Seems I haven’t done one of these in awhile. A lot going on in the world right now I guess, and life can get in the way sometimes. I ain’t feeling all roses and sunshine right now, so I decided to go with a bittersweet story.
My father passed away from Prostate cancer about 10 years ago. It wasn’t sudden and we all knew it was coming. In fact, he basically held court in the days before his death. Maybe one day I’ll tell that whole story because it actually was really special to me, but I’ll save that for later. The three stories to follow all happened between just before the wake to just after the funeral. FYI, the cover shot are my mom and dad, sometime in the 50s.
The first is at the wake. My dad’s cousin Larry (one of the nicest people in the world) couldn’t make it, but sent a letter and to be read at the wake. My mom asked if someone could read it, and no one stepped up, so I said I would. I hadn’t read it previously so had no idea what was in it. It was very heartfelt and touching, but had a couple of points I had to comment on.
Larry wrote about how he had come to Louisiana to visit my mom and dad, I think just after he had gotten out of the service. We lived just outside of New Orleans and Larry wanted to hit the town, but didn’t think he could afford it. But his generous cousin Richard gave him $20 out of the goodness of his heart so he could have a night on the town. To which I say “Ok, I have to stop here for a second. I knew the man for 45 years. Never once did he me $20 so I could hit the town.” I get a better than expected laugh out of that. So I continue reading the letter in which Larry describes his selfless cousin taking him fishing. (The picture of Saint Richard being painted was a little humorous to me. He had a bunch of truly great qualities. He was also no saint.) They catch lots of fish on rod and reel, then he helps Richard put out a net and they REALLY catch a bunch of fish (dad was doing a bit of commercial netting at the time to make extra money). On the way home they stop to sell the fish, and his saintly cousin actually gives him money for fishing with him! And I can’t stop from interjecting: “Folks, I have to stop once again. That’s called paying someone for the work they did. I’m not sure how ‘generous’ that is!” More laughter, especially from my mom.
I finish the letter (it really was an excellent tribute to my dad. Larry, if you are reading this I hope you don’t mind I used it for a bit of a comic foil. It wasn’t intentional, but it did bring the house down a little!). At the end of the service, my friend Jackie stops me on the way out and says “buddy, you are doing my eulogy?” “Why?” I asked. “Dude, you made your mom laugh at your dads wake!” “Deal, but only if we are both over 90 and if I die first you have to do mine.”
We talk a bit and my buddy Jackie asks my wife Jackie and I to meet him for drinks the following weekend, which would be a couple of days after the funeral. We said sure. On the night we met, my buddy Jackie had an old female roommate of his and her husband with him. We had a great time sitting outside in the warm Texas evening eating Mexican food, drinking cold beer, and listening to pretty good country music. And getting really drunk. At some point in the evening, I’m talking about my dad cooking shrimp, to which the husband says, in quite possibly the strongest South Texan accent I have ever heard; “no disrespect to your father, but I make the best shrimp you’ve ever had in your life.” I incredulously express my doubts to this, to which he replies: “I’m just tellin’ you the truth. And you like ‘taters?” “What kind of ‘taters?” I ask. “Any kind of ‘taters. Baked ‘taters, awe graw ten ‘taters (nothing I can do can do justice to the way he said awwwe graww ten), french fried ‘taters, twice baked ‘taters. Come over for dinner tomorrow, I’ll show you.” Never one to let a challenge go, or turn down free food, I say “sure!”
The next day, my Jackie says “there is no way on this planet I’m going to someone’s house I don’t know for freakin’ ‘taters!” After I explain I can’t see a way out of it, she extremely reluctantly agrees. We drive to their house that night, and it happens to be right across the street from our old house in Texas City where we had the marina and bait camp (marina was still partially there, but the bait camp and old house were gone). We ended up having a really wonderful evening. The house was, in my wife’s words “utterly charming”, the hosts were fantastic, the shrimp were out of this world (still think my dad’s were better though!). However, the twice baked ‘taters were truly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, before or since. If you saw and talked to the guy then ate his food you really wouldn’t believe it. We tried to coerce the recipe from him, but he wouldn’t budge other than to say “however much butter you think you should use, double it!” One of the most unexpected evenings I’ve ever had, and was a great close to a really hard week. I’ve never seen that couple since, and probably never will. I wish I could tell them how fondly I remember that night. A perfect example of life truly does go on.
The last story is quite possibly my favorite I hope I do it justice.
My parents didn’t get a cellphones for many years after pretty much everyone else had them. I don’t know exactly why. For dad, he spent several hours a day on a boat without a phone, but for whatever the case he held out for a long time. Maybe he just didn’t want to be bothered. But once he got one, any morning that I would be out fishing (he knew when I was out because my boat was at his house and I generally stopped at his shrimp boat for bait) I would get this call, which would be on my voicemail pretty much every time I returned to the boat from wading (as I had learned from bad experience to not take your phone when wading saltwater flats).
“Hello Rick, this is Richard, your father. Gettin’ any? Call me back” I used to find the formality of the salutation pretty hysterical. He identified himself to me in three ways: 1. He had to know I pretty much knew his voice as I had heard it in every situation from gentle, proud, incredulous, furious, etc. throughout all of my life, and a pretty good hunk of his, 2.identified himself by name, in case the voice wasn’t quite enough, and 3. specified his family relationship to me, just in case 1 and 2 left me thinking “just who the hell is this Richard guy who keeps calling?” He literally did this every time. Maybe I told him once how funny I thought it was and he just carried on, but whatever the case, it has really stuck with me.
Either right before his death or right after I was out with Jackie and told her the above story for probably the 1000th time (one of the reasons I have this blog is to try to stop telling my friends and family the same stories over and over) I really started to tear up. Maybe the first time that the shell started to crack a bit (or probably more accurately crack a lot) in front of anyone. She asked what was wrong and I stammered out “who’s going to call me when I’m fishing?” She said all the right things and let me cry on her shoulder (metaphorically, we were in a restaurant and I was being far too stoic to actually cry on a shoulder!). But I still dreaded the first trip with him gone.
As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait. between the wake and the funeral, my brothers and I decide we should go on a quick fishing trip, both to honor our dad and really because since I was living out of the country, we didn’t get the chance to go out fishing together any more. My youngest brother might kill me for saying this, but I’m not 100% sure he was there. My memory of this includes him, but I also remember he didn’t fish for quite some time after dad’s death for his own reasons-too much of what we did with dad revolved around the water. But I think he was on this trip. At least I hope he was.
Anyway, as I said previously, my boat was at my parents house. To get from there to where we fished generally took around 30ish minute boat ride. They lived in a house on a canal system that lead eventually to Galveston Bay (Bayou Vista for you folks from South Texas) and you had to go really slow in the canals, so it took 15 minutes or so to get out of the canals, then another 15-20 minutes of running to get to where we were going to fish. As always, we leave the dock before dawn. About 15 minutes after I left I get a phone call:
“Hello Rick, this is Jackie, your wife. Gettin’ any?” Takes me a second to compose myself. I reply “We aren’t actually fishing yet honey, but thank you.” I’m sure we had a short conversation after and I’m sure I told her to go back to bed. But I will never forget that moment. It was truly one of the best moments of my life, in one of the worst weeks of my life. Every time I think of this I still tear up a little. Thanks Jackie, I think you know how much that meant, but I just want to remind you again. I think I might like “Rick, you gettin’ any” on my tombstone.
Mom and Dad before they were mom and dad.