Posted in Faith, Family

The Reason I Cried on Christmas

We left Christmas day, loaded up the family and the dogs and drove to my mom’s house, 6 hours away.

I wanted to have Christmas morning at home, open the presents with just the few of us, then leave.  But after opening presents, we had to take down the tree, because I didn’t want to come home to a dry, crusty tree with needles littering the floor.  And then I needed to clean out the fridge, because I didn’t want to come home two weeks later to green, fuzzy mac and cheese.   Because obviously, the mac and cheese has been in the fridge for two weeks already.

Of course, then I wanted to get all the laundry done because I didn’t want to come home with suitcases full of dirty clothes to add to Mount Washalot that has erected itself in my laundry room.

We all know when you’ve been away from your house for nearly two weeks, what you want to come home to is not laundry, your dead Christmas tree, or month old leftovers, but what you want to come home to is your bed and your shower.  I was being proactive, longing for the day I would return before I ever left.

After arriving at my mom’s house, we opened presents.  Now there are families who have organized Christmas present opening, and then there are families who don’t.  I would belong to the latter.  Paper is flying, kids are screaming, you practically need ear plugs for all the shouting and people talking at once.  It is sheer chaos.  Someone inevitably opens someone else’s underwear and looks quizzically at it until someone shouts out “that belongs to uncle herbert” or something like it.  Also there is usually a lone, leftover present buried under the wrappings that is discovered during clean up, which the recipient grabs with glee.

I got towels.  Which is not the reason I cried on Christmas.

The reason I cried on Christmas is because tucked inside the box with the towels was an envelope addressed to me, written in my dad’s printed hand,  with my mom’s address (I haven’t lived there in more than 20 years).  No matter how many years he’s been gone, I doubt I’ll ever forget his handwriting.   I held the card and studied it curiously, much like the kid with someone else’s underwear in hand.  The room shouted and carried on around me, but I was alone with this envelope.

I turned it over.  My uncle, my dad’s only brother, had written on the back.  He had found it and decided to send it on to me.  You see, my parents separated when I was about 12 years old, and my dad moved to Oklahoma.  It was still the age of letter writing so it wasn’t uncommon to receive his cards and letters, usually with a little cash tucked inside.  While we were growing up, we talked on the phone every Sunday after church.  That’s when he knew he could reach my sister and I together, along with the rest of the family, because we all met together at my grandmother’s house,( the very house I sit in while typing this), for Sunday dinner that always, without fail, consisted of roast, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and rolls.

I held the card in both of my hands and with a bit of a nervous nature I opened it carefully, trying not to tear off any of the writing, the post mark, or any part of the envelope.  It had instantly become precious to me.  A message from my dad, nearly three years after he died.

Inside was a card.  A Valentine’s card for a little girl.   With hearts, a rainbow, and a teddy bear on the front.  I didn’t bother reading the message inside the card, but instead my eyes fell to the blue ink underneath the commercial greeting, where my dad had written, “I love and miss you daily—- DAD”

And that’s why I cried on Christmas.

Tears began to fall uncontrollably.  You see, I expected to receive the towels.  (My mom’s been harping on me for years about my towels.)  I expected the sweater, the oil and vinegar bottle, all the things I had told people I wanted.  But this card, this was an unexpected surprise.  A Valentine’s Day card on Christmas Day.

And the message he gave me, although he meant it years ago and it was intended to be read in the past, was more than fitting for the present.  Because now, our situation has changed and he’s the one who is loved and missed daily.

I wiped my tears away quickly with the palm of my hand to no avail.  More fell just as swiftly as I wiped.  I then showed the card to my family.  I don’t think any of them understood, until I face timed my sister.

She got it.  She understood.

My dad was with me for Christmas this year.

It was the best gift I have ever received.

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Uncle Leon, Thank you so much for sending it on.

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Posted in Family, Stories by my dad

Birthday Letters

On January 16, 1943 my dad was born.  I don’t know anything about his birth.  Whether he was born in a hospital or at home.  Whether he was a good baby or a tyrant.  How much he weighed or if he sucked his thumb.

Today if he were still living, he would have turned 70 years old.

He wrote himself a birthday letter a fews years back.   I happen to have a copy.

Jan-1998

Happy Birthday, Bob—–Happy 55 years.  A real milestone.  I feel like celebrating this b.d.,  unlike my 30th, which went by unnoticed.  Unlike my 40th which went by with hardly a ripple or even my 50th, supposedly the biggie, hardly made a dent on my psyche.

But 55 is the short side of the century mark.  So that makes it a milestone in my books, and I’m finally at the age where it makes not a tinkerers damn about anyones books but my own.

A brief synopsis—–I was born into a family of five siblings, a bootlegger father, and my mother was a housewife.  My family was mildly dysfunctional to say the least, my parents divorced when I was 11 and my mother struggled to keep her brood together.

I went to High school here in town, finally got laid, got drunk and enlisted in The Marine Corps just a few days after graduation.  Spent four years in The Corps, traveled around the world, went to work for various construction companies in West Texas and never once let college cross my mind.  Made a lot of parties—-a few friends and generally went around with my heart on my sleeve.

Anne, my wife and I had a wild, roller coaster, wonderful relationship from day one when we met in The Crystal Lounge bar, a downstairs dark, dank place where people drank, fought and loved with equal fervor.

Anne had two boys from a previous marriage that I was too young and dumb to see the joy in.  We later had two daughters that have remained the light of my life to this day.  The boys have forgiven my shortcomings and remain friendly toward me, too.  Thanks boys.

55 years—-that must seem like an eternity to someone in their 20’s or thirties, but to me it has been but a short journey on this meandering train we call life.  Meandering, wandering, everlooking for the path of least resistance, just like the nameless creek near Hoover, Texas where I gathered clover blossoms to plait into a braid for Anne’s hair.

                                                                                                                                                  ~1998~

Happy Birthday Dad—-happy 70th.  Two birthdays have now passed since you left us.  And lots has happened.  I miss you, but it does get easier with time, but there are still days that sadness is all around me, thick as fog.   I love you more than I ever have, and I’m so thankful for your writings that you left us.  I feel I know you better now than I ever did in real life.  I wonder why we feel like we can’t open up to others, and especially the ones who love us most?  I know I’m just as guilty.

You were a good dad.  That’s probably all  you  wanted to hear while you were living, and I don’t know if I ever told you.  But you were.   I wouldn’t change it for anything.

You tried your best, I know that now.  It’s certainly not easy being a parent, I know that now too.

I never realized just how tender you were.  You were always so tough and big and strong, that I guess I didn’t think about your feelings much.  I’m sorry for that.

Thanks for being a number one dad to me.  Thanks for supporting me in everything I ever did.   Thanks for taking time to spend with me, even if it was laying in the floor taking kissing bets during a bowling tournament on T.V. or skipping rocks on the Illinois.  I have fond memories, and those are what I carry with me now.  It’s all I’m left with, the memories and your stories.

You’d really love Emma.  Sometimes I imagine that you are here and see you laugh at her or hug her close.  She reminds me of you sometimes.  Especially now as she’s learning to walk.  She’s got this stumble about her, that’s very Grandpa-esque.  Or sometimes they way she lays while she’s sleeping or a look on her face makes me think of you.  You are a part of her.

I know you’re in Heaven and I’m going to be there someday too.  It’s good that this life isn’t all we’ve got, isn’t it?  So, until we meet again Dad, enjoy yourself, and I’ll do the same.  There’s much happiness here still, and memories to make with others.

I love you bigger than Hog Eyes and Sauerkraut Mississippi.

Until then……

Love,

Angel

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Posted in Stories by my dad

In Memory of my dad—number forty something

The green spiraled journal draws me in.

It belonged to my dad.

The very first thing I bought when I became an adult was a storage building.  It sits on my mom’s property (once upon a time it was my grandmother’s property) and my dad put a few boxes of belongings in there nearly twenty years ago.   In one of the boxes was this journal.

On the cover he has printed:
The Journals of Robert Lee—-soldier, statesman, author.

It is filled with his thoughts, his hopes, his disappointments, his memories.
Stuffed between the written pages he has a few cards from loved ones, pictures of my sister and I, and bills from the IRS.

I love this journal, although it is mostly sad.  He wrote when he was going through a very difficult time, of which I was completely unaware, but heck I was a kid then, barely out of high school, and completely wrapped up in my own life.

I discover that I didn’t really know my dad.  But who really did?

He hurt more than I know, and I don’t mean physically.

Today is the 15th of April, 1996.  Tax Time for most folks, but to me it is different.   Today I join the ranks of the homeless.  I haven’t learned a lot in my 53 short years aboard this planet, but I’ve learned this, we are just a short journey from this predicament that I find myself in right now.  It’s a feeling that I don’t wish on friend or foe, but I’ll come out of the water bushed and gasping of air, out of breath and hoping for a low hanging limb from which this wrecked body needs just a minute to catch it’s breath.  Then I’ll fight onward, searching for new friends, looking in familiar haunts for a few old compatriots, who’ll say—welcome ol’ shoe, come sit awhile and rest.

April 18, 1996—
It’s not good being homeless, but I have been getting reacquainted with my mother.  Before I was always in a  hurry when I went to see her, but now we are taking the time to talk to each other.  Today we spoke of my grandparents, the last who died in 1975.  I wish that I could have gotten to know them.

As I reread this journal, no as I pore over his words, I get the “missing my dad blues”.   The “If only’s”  The “I wish”.  It doesn’t help that its a rainy day in July either.  Much like my dad wrote on the page he titled, “July or is it June 27?”

I moved into my new digs yesterday.  Went to the store and bought boloney and beer.  It’s a cloudy, dismal day, in fact I’ll call this place “The Dismal Swamp”  It’s a dump, held together with spit n’ glue, but at least the neighbor’s are nice—which means that they don’t bother me or even come out of their own hovels.  I’m into Charles Bukowski, poet, short stories, novels, drinker extraiordinairre.  Life is good as we let it be.

He was phenomenal with the written word.
Dawn comes on a silvery black flash that gently turns to a pale blue as the sun makes it’s ascent into the morning sky.  Departure time is steadily approaching and I feel a twinge of excitement as the clock ticks onward toward the time of making my exit.  My brother warned me about this happening, he said, “don’t let one year turn into ten” when I first moved here for just a year.  Well, June marks the 10 year span that I’ve spent here in Green Country.  I can see the changes here in Okla.  that have occurred since coming here.  Mainly, traffic flow, the driving here is atrocious.  But that does not take from  the few close friends that I have made here.  I’ll always appreciate them.

He was funny.
“Guess I’ll go by leon’s house and see if he wants to go fishing with me n’ doc tomorrow—-it is the fourth of July and we do live in the bosom of democracy, so why not fish.  Uh Oh.  Outta beer.  So I’ll take to task the advice of my ol’ mentor and friend, Horace Greely—-Go West—-about 2 miles—–the have Busch on sale.” 

11-19-96
Keeping a journal and trying to keep sounding interesting is so boring.

Yes, dad I agree with that one whole heartedly!  He continues…..

My life is boring, but the mundane way of life is peaceful.  Living quiet has it’s own reward.

He got lonesome and had regrets.

Nov. 24, 1996
I dreamed of Jo and Angel night before last.  They were small and cuddly and we laughed and played.  I awoke all discombobulated and out of sync.  It’s good to dream old dreams.  I miss the girls so much.  I hope Angel is doing all right out there in the west.  She is so private it’s hard to find out anything from her.  Joley has John so I don’t worry about her so much.  Joley is my little mother.  I know that she will see to it that I am taken care of.  I hope that I never need it tho.  I’m sorry now that I didn’t know how to love the girls’ mother.  Hindsight has perfect vision.  But I just didn’t know, and for that I am sorry. 

Jan. 13, 1997
I’m lonesome and being broke don’t help.  I’d visit an axe murderer if he’d stop by my digs. 

Although these notes are sad and some remorseful, I receive peace when I read them.  I know how much my dad loved me.  There was never a time I doubted that.  He wrote of it many times.  His heart was full of love.

I am the proud father of 4 children.  Two boys and two girls.  How this mixed blessing came about, I’m not exactly sure.  It just came at me out of the blue, kinda like a fighter with a good left hook.

I also receive comfort knowing I’ll see him again.

Feb 7th or 8th
I know God is my friend and I hope he lets me hang around for a few years.

Thanks God for the years.

There’s more.  There’s lots more.  But I’ll leave you with that for now.  I don’t think my old pop would mind me sharing this.  It helps me, and I know there are family and friends who miss him terribly.  I hope it helps them too.  Sometimes we just want to hear from our loved ones one more time and this is the way that I do that.  When I read these words, I hear his voice.  I see the twinkle in his eye.  I see him throw his head back when he thought something was funny,  yet keeping his laugh inside and quiet.

I see him in my baby girl too, little bits of him.  There are times I wish he could see her, but then I remember…..I’m pretty sure they’ve already met.

Posted in Stories by my dad

In Memory of My Dad #41

 

I haven’t shared a story from my dad in several weeks.  There’s a good reason for this.  I’m out of stories by my dad; that I know of.   I haven’t gone through all the old newspapers, but it appears all that is left are sports news.   I’m confident no one cares to read the score of the Little League game from 1993.

My mom and I have been digging through shoeboxes looking for baby pictures of me to see if EK has any resemblance to me at all.  She doesn’t.  But I discovered a picture I’d never seen before.

My uncle Leon said my dad used to tell him, “I miss my little girls.  I mean, I miss my girls when they were little.”

I miss him too.

We had fun.

 

Posted in Faith

A New Body

It made many trips down I-40 from Tahlequah to Pampa.  It rode in the passenger seat of a red dodge pickup and when that vehicle wore out, a yellow Chevy pickup. 

When he died, it rode in the back of my vehicle one last time along with the potted plants sent with condolences and a couple of cardboard boxes of belongings.

When we arrived home, it sat in the floor of the spare bedroom right behind the door.  I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.  I went about my day-to-day life and when I found time, I sorted through the cardboard boxes that had made the trip,  discarding unnecessary things.  But still, it remained. 

When the spare bedroom began changing into a nursery, it sat on the floor watching while paint went on the walls, and office furniture was replaced with a crib.  Like a child’s teddy bear with the eye missing and the stuffing coming out, it remained as a reminder.   

It wasn’t valuable.  It wasn’t decorative.  It wasn’t useful to anyone.  But it was such a part of him that I kept it around.  It’s funny how when someone dies, their everyday things become such strong reminders of them.  For my grandmother, it was a silver fingernail file that sat beside her chair.  She probably used it every day.  For my dad, it was a grimy, white Easter basket he used to carry his medication.  An Easter basket.  While other men have a satchel or a tote, or even a gallon size Ziploc bag, my dad used an Easter basket. 

“Take one daily with a meal.”  “For management of high cholesterol, take one each day.”  “Take each morning and evening.”  The instructions on each bottle kept him going for several years.  High blood pressure, cholesterol, blood thinners, aspirin.

When New Year’s Day 2012 rolled around, sadness overcame me.  A new year, a new beginning, only without him.  Moving ahead, moving on, I knew I must.  But I didn’t know how.  And then I was reminded: 

“For instance, we  know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—-and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again.” 2 Corinthians 5:1 The Message

My dad no longer needed his pills.  It was just a sad reminder to me of the temporary body that burdened him.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 

On Monday January 2, I carried the basket to the dumpster and set it in.  Don’t think I didn’t consider taking it out and bringing it back in the house throughout the day.  I was home on Tuesday, the 3rd, when the loud roar of the trash truck pulled up.  I heard the lifting of the dumpster, the bang of the lids as it flipped over.  I imagined the dirty Easter basket and the bottles of pills scattering as they fell.  I sat on the couch as the truck roared away, thinking of my dad and his new body.  No longer sick.  No longer burdened.

Today, he would’ve been 69 years old.  He left this world February 26, 2011.

He is dancing. 

Happy Birthday, Dad. 

I love you.

Posted in Uncategorized

In Memory of My Dad #40—A Lizard Story with no Ending

I first saw him as I was putting my portable air tankup up for the summer.  At first I thought he was a snake, “Omigosh!  Mister no shoulders,” I thought.  Then I saw it was a harmless brown lizard.

Since that time, we have become friends of a sort.  Well, good enough friends that we don’t infringe on each other’s territory while drinking our morning coffee. 

I named him Lucky.

Lucky is a sleek, fat, brown lizard who enjoys taking in the morning sun on my front porch.  As far as I can tell a lizard’s age, I guess Lucky has been living here at Stonebroke Acres several years.  I prefer to think of him as an old tenant and us, old friends.

Lucky is afraid of people.  He lives under my front porch and comes out only to sun himself each morning, during the early hours.  He lies there with his eyes closed until some sudden movement will send him scurrying back into the dark recesses from which he came.

He lies there on the porch awaiting the arrival of the many insects that come around my digs.  He flicks out his rapier-like tongue almost too quick for the eye to see and he makes a quick breakfast of some unlucky gnat or fly that comes into his territory.

His reactions are instantaneous with insects and when I come too close he scurries away in a quick, brown flash.  I like to think of Lucky as a bachelor or at least, a loner of some sorts.  I’ve never seen him in the company of any female lizards.  His chief pleasure seems to be laying there in the sun and dining on errant insect tidbits.

It’s impossible to tell if Lucky is happy or sad with the living conditions offered here.  He has what some of my friends might call a poker face.  His beady eyes betray no emotion.  He just sits quietly with no expression.  He would make a heck of a poker player.

But I am fond of Lucky.  He’s much better than a pet dog.  You don’t have to feed him or take him for walks.  There’s no messy litter boxes to clean up, and he’s better company than a fish or a bird.  He never pries into my affairs and he certainly doesn’t allow me to pry into his.  And the best part, he never asks me where I’ve been when the

Yep, the same thing happened to me.  I was enjoying that story too, typing away from an old newspaper from 1996, wrapping up the last paragraph of my dad’s story and that’s where it quit me.  Right in mid-sentence.  Right where I’m dying to know the rest.  The story has no ending. 

So I considered my options:  abandon this story and never let others know what a great writer my dad was by the sheer fact that he can create a personality and 500 words for an average brown lizard.  I decided against that.  I looked through the rest of the paper for a continuation.  Fail.  I looked through the box of newspapers for the scrap piece from August 10, 1996 that might have the last couple of sentences.  Fail.  I thought I might just leave it “as is” and  explain the problem to you my faithful readers.  I considered making something up myself and pretending my dad wrote it, in turn deceiving you, my faithful readers, or I could ask my faithful readers to finish the story for me and my dad.

I have settled on the last option.  So, show me your writing skills….how would you finish this line?

And the best part, he never asks me where I’ve been when the…………………………. 

Leave a comment!

Posted in Stories by my dad, Uncategorized

In Memory of My Dad #39

“What’s old Duane doing now?” I asked.

“Seventy-five years.”

“Say what?”

“Yep, 75 years in the Huntsville pen.”

“He must have done something heavy.”

“Yeah, it seems Duane got mixed up with some dope dealers down around Houston and they leaned on him a little, and you know ol’ Duane, he started to shove back and—well there you have it.”

“That’s way uncool man.”

“Say, did I ever tell you about the time that Duane and I stole a U-Haul trailer?”

I sat back and relaxed while he got his thoughts in order.  This man was an excellent story-teller, so I hit on the extended bottle of Jack Daniels and prepared to listen to a a good story.

“It was about 25 years ago, give or take a year or two, me and Duane were running wild there in West Texas.  We were runnin’ the bars, playin’ guitar for beer and whatever the kitty would bring in.  When all of a sudden one day, Duane said he had us a gig over in Borger. 

Now the only wheels we had was that little 1958 Metro that I used to drive.  You remember it.  It wasn’t big enought to cuss a cat in.  We needed something bigger so ol’ Duane says, ‘heck , we’ll steal us a U-Haul.’

I was young and dumb in those days, so I jumped right in there on a deal like that.  So I agreed to a midnight run on the Depot Service Station, they had the local U-Haul concession, and we’d just pick us up our U-haul and be on our merry way.

We picked the trailer up around two or three in the morning and we took the thing over to Lefty’s Garage and painted the trailer.  We only had two colors of paint, a sort of institutional green and a day-glo orange.  Duane had a few purple stickers, so we put them on there for a touch.  We painted stars and bars, and a big ol’ half-moon, then we got ready for the gig that night by drinkin’ a half-gallon of Black label and eatin’ fistfuls of pills.

‘We’re doing it just like Hank Sr. done it,’ Duane kept saying.  We partied from the Pair ‘O’ Dice lounge on out to Rocky’s and back–then we was eating more pills and drinking more whiskey.  Duane was in a jovial mood and I wasn’t feelin’ no pain as we loaded the guitars and amps.  The only thing we were worried about was some oily holding knuckle drill on us that night.

So with the evening star twinkling in the western sky, and the little metro tying every bundle, me and ol’ Duane set out to make our name in the country music business.

We were laughin’ and drinkin’ and just having a big ol’ time when up ahead you could see these flashing blue lights.  ‘Insurance check’ Duane says ‘let me do the talking’ and I readily agreed as we pulled up to a stop opposite the state troopers.

“Hey officer, my names Duane and this ol’ outlaw’s my sideman, and yeah, we got insurance papers on this trailer but we just borrowed it from my brother-in-law.  We got us a country music show.”

It didn’t impresss the highway cop one bit.

One trooper walked to the back and pretty soon he came back and whispered something to the cop that was talking to us.

No kiddin?  I heard one say.  Then he said, “better unload boys, we got something we need to talk about.”

They arrested  us and took us to the Gray County Jail where we pled the grand larceny charge down until we didn’t have to serve but ninety days.”  Old Rufus was the high sheriff then so he’d let us wash the county cars and keep the courthouse grounds lookin’ neat.  So the ninety days passed pretty fast.  Saturday nights he’d let us take the guitars out of the evidence room and pick for the prisoners and we kept in practice that way too.

“But I’ll tell you this, Shoe”, he said standing up and dusting off his pants before heading back to where his dogs and parrots slept in the shadows.

“If you ever steal a U-Haul trailer, make sure that somebody paints the back of the damn thing.”

Written by Bob Briggs
August 24, 1996