Happy Birthday, Dad

My Mom called from our family home down in Jacksonville, Florida during Hurricane Matthew

She said she needed a husband.

Then she explained that she actually meant her husband.

Don’t we all, Mom.

Well, I don’t really need a husband (I have a lovely wife), but I also very much miss her husband. Or, as I called him, “Dad”.

Mom has a hard time with little details sometimes such as knowing where her cell phone car charger is if the power goes out. Or cleaning up the downed tree branches (or trees) after a hurricane. Or figuring out the computer (now a tablet) or generally fixing just about anything when it breaks.

Or just having someone there in the house during a hurricane to ride it out together.

October 10th was Dad’s birthday. His body left us nearly 20 years ago, but he’s still here, living through his three children: me, my brother Randy and sister Amy, and now through all of our kids, too.

Dad was with me the other night, walking the dogs down by the Sangamon River under a waxing first quarter moon, listening to the music of the night sung by the crickets and frogs. We love the night sky.

I remember hearing a little of this night music on a starlit Florida evening and asking Dad how it was that we could hear the stars twinkling if they were supposed to be so far away.

Really. Don’t laugh (hey, I was young). I mean, I don’t think I have ever, before or since, actually seen a cricket outdoors chirping at night. On the contrary: what you do see is stars twinkling up in the sky to the music of the chirping crickets.

Well, I thought it was a pretty good question at the time (still do).

Dad and my brother laughed at me, and then explained to me the facts of life. Or at least the facts of stars.

We used to stare up at night with flashlights and our “Luminous Star Finder” trying to pick out what we could of the constellations.  There was a lot of light around Jacksonville so we didn’t see many but it was still well worth the effort.

Dad often told me of his time in the Navy, and the amazing night sky filled with billions of stars he could see when they were far out to sea and they’d turn off all the running lights on his destroyer escort.

But now I have my Midwest farm country night skies, maybe not as good as being out to sea, but they’re way better than back in Jacksonville. It’s quite a spectacle. If Dad were here he could tell me how it compares.

Back then, I never could’ve imagined that I’d grow up to move to the far-off land of Illinois, although I always – always! wanted a river in my backyard.

Dad loved the water and put me in our first canoe when I was probably one or so. It was big and red and made of wood. I mostly remember it as a leaky “fixer upper” that I don’t recall ever having completely fixed up.

Dad liked figuring stuff out and fixing it. That’s why he was so good to have around the house.

I recall that nearly every evening, after dinner and Walter Cronkite, he’d head out to the carport and climb under the hood of his British racing green Triumph Spitfire. Anyone who would buy a British sports car obviously likes fixing things.

My brother got that good mechanical know how; I learned how to get to know a good mechanic.

My sister bought a British racing green convertible Mini Cooper mostly to honor my Dad, but also because it’s fun (which also honors my Dad).  She also knows a good mechanic.

I’d sure like him around now. But he passed long before we moved here to the Sangamon River.

And now I’m here, sitting by my river. Walking down my road.

Today I was cutting up a mulberry tree that recently just split in half and fell in my yard on a perfectly calm, clear day. Proving that it doesn’t take a hurricane to take out a mulberry tree. As I was cutting away, I did feel a nice sense of solidarity with those living in Matthew’s aftermath.

After I cut it into logs I tried again to start that engine on my obstinate hydraulic splitter. Choke, pull, pull, sputter, pull. Unchoke, pull, pull, sputter, pull, pull, huff, puff, sputter (that last sputter was me).

I have no idea what’s wrong with the thing and I have no idea how to fix it.

So I’ll have to hitch it to the truck and pull it back to the shop.

Boy, if Dad were here, he’d never let me do that. “We’ll get it started right up!” he’d say. And he would, too.

I agree with Mom: She needs a husband.

Or as I call him, “Dad”.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, October 13, 2016, by Scott P. Hays

Comments are closed.