Five years ago today, we were sitting around Dad’s bed. We had been there for days, a large group of us- sometimes as many as 20 people but never fewer than six- continually surrounding Dad with love and witnessing his final battle. I will never dishonor his fight by referring to him as having lost. Dad fought for his life, the strongest and most determined fight I have ever seen, and he won peace. And as these five years have gone by (it’s been forever and it’s been no time at all), I have learned that he is still and always here with us.
He is here in all the jokes he made, which we repeat to this day.
He is here in the pennies we find and the songs that play at just the right moment.
His love for my mother pervades every room in their house.
Gabby has his silly sense of humor and his comic timing.
Addie J has a huge heart, just like her papa.
And as well as being his physical clone, Cameron also inherited Dad’s interest in cars, and his knack for relating to people, and his easy strength.
Not a single day has gone by that we haven’t talked about Dad, repeated one of his jokes, imagined how he would respond to something. He is still here in so many ways. And when I think of him now, it’s not as he was in the last few months of his life, when he was engaged in that final battle. Rather, he is once again strong and healthy. When I imagine him now, he is working on his race car (with just the right parts and all the right tools). Or he is having a beer with his brother and his uncles, and they’re all laughing and happy. Or sometimes I see just him, standing in the sun with that much-loved smile on his face.
I miss him so much, and I am so lucky to be his daughter.
Until very recently, I had a five-year-old bag of pistachios in my cabinet.
I know, that’s weird.
Five years ago, on a Friday morning, I was on the phone with my mom and I could hear Dad in the background. “Is that Julie? Tell her to get me some pistachios,” he was saying. Mom was trying to arrange something with me, I don’t remember what, and she was like, “Just a second, Ron.” He was not having it: “I’m just saying, tell her to bring me some pistachios….Joann?… Joann!….Tell her to bring pistachios!” (The memory of this is making me laugh, by the way.) I interrupted, “Tell him I’ll get pistachios, my gosh.” And we laughed, and she told him, and that was that. I did get him some pistachios that day, but Dad went into the hospital early the next morning, and he did not come home.
And then I didn’t know what to do with this fucking bag of pistachios. Give them to the kids? Throw them away? … What is the appropriate way to handle the last thing you tried to give your dad? Somehow they had attained some kind of weird significance in my head, like a symbol of everything we had lost. I couldn’t bear to do anything with them, and so I put them in the cabinet where I keep baking supplies. Way in back.
That’s where they stayed for years: behind the vanilla and the Christmas cookie sprinkles. Occasionally I would move things around in that cabinet, looking for baking soda or something, and catch sight of that bag. Every time it was jarring: Dad wanted pistachios. I bought him pistachios. But I never gave him the pistachios. I’m sitting here, trying to explain the tangled knot of sadness and loss that this stupid bag of nuts came to symbolize, and it’s sounding so trite and overwrought, and of course it is. But there you go: I couldn’t deal with an undelivered snack, and so they languished in the cabinet for five years.
I don’t actually know what happened to it. Over the holidays, I went into that cabinet to get something and realized the bag was gone. I assume Dave found the bag in there at some point, thought, “WTF is this?” -and tossed it. And as I stood there, waiting to see how I felt about this new development, I heard my dad in my ear, in his gravelly, no-nonsense voice: “Those nuts went bad four years ago, for Christ’s sake.” And like that, all the strange significance I had created around them disappeared.
So, anyway. Dave recently got rid of a completely unnecessary bag of pistachios.
Five years ago today, I knew that Dad was very ill but I didn’t know that we were going to lose him in less than a week. I would go back and tell that version of me, who is very different from today’s version, “It will be awful. But you will get through. And you’ll find Dad in the most unexpected places! Wait and see.”
Earlier this week, Dave was talking with a former colleague of Dad’s, who is interested in buying some of the MG parts Dad collected. Dave said, “I mean, think it over and let us know what you think is a fair price, and I’ll pass it on.” Then, laughing, Dave added, “I’m sure Ron will be in your ear.” The immediate reply, complete with exasperated chuckle, was: “Oh, he already has been! I’ve been thinking to myself, ‘come on, Ron, you gotta give me something here.’ ”
Of course: Dad still can’t stay out of a negotiation. Love you, Dad.
My sister-in-law, Erin, created a custom book about my dad to give to Violet when she was born. It was the best idea and it’s such a cute book. Yesterday I found in my drawer the little stack of photos I had found at E’s request, which she used in the book. I have been meaning to give them to Mikey. They’re amazing. Here are just a few:
*Four photos of Dad, Mike, and various cars. In most of these they are posing with the most comically serious expressions:
*A hilarious pic of Mom, Dad, and their beloved baby on some carnival ride, where Mom and Dad are having a ball and 5-year-old Mike is clearly the only one aware that there’s no safety bar in front of him:
*Two more vacation photos. I love the one on the left, where Mike is exactly copying Dad’s pose. (If you go back to the car pics, you’ll see him still doing that in his teens.) Mikey took one look at the pic on the right and said, “Look at Dad’s expression. Something definitely just happened with me and that fish, and he’s trying not to lose his mind.” Also please enjoy Dad’s cutoffs.
*And finally, this photo was taken somewhere in Ireland, and it is one of Mike’s favorites because of the weirdness of the bunny ears in the background. I just love it because Mike, Erin, and Mom are all smiling happily for the picture… and Dad has that unmistakable “shenanigans ahead” look on his face.
The kids are all getting their bedrooms redone for Christmas, so we started the process by having them clean out their closets and dressers. This is a horrifying ordeal and, if I had to choose between this and our drive home with Dave needing to vomit every 50 miles… well, I’d really have to consider my options.
I was in Cammy’s closet and I found an old photo of my parents with the kids at Mardi Gras; I’m going to say it was probably 2008. Addie looked cute– you guys, she was seriously the cutest– however Gabby looked like she had to pee, and Cam was awkwardly trying to pose with a plastic alligator. It wasn’t their best look to say the least. I took a pic of the pic and texted it to Jill.
Her response? “Awwww.” I laughed out loud when it came through. I replied, “Are you serious? Look at C and G. They look like dorks here.” And Jill texted back, “I was looking at Dad.”
Here’s another great pic of Dad, taken that same year:
Dad at Mardi Gras, raking it in as always.
I am writing this post from my kitchen table, after a great holiday with family and then a beautiful week spent at my sister’s house. Everything went pretty much according to plan: the kids liked everything they got (Cam found me at the end of the day on Christmas, hugged me, and said, “Everything is perfect. Thank you so much,” which was pretty bomb to be honest). We had fun at my in-laws’ house on the 23rd, then at my brother’s house on Christmas Eve, and finally at my mom’s house on Christmas Day. We road tripped to Jill’s house the day after Christmas; the trip there was fast and we had a great week with her family. We kept to our plan of always doing something new every time we visit. Most of what we did, though, was low-key: we played games. The kids swam. We saw Rogue One. We went to a NYE party complete with (pretty dang professional-grade) fireworks. It was a great week.
It is well-documented that Dave and I each prefer to drive the car. We basically trade off for the most part, but we have worked out some ground rules– for example, Dave is the leadoff driver on road trips. Therefore he got behind the wheel early yesterday morning after we said our goodbyes, and we headed to Starbucks. I went inside to get drinks. When I came back, Dave asked me to drive, saying he felt a little off. He fell asleep almost immediately, along with the kids, and I spent the first hour of the drive enjoying the gorgeous scenery, filled with a sense of well-being and happiness.
Then Dave suddenly sat up and urgently told me to pull over. We later discovered that the NYE party had been Ground Zero for some kind of vicious stomach bug, with 8 or 9 people from the party coming down with it at the same time as Dave. Can you imagine taking a road trip in that condition? We pulled over… let’s just say “frequently…” and in-between vomit stops I would drive really really fast– trying to both make up time and get home before any of the rest of us got sick. I was afraid to give anyone any real food, so the kids had to survive on crackers, granola bars, and water all day while I called out. “Everyone okay? Anyone feel sick?” every 20 minutes. As the only functioning driver, I was afraid to eat anything at all. Meanwhile, poor Dave was trying not to die in the passenger seat, stretching out the time between vomit stops as long as possible (once he gambled and lost, by the way. That was not a great moment.)
But we did get home and no one else ever got sick. Our friend Kat brought over dinner for us all, which was the best, best, unexpected pleasant surprise. This morning everyone, Dave included, is feeling fine. We are doing a little bit of unpacking and a lot of relaxing. I went to the gym. Cam is downstairs, stringing lacrosse sticks. Dave and the J are putting together her new shelving units. Gabby is watching old-school Children of the Corn for some reason. It’s really nice to be home.
When I was a kid and we asked Dad what he wanted for Christmas, he always told us to buy him razor blades and shaving cream. We always thought that was bullshit. “But I don’t want anything else,” he used to protest. “If I want something, I get it.” It was always frustrating to figure out what to buy for him.
Fast forward to me, now. I’m married to the busiest, happiest DIY-er in the world. Nothing makes Dave’s day more than a pile of supplies and a free weekend. This year he’s done extensive [at first I accidentally wrote ‘expensive,’ ha ha ha] work in the back yard, including adding a fire pit where the swing set used to be. Last year he began a basement hangout room project for the kids, and he did a little more work on that project as well. Finally, he continued his ongoing “replace the trim throughout the downstairs” project.
Side note: did I tell you about our back door? Dave removed all the trim in preparation to have our new back door installed. Then the door guys came to measure, and long story short: the door we chose won’t work and we need to choose a different door. I am acting like a baby about that, since the door we chose had everything I wanted, so that project has been dead in the water for 3 months. The back door, denuded of trim, looks really nice in the meantime. (No it doesn’t.) This is just his thing: Dave loves home improvement projects. And fortunately he is very handy and does beautiful work, and– just as important– knows what he can do and what he can’t.
Okay, so. I had had it in mind to get Dave a watch for Christmas. The kids were helping me choose one, and by “choose” I mean “find the least practical, bulkiest watch that looks the most like it was stolen from Batman.” So I finally went to the source and told Dave what was up. “I feel like you maybe should have a say,” I finished. And Dave’s say was essentially “razor blades and shaving cream:” he asked for flannel pants, and maybe some new work shirts, and a circular saw with a sliding arm. “I wear a watch because I feel like I should know what time it is without taking out my phone, but that’s all,” he said. “I like my watch just fine. What I would like, though, is some more stuff I can use to work on the house.” And then he was off, describing what he wants to change and what he wants to add and what comes next and what comes after that.
How do you wrap a circular saw with a sliding arm?
[It is 6:23am.]
JULIE: I think we should get shoes for the dog.
JULIE: ….Is that the first thing I’ve said to you so far today?
JULIE: I have a burning hatred for autoplay.
GABBY [walks up behind Julie, starts crunching ice in her ear]: You should come up with a better word than “burning.” You need to improve your vocabulary, Mom.
JULIE: ….I need to improve my vocabulary??
GABBY: Yeah, you do.
JULIE: [knocks Gabby’s cup of ice out of her hand and across the floor]
DAVE: Ha, Gabby. Now you have to pick up all that ice.
GABBY: What?! Mom did that!
DAVE: You antagonized her.
GABBY: … OH MY GOSH. The system is rigged!
This is the exact jar. It still contains salt.
GABBY: Hey Mom:
GABBY: Can I have that jar that the pink salt is in?
JULIE: What do you need it for?
GABBY: I’ll find something appropriate to put the salt in?
JULIE: ….Um, before I address that idea: what do you need the jar for?
GABBY [casually]: Oh, I have some animal bones in my room.
GABBY: I have a bird skull– remember the bird skull I found?– and I have a rabbit’s foot with some fur still on it, and I have some bones from when we dissected the owl pellets in class. They’re in a Ziploc, wrapped in a paper towel, but I’d like to put them in this jar like specimens.
GABBY: …..Are you going to write about this?