Ma's 50th wedding anniversary while I was in the middle of the police academy. My then-wife Lisa and I caught a plane on Friday night knowing I had to be back in roll call at 7:00 am Monday morning. My sisters had planned a huge reunion party around the anniversary.

I can remember that during that weekend, there were more of our family's old friends and relatives in my sister's backyard than I have ever seen together before or since. Pop arrived to the surprise party showing the effects of radiation treatment: he was thin, frail, and weak. But his spirits brightened immeasurably as he caught up with his old cronies, these tough old birds from the bowling alleys and racetracks of New York. We made sure he had pictures taken with all of his children.

I guess we figured the end was close, but Pop fooled us. I can remember when he and Ma came out for my graduation from the academy in August 1983. He was his old self - better even, strong and vibrant, having a ball walking all over Seattle with my mother, both of them proud of my accomplishment. They stayed in my Belltown condo and we had a splendid visit.

It was great, but it didn't last too terribly long after they went home; sometime after Lisa and I moved into that apartment in Magnolia in early 1984, my sister called to say that Pop had gotten sick again. I asked her if she wanted me to fly out; she said to wait and see. The "kind that kills you quick" didn't wait for me a second time; Pop died less than two weeks later and my next trip out would be for the funeral.

I can remember finding out that Pop had died. I was at home alone in the afternoon when the phone call came from my sister; after hanging up, I began to make arrangements to go back. A short time later, Lisa came home with our friend Jim; I can't remember where they had been or why Jim's wife Sandy wasn't there. I told them about Pop and they wanted to comfort me; I waved it off and we played Risk.

I can remember the wake; not all of it, but some details. I can remember that George, my sister Monya's widower, seemed have the hardest time of all of us. I remember that he fell on the sidewalk, cutting his head on a metal fixture, and we had to take him to the emergency room. I made him a chicken sandwich when we got back home.

I can remember the funeral; not all of it, but some details. I can remember my brother comforting my mother by handing her handkerchief after handkerchief that he pulled from his pocket as she was crying. I can remember him tucking one of his business cards in Pop's jacket pocket before they closed the casket, a gesture so apt and so loving and so surprising in its tenderness.

I can remember heading to the cemetery on Staten Island. The hearse got a flat, right there on 66th Street under the Gowanus Expressway, and we all waited, a stationary procession.

I can remember Staten Island: green and far away.

I can remember saying goodbye to my father as they lowered the casket into the ground, knowing that there was no unfinished business between us, that he had cared for me as a boy and respected me as a man. He loved me, and although he was a man of few words, he had even said so, once, sort of. During one regular weekly long-distance call from the west coast, after small talk about the weather and before handing the phone over to Ma, he said "Your mother loves you, you know." I said I knew that. "And I do, too," he said. I said I knew that, too.

I can remember all that. But for the life of me, looking down at the computer screen twenty-five years later, I couldn't remember that date.

I got up and walked down to my office, and pawed through some folders in the second drawer of the file cabinet. I knew exactly what I was looking for; a sheaf of yellow five-column accounting paper with handwriting in black ink. I found it in a less than a minute and leafed through the pages of a timeline I had written up back in the day, cataloging major events and transitions: jobs, apartments, and so on. It was right there, two inches down from the top of the 1984 page, in the furthest right column, in tiny lettering. Just Pop's name and the notation 5/19/84. No other explanation.

Twenty-five years, one month, and 26 days.

Now I can remember that date, but I guess it doesn't change much.


Yojimbo_5 said...

i don't remember the details of the day your Dad died. I don't remember where Lisa and I had been or Sandy's absence (I don't even remember the Magnolia apartment!) I do remember you "waving it off" and being stoic about it.

And I've always remembered the business card story.

lowcoolant said...

Color me jealous.

John said...

This is another great piece of writing Walter. Thanks. It gives me a fair bit to think about, as my own father is dying from the kind of lymphoma that kills you slowly.

gwekeers said...

So much better to remember all that other stuff than to remember the day . . . thanks for this.