My father would be 94 years old this week. Before he died, he was married to my mother for 53 years. My mother is an artist and understands colors better than anyone I know.
You might think these sentences are non sequiturs, but they’re not. My father had a few creeds he lived by, and an important one was his rule that brown and green go together. Period.
He was adamant about this, but my mother never pulled rank as the one person in our entire family who has a grasp on color. Herein lay the secret of their marriage.
My dad, Paul Kelly, was continually in and out of the hospital for the past two years before he died. He was on a slew of medications that needed monitoring and had a pacemaker that required surgery every so often. Every now and then he had trouble breathing and they had to adjust his medicine, which meant every single medication had to be recalculated and so he had to begin all over again.
These endless ordeals might defeat some folks. But not him. No matter how bad he felt, he was always up for another social engagement, be it with the hospital staff, the checkout lady at the grocery store or one of his wonderful neighbors. Katie bar the door if there was a party coming up.
My mother drove him crazy those last couple of years. She was beside herself over his health, and hovered over him, protecting him. She prodded him to eat more dinner, and begged him to slow down some and take it easy. But as my husband says, “Paul is a hard dog to keep under the porch.”
I was with them when a doctor asked my father if he exercised. “Yes, I run,” my dad said. My mother and I looked shocked since he hasn’t run since college. “I run away from them!” my father exclaimed, pointing gleefully at the two of us.
My family had what we referred to as “hospital fun” since we were regulars at Memorial. Really, when my father was hospitalized, it was a wonderful excuse for my family to hang out together, all scrunched up and practically on top of each other, in a tiny room. The last time we were all squeezed in one of the holding rooms in the ER, we had a lull in our conversation after a few hours. So I demonstrated a dance I was learning, waltzing my mother around the tiny room. Across the hall, an injured and bewildered man peered around his doctor, trying to see exactly what was going on in exam room 3. His doctor whirled around pulled the privacy curtain dramatically.
By the time we left the hospital, my father knew what county the nurse was raised in, what scholarships the x-ray tech’s son had received and how we are related to the hospitalist. He always took the time to find out these details, and he enjoyed people more than anyone I’ve ever met. He was at ease with anyone and everyone, and never met a stranger.
This is still amazing to me, and I always wanted to be like him. As a child I was horribly shy, and Daddy coached me in socializing. He told me to just say something, anything, and a conversation would follow. But it didn’t, and it still doesn’t. When I asked my father to escort me to my office Christmas party the year before he died, he bounced to the car, snappily dressed in a festive jacket and holiday tie. The party was from 6 to 8 p.m., and a little before 8 I asked if he was ready to go. Astonished at the suggestion, he looked around the room at people laughing by the bar and chatting at the buffet and said, “Why no! There are still lots of people here!”
I stood for a while longer at the edge of the party and watched my father laugh and carry on. He didn’t talk about his heart. Or his tummy. Or any other ailment that tried to slow him down.
My father was too busy for that. He was brave, too. A warrior at age 86.
I never learned how to talk easily to strangers, but he’s teaching me something now. I remember his excitement at the next family gathering, or party or get together. A few months before he died, when his mind was no longer his own, he played a clever prank on my middle son, who was driving to Charleston the next day to court the woman of his dreams. My father announced at dinner that the port city had completely closed down, that they’d barricaded Charleston completely because of some waterborne bacteria. We sat stunned, our mouths slack as the blood drained from my middle son’s face. We fell for it, all of us, for a minute or two, before noticing his eyes twinkling, that familiar sparkle that gave away the fact that he was up to something.
His spirits were high up to the very end. No matter that his body was not cooperating.
I think his motto for this decade might be, Bring It.
No matter what, he couldn’t wait for the next event.
(Ferris Robinson is the author of two children's books, "The Queen Who Banished Bugs" and "The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds," in her pollinator series, with "Call Me Arthropod" coming soon. "Making Arrangements" is her first novel, and "Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity" is a collection of true tales about man's best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror. Ferris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )