By NANCY PATRICK
For many years my husband and I did not lose any close family members to death. In my early sixties, I still had both my parents and both in-laws. The closest relatives I had lost were my grandparents.
That status quo began shifting during my late fifties. My parents began having multiple health issues, including cancer for both of them. I took over many of their household duties by keeping their house clean, paying bills, making doctors’ appointments and attending the appointments with them. As their situation deteriorated, they could no longer live alone in their house safely.
When they had to move into a nursing home, I began the longest and most painful journey of my life. I realize that many people who live long lives experience similar situations to my parents’ and mine.
In the nursing home, Daddy lived three years while Mom lived fourteen months beyond his death. I spent time with them every day and made sure they had their creature comforts around them. I felt such a burden of guilt for their being in a place they hated that I became overwhelmed with sadness and a sense of hopelessness.
My dad died on October 9, 2012, ten years ago this month. He was eighty-four years old, and I was sixty-two. Born on my dad’s twenty-second birthday on January 21, I always enjoyed sharing our birthday. In 2013, I certainly didn’t celebrate my sixty-third birthday without him. The day felt empty.
My dad was a one-of-a-kind man. Our family always joked that God broke the mold after he made my daddy. Born in 1928 and one of five children in a poor Arkansas farming family, he quit school after his seventh-grade year and went to live in the back of a gas station in Hope, Arkansas, where he pumped gas for room and board.
Educational diagnosticians did not exist during my dad’s childhood. I think he probably had some learning disabilities, but we never knew exactly what they were. In spite of this, he and my mom somehow managed a sixty-five-year marriage that produced two children—my sister and me.
Whatever his problems, my dad thoroughly enjoyed his life. Not an emotionally demonstrative man, he avoided words like “love” and actions like hugging. Although my mom, my sister, and I often longed for a demonstration of love from him, we learned to live without it.
Daddy valued hard work, spending close to forty years installing underground lawn sprinklers in the Big Country. The work took a toll on his body, but he accepted his lot in life without a lot of questioning or complaining and expected that of others.
When my husband and I married, my parents embraced him as a son, and he loved them as parents. My husband and my father differed from each other as much as two people could. Daddy took great pride in my husband’s and my educations, but he often relegated education to book learning while he valued hard, physical toil over that. He was a man who worked with his hands.
Over the years, my dad began doing little crafty projects. Some of them were cute and done neatly while some were sloppy and thrown together. My dad thought that we would want samples of all his projects; thus, my husband and I never knew what to expect in our yard when we pulled into our driveway at the end of a workday.
One day, he pleasantly surprised me with a pair of wooden children hanging from swings in a large oak tree in the front yard. He had painted the children, a boy and a girl, with colorful outfits, and they added a bit of merriment to our yard.
Another day, I pulled into the driveway to find wooden red birds on each side of the drive, each with the word “hello” painted on it. However, when I pulled out of the driveway the next morning, I discovered the word “bye-bye” painted on the backside of the birds.
Over the years, he made toy soldiers from clay flower pots, large wooden butterflies to hang on our backyard fence, and bowling pin ducks to put in the flower beds. He also favored the pink flamingos. The list could go on, but I do want to mention my favorite of his projects.
He made large, lighted Christmas balls out of clear, acrylic drink cups. These decorations were very intricate and took a lot of time to make. He made several gifts for friends and relatives and even sold several.
My dad lived his life by using his hands. My husband Mike was the son my dad never had, so Daddy planned ahead that Mike would officiate at his funeral. Mike’s devotional focused on my daddy’s hands. His hands were rough with skin cancers from working in the sun for so many years.
He bragged that his hands had cracked six eggs at a time when he served as a cook in the Army in WW II. He also built just about everything our family needed throughout our lives. He added rooms onto houses, fixed broken vehicles, made sure all the maintenance repairs at his church were done, and on occasion spanked my sister and me as children.
The best thing about my dad’s hands was that they became loving during his last years. He learned to hug and receive hugs. He learned to touch with affection, and he became more demonstrative in expressing his love.
I guess this month, marking the tenth-year anniversary of my dad’s death, is stirring memories of my appreciation for a father who grew up during the Great Depression, served in WW II, supported his family, and finally learned to hug and say he loved me.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing