TMI, and GTKY, and rambling, and all that stuff, but I have to write, and I have to write somewhere that I can share with friends and enemies and people I know and complete strangers, and so here it is.
Golf wasn't my father's game; that belonged to his father. No, my father's passion was model railroading, a hobby that split into fragments among his sons: I got the electrical part of it, my brother got the artistic part. (We're still not sure what my other brother got. Possibly the paint fumes.) He had grand plans for a layout in his basement, plans that started with a small corner that was unwisely crafted out of Styrofoam, so that beads of scenery flecked off a little at a time, creating the odd appearance of an inverted snowstorm, the flakes eating away at the ground instead of piling up on it.
I tried to get interested in it, but just couldn't grasp that spark he had. His face lit up when he talked about the great workhorses of the Industrial Revolution. His layout never came to fruition, but he had dozens of detailed and weathered engines, boxcars, tankers, flatbeds, all sitting down there at his hobby bench. Plans for his ultimate layout still paper those walls. A "To Do" checklist hangs next to them, a list of tasks with boxes next to them that he will never cross out again.
I have "To Do" lists like that in my house.
He and my mother had just purchased a cabin up in the north woods of Wisconsin, overlooking Boulder Lake. No sandy beaches there, but some of the best musky fishing in the world. That was his other passion. He had just gotten a boat too; I don't know much about them, but it's one of those that's a cross between a speedboat and a fishing boat, inboard motor, two fishfinders, live well, all that nifty stuff. I could never get past putting the worm on a hook, myself.
It has been nine months since the funeral, and this is the first Christmas without him. We didn't go to Sinnissippi Forest to cut down trees this year, for the first time in more years than I can recall. My mom will be buying one from the local Lions' lot, in memory of what they did on their first Christmas. My wife and I, well, we caved in and bought an artificial tree so our dog wouldn't try to eat it. My dad would probably be horrified.
All of you who have lost parents early on... I really need to know. When does it start feeling better? Does it ever? I moved into my own home four years ago, in preparation for my marriage, so I've had a layer of insulation; I'd been away for a while, so I already hadn't seen him as often as the rest of the family. I can't imagine what my brothers and sister have gone through.
And my mother... widowed and barely fifty. That's justice for you.
What sort of God lets these things happen?
My faith had already been faltering. Pedantic, dogmatic Catholic rules made less sense with each passing year, and by the time I married my wife, I was not about to make her sign a dispensation form allowing us to get married in her Lutheran church if we swore any children would be raised Catholic. What lunacy. His death was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak.
I blamed him for it too -- still do to some extent, I suppose. He didn't go on a steroid regimen to combat his disease, said he didn't like the side effects. Instead he experimented with "alternative" treatments. Sometimes they appeared to ease the symptoms. Sometimes they didn't. Obviously they did nothing to help the cause.
At least now he has no side effects to worry about.
It wasn't like a car accident, sudden and unexpected, but neither was it like a slow disease like my grandfather. It was a rapid deterioration, over the course of one week. I spoke to him over the phone a few days before he died. He was breathing heavily, but was improving. It was all just going to blow over like the last time he was admitted, and soon he'd be back home sitting in his oversized armchair, watching The People's Court on daytime television. The last words he told me were to be sure I was consistent in training our new puppy.
If you've never had the experience for yourself, I'm here to tell you right now: the whole "phone call in the middle of the night that you don't want to pick up"? It's pretty much all it's cracked up to be. He got worse. One lung had collapsed due to the pressure of the ventilator he was on. He was unconscious due to all the medication he was on. We were told to go to the hospital... just in case. And he was getting better... and we were told it would be a while before we knew what was going on, so we went home.
And he was getting better...
And he was getting better...
And then he was gone.
I wasn't there for the end. I could have been, but I couldn't be. I had said all I wanted to say at the hospital.
I haven't stopped talking to him since.
The cabin my parents purchased is on a peninsula of the lake it sits on, close to the inlet where it is fed by a river. The peninsula and the cabins on it used to be a resort back in the 1940's. Each cabin had a sign, shaped like a musky, painted white and lettered in green with its name. The resort eventually became a condo community of individually owned cabins, but the signs with the names stayed. When my parents bought theirs, the sign as missing; the previous owner had taken it with him (which was against the rules, but he was a jerk). This was disappointing to them, because nearly all the other cabins still had their signs.
Last time my wife and I were up there, we traced one of the other signs, and after chatting with the neighbors in the cabin next door to theirs, learned the original name of the place. And so, this Christmas, my mom's present will be a wooden sign, painted white, with green lettering that reads "Fin And Feather" on it.
And so will my dad's, as his ashes sit buried next to the cabin that he didn't get nearly enough time to use.
Merry Christmas, Dad.