Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad

My father would have been eighty-seven today. My sister took this photo on his birthday four years ago, when he was still living in Ocean Springs MS. I don't think I was there then; I'd gone to see him that Christmas, and I don't think I went out during the summer, too. I was there for some of his other birthdays, though.

(Have I posted this photo before? If so, please forgive me.)

Behind Dad, you can see a small portion of his beloved music collection, which was color-coded by genre and alphabetized by artist. Note the birthday candles in the cans of Ensure, a joke Dad would have appreciated, and also the plaid shirts. He loved plaids, the louder the better. Just last night, going through a bag of his things, I found his all-time favorite plaid shirt, which had once been very loud indeed but became more and more faded as the fabric grew thinner. He must have had that shirt for well over twenty years. I folded it and put it carefully in my closet.

Here's my favorite recent picture of him, taken October 18 of last year, the night he arrived in Sacramento. That was the last night of his life he wasn't on oxygen (although, in retrospect, he should have been even then). We stayed at a hotel in Sacramento that evening and drove home to Reno the next morning. As we crossed a particularly scenic section of the Sierras, Dad said happily, "Oh, I'm going to love living in the West!"

But as soon as he got out of the car in my garage, he collapsed, and Gary and I called 911, and Dad went to the hospital. Between then and March 21, when he died, he only spent two months in any space he could call his own: one month in an apartment and one in an assisted-living facility. The rest of the time, he was in hospitals or nursing homes. He always told his nurses and doctors -- in Reno, San Francisco, and Palo Alto -- "I started moving to Reno on October 18, and I'm still moving."

He routinely nagged me about my writing. "Have you finished your book yet?" Almost four months after his death, I still haven't been able to bring myself to write his obituary.

In my Tolkien class this afternoon, we'll be talking about the first two chapters of The Lord of the Rings, including the famous birthday party when Bilbo vanishes. That seems very apt, today (or, as Tolkien would put it, applicable). "I regret to announce that -- though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you -- this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!"

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you. I'm sorry you never fully arrived here, and I hope that wherever you are now, you're at peace.


  1. Anonymous8:55 AM

    Oh my! I did not know about my dear friend "AL".
    I am so sorry and I will miss him. I had been thinking of his birthday. He and another friend here on the coast shared the same birthday.We would have a party at the "homeless shelter"!! We called it the homeless shelter but in reality it was the "perfect place" and we had a great time there.We still miss "AL" and RED JACKET here in Biloxi. Al introduced me to your books Susan and to "archy and mehitabel". I will remember his birthday on my Facebook page today and toast him as I did every year he was here with a glass of champagne. He will always be here in Biloxi in my heart. A friend who loved him and told him so. Gail LaHatte on S/V Pickin' Daisies in Biloxi. bglahatte@webmail.us

  2. Thank you so much, Gail! He loved you, too.

  3. I love that in every picture you have posted of him, he looks like he's doing his darnedest to keep from bursting out in laughter!


  4. Anonymous9:56 AM

    Oh, Susan, thanks so much for this. I told your Dad shortly before he died that my life was enriched by knowing him. We were both crying as we knew that it would probably be our last conversation. He was always himself, no matter for better or worse. I so loved that about him. During his last years with all his health problems I always said I was praying for him and he said "what a waste of time". I said he couldn't stop me and he replied "Well go ahead then". Now he knows..

    Kathy Wiker

  5. Driver: Yes, he could be a very merry soul indeed!

    Kathy: Thank you so much for the prayers; I appreciate them, even if Dad didn't! (He became resigned to the fact that my whole church was praying for him; so was I, of course.) You enriched his life, too. God bless you!


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