The memorial service for my dad was on Sunday. He had a great sense of humor: it didn’t escape any of us that the only day it worked for everyone to be at his memorial/funeral was All Saints Day. I’m sure it didn’t escape Dad.
My mom said to me on the phone: “Well…they say you elevate your spouse to sainthood after they die. Your husband dies and suddenly he’s a saint. I suppose it’s appropriate Dad’s official induction into sainthood is Sunday.”
My dad loved to barbeque. He loved a block party. One Saturday morning when I was around 10 or so, I woke up to the sound of him digging a hole in the middle of the backyard. I immediately looked for the dog: you’re a kid, there’s a hole, you have animals, you worry. Even at 10, it struck me as odd the grave would be smack in the middle of the grass in the backyard.
The dog was fine.
He was digging a pit for the pig.
We didn’t own a pig.
The plan was to roast an entire pig Hawaiian pit-style, embers and hot rocks, pig tightly mummified in wet banana leaves, put directly on embers and rocks, and shovel the dirt back in. Leave it overnight. Next night, dig it up, and eat.
I was already the fat kid at school. Now I was going to be the fat kid who ate food out of a hole in the ground.
I did not see a positive outcome to this scenario in the schoolyard. How much would a bus ticket to Australia cost?
It was the best pork I ever ate. Since the entire block was there, I needn’t have worried: the same kids who would’ve teased me were also eating food dug out of a hole in the ground. Forget second helpings, they came back for 4ths and 5ths. Who knew that having a dad who shoveled dirt on the main course would increase my popularity? For months, other kids came up to me deferentially: did I think my dad was going to cook again any time soon? In the backyard? If he did, could they come?
At the memorial, we had Dad’s favorite foods: pizza and beer, salad, salami, olives, and hot fudge sundaes. Chocolate chip cookies. Dixieland jazz was piped out into the backyard. His favorite movies played silently on DVD players in the house: My Big Fat Greek Wedding (no surprise after the pig story, huh) and Shogun. The coffee table was strewn with Louis L’Amour westerns. It was immediate-immediate family only. About 50 people, and 8 dogs. That’s intimate for us. When it got dark, most of the aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins had left, and ten of us sat around the fire pit and traded Dad stories.
This one, told by my mom, sums my dad up in a nutshell:
About a week before he died, mom was holding his hand. He’d had a particularly bad day, and was in pain. His eyes were closed, and he looked exhausted. He appeared to be in and out of consciousness. I went out to get my mom some food. While I was gone, my mom used the alone time to try to help her husband:
“Honey…it’s okay to let go. Really. We love you and we don’t want you to suffer.”
She paused, groping for the right words:
“Henry, I know it’s hard. Let go. It’s okay to let go…Just…Let…Go.”
My dad immediately opened his eyes, turned his head so he could look mom in the eye, and said:
“Oh, I’m trying Mae…believe me, I’m TRYING!”
They were both laughing hysterically when I got back, tears streaming down their cheeks.
He’d been conscious the whole time: he’d closed his eyes to deal with the pain.
My mom wiped her face, and said to me: “I just tried to kill your father. Sorry about that.”
“No problem.” I said.
My dad smiled and closed his eyes, preparing to pick up the burden again, and I handed my mom a sandwich, wondering if I’d ever know what their private joke was.
He did it in his own way: self-sufficient to the end. He waited until everyone left: then ran toward the white light, and jumped.
You made it Dad!