Saturday, August 07, 2021

One of Nature's Gentlemen

 I run to answer the telephone which hangs on the wall between the kitchen and dining room. The desert sunshine streams through the open windows while the yellow curtains billow gently in the breeze. 

Life is good. We're young, our beautiful baby girl is down for her nap. Our first child - a black Labrador named Suzy, is curled up on the grass outside, chasing rabbits through doggy dreams. We're on the OC's first AF assignment in the middle of the Mojave dessert. When first we arrived here I thought we'd come to the ends of the earth, but now it's the birthplace of our firstborn, we live in a house on a tree -lined street with a fenced-in garden, our neighbors are all friendly, young like us, starting out. This is how life is supposed to go, right? 

But I was only playing at being a grownup. When my mum's voice came crackling down the line from the other side of the planet, my world crumbled. The sun still streamed in through the window, the curtains still billowed in the breeze, Suzy yawned and stretched in the grass outside, stood up, circled a few times for a more comfortable dreaming position, then settled back down. Mere seconds had passed but my life, in those few seconds, was changed forever. My dad, my beloved dad whom I adored, was in the hospital, about to have surgery for a tumor on his brain. The outlook was bleak. Life was a tragedy and I was a four year old.

Marilyn, a woman who lived across the street from us, stepped into the breach. Our husbands worked together, she had a daughter the same age as ours and two other children, but I hardly knew her. Nevertheless she took command of the situation. Our little girl, barely eighteen months old, had no passport. No worries, said Marilyn. No arguments, said Marilyn. Go see your dad, said Marilyn. I'll take E every morning while J goes to work. He can have her back in the evenings. Everything will be fine here. Go see your dad. 

And so I went and sat with my dad. I was glad to be with him but wondered how things were going back in the desert. The OC had grown up with European immigrant parents. Men did not cook; men did not change diapers; men certainly didn't wash those diapers or any other clothing for that matter. That was women's work. Would my daughter be scarred for life without even the benefit of ever meeting her grandad? 

The OC meanwhile, applied for a passport for her. My father-in-law (referred to in older posts as The Carpathian Prince) pulled all the strings he could find, both to expedite the passport and get me back to California without going bankrupt. Everything fell into place. My dad was stable for now so I flew home. Miraculously E had survived. In fact she didn't like me anymore! When I tried to give her a bath my first night back, she howled for her daddy. Turns out he'd risen to the challenge with help from Marilyn. He was chuffed that E was now "Daddy's girl."

In a few days she forgave me and we flew back to Ireland. Now two of us sat with my dad. As a child, I used to tell anyone who'd listen that "my Daddy will be charmed with me." Now he was charmed with his granddaughter. But he was getting weaker every day. The operation had removed some of the tumor but couldn't reach it all. It was growing again. And fast. 

I was with him when he died. He was smiling and pointing at the ceiling, but I couldn't understand why. Then I remembered how he had told me that his mother, my grandmother, had done something similar. Our Lady was coming for her, she said. And now she was coming for him.

My heart broke that day and it never completely healed. I know that death is part of life, something we all have to face sooner or later. I wish he could have faced it later. He was fifty six. My children never had the pleasure of meeting and knowing him. He was, as so many people said to us at his funeral, one of Nature's gentlemen.

There was never any love lost between The Carpathian Prince and me. At best, we tolerated each other, but I will always be grateful that he moved heaven and earth to get me home that time.

That was forty seven years ago. Marilyn and I are still in touch on a weekly basis. Nobody could ask for a better friend.

We no longer live in California,

and Suzy long ago went to doggy heaven.

E survived, is all grown up, married with two teenage boys of her own. She replaced her toddlerhood best friend, Suzy, with Marty. She and Marty communicate in Schnauzer-speak, a language unique in that each speaker speaks with a pronounced lisp. Everyone needs a doggy friend!

Our phones are in our pockets now but when they ring, I still, sometimes, get a little tremor of dread, remembering that day in California and the breeze through the yellow-curtained windows.


Elephant's Child said...

This is poignant, beautiful, and has left me a little misty eyed.

Colette said...

Beautifully written. You made that memory come alive for us readers.

Sabine said...

Sad but wonderful memory. I loved the description, gentleman, I also refer to my Irish father in law this way. Always did. Courteous, gentle, never raised his voice in anger.

gz said...

Reminds me of losing my Mountain Man.
You have a good friend there.

Secret Agent Woman said...

What a beautiful story. And what a great friend to have.

I just don't think anything prepares you for the loss of a parent.

molly said...

EC - Me too, maybe because it's August, the month he was born in.

Colette - They say the memory is the first thing to go? Well, I can't remember, sometimes, what I did yesterday, but decades ago? No problem!

Sabine - Maybe it's an Irish thing? Wish there were more of them around.

gz - Sounds like there's a story there!

SAW - Even now, well into adulthood, I don't like being an orphan.

Wisewebwoman said...

What a beautifully written memory Molly and I was crying, remembering my own terrible visit with my two babies to my darling mother who was dying in Cork leaving young children of her own. I was the eldest and forever grateful to my former husband for moving heaven and earth to get me there for a two month stay.

I adored my mum, she set me on such a wonderful path in life. I remember her every day.


Thimbleanna said...

Awww, Miss Molly, you've brought tears to my eyes. Your story is sadly similar to my mother's story which probably occurred a few years earlier -- passports weren't involved, but the disease was the same, her father was only 51 and she took us home to be with her Daddy. And then, a few years after that, we moved to Lancaster -- probably just a few years before you arrived would be my guess. You've told your story so beautifully - oh how we miss those who've gone before us.

molly said...

WWW - They live on in our memories.

Anna-banana - Yes, it feels strange to know that I'm older now than either of my parents ever lived to be. A reminder to count my blessings!