Daddy was a barber. He opened “Modern Barber Shop” in our North Carolina town, and my childhood was spent there; days after school were for sweeping hair and playing school by myself in the cozy, dark little vestibule at the back of the shop. I didn’t know it at the time, but men who came for a haircut and were sitting on the long church pew right outside my “school” could hear me playing both teacher and student. Daddy said they used to come in for haircuts at about the same time in the afternoon so they could hear what I was teaching that day. I didn’t know any of this until much later, when the embarrassment of it couldn’t sting me.
I’ve written about Daddy many times before. Today, I sit with the recognition that he died 37 years ago today. His last gasps were taken in Grace Hospital as his heart stopped pumping and he suffocated in his own blood. He was 53. The nurses wept. He was a much loved man. I was in the hospital cafeteria when a nurse came to get me, and told me to hurry. I was a teenager. My mother was vomiting at the very idea of what was happening, and I took charge, calling the preacher who advised me that he was just about to leave on vacation. I remember being quite rude and quite profane with him, and he showed up less than 10 minutes later. Daddy was a religious man. He would have wanted a prayer. I never apologized to the preacher. I sometimes feel guilty for that, but not often.
We were gathered in the Intensive Care Waiting Room with the Loud Family when the news came. Mama ran to the bathroom to vomit again, because grief takes hold of our bodies and has to be expelled somehow, and I held her head. My brother and his wife were at their doctor’s office in that moment, learning that they were pregnant for the first time, and that Daddy would never know that news. Synchronicity is sometimes powerful, and sometimes just so sad.
I remembered that he wanted to be an organ donor, and everything but his corneas was worn out, so they live on, seeing the world. I planned the funeral and picked out the casket–it was the style Hoss Cartwright was buried in; Daddy loved Hoss and watching “Bonanza” together was a ritual for us, along with football games featuring Johnny Unitas (he took me to Atlanta once to see Unitas play in person) and that one memorable afternoon we spent many hours watching “War and Peace,” not really knowing what we were getting into.
The church was overflowing with people and flowers at his service. The preacher showed up and behaved himself. I reached out to touch his coffin as he was carried past me out of the sanctuary.
Thirty seven years. 37 is an important number in my life. And so, this day feels heavier than the other 36 anniversaries of that day, or if not heavier, then more meaningful somehow. He’s been gone longer in my life than he was here, and there are so many times when I want him here, to see all that he’s missed – grandchildren, my books, all of it. He was my greatest cheerleader, with an expansive spirit far larger than our small town. When I said I wanted to be an exchange student to Sri Lanka when I was 16 and had never flown in a plane before, he said YES while my mom got nervous. He and I were a lot alike in that way.
And so, on this day, I’m buying myself flowers, going to yoga, and sitting with him for a while.