I remember the last conversation I had with my Father in the mid Nineteen Nineties. I was sick with pneumonia and racked with a cough that shook me to the bottoms of my feet and chills the heavy quilts couldn’t quite shake. My head buzzed from codeine, antibiotics, and aspirin my doctor had prescribed. I was feverish and out of my head. Finally, I slept.
My father sat quietly on the corner of my bed watching me. He was a small man; five foot six inches and his feet didn’t quite touch the floor. He crossed his legs and clasped his hands on his knees. Nodding his head, he seemed younger than the last time I had seen him in the mid-Seventies.
“Son, you do know sickness is God’s way of telling you to slow down. Death means you should have listened.”
He said “Son” in the voice that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. “Son” was usually followed by gothic organ music and the statement, “This is going to hurt me more than you.”
“Right Dad, I don’t believe you now, and I didn’t believe you then.”
We talked for a while. I caught him up on the twenty years since his passing and even made him laugh a couple of times, something I don’t remember doing too much of when he was alive.
We reminisced telling stories, mostly focusing on the times I screwed up, maybe times when I disappointed him. Running into him with a quill buggy while he worked under a loom causing him to sit up and bark his forehead on a worm gear. A lot of blood and a look that could have curdled milk. The looms were too loud for me to hear the names he called me.
“The first time I heard you curse was when I pulled the starter cord on the mower when you were holding the spark plug wire.” That was a real knee slapper. He nodded and smiled.
I remembered a note he left me one morning before going to work. I was eleven or twelve. “It has been three days. Either use the mower or get it out of the front yard.” Crazy things you remember.
“You weren’t a screamer, but you could give the talk…you know the talk.” The “Please just hit me and end this” talk. “You had a long fuse but there was a line I didn’t step across.”
I remembered striking out with the bat on my shoulder during a baseball game to end an inning and tossing my bat in anger. Bad move, but a learning experience. You called me over to the chicken wire backstop and punched a finger into my chest.
“The bat didn’t strike out, you did. If I ever see you throw a bat, I’ll jerk you off this field and jerk a knot in your butt in front of everyone.” I believed him and told every one of my own baseball teams the story before adding, “And, I’ll do the same.”
I was able to say all the things I wanted to say but didn’t when I had the chance. I got to tell him I loved him, how I appreciated all the sacrifices he made for our family. I thanked him for how he treated my mother during her sickness. I forgave him for marrying the stepmother from Hades…more on my brother’s behalf than mine. He laughed and nodded his head.
I awoke from my dream and looked for him. He had gone wherever ghosts from codeine-fueled dreams go. I felt a greater loss from a dream than I felt when he died twenty years before.
I like to think that if there is an afterlife, somehow the dream was real…the conversation real…his ghost real. I can’t remember my last real conversation with him, but the dream was as real as it gets. The dream somehow gave me a bit of closure, more than I got in 1976.
Many times, I only remember small snatches of my father, and other times I say something that came right out of his mouth. I see him sitting in his rocking chair, reading glasses down on his nose as he worked the crossword. He was usually a calming factor, slow to react, a man of few words but words with weight. I wish I saw more of him in me.