“Life was simpler back then,” said Daddy. “The ‘fifties – they were the good years. The best years…”
His head rested against the several thin pillows the nurse had left. He spoke softly, his voice rising just barely above the muted sounds coming from the room’s TV. Looking at his face, a small lump began to form in my throat. It had been that way off and on ever since we’d gotten word the chemotherapy wasn’t working.
“Tell me more, Daddy,” I said, stroking his hand.
My father’s hands.
I’d always loved those hands. They’d once been strong, forever busy with some task or another. Gentle, too, whether he was caressing one of his babies’ heads or comforting one of our several dogs.
Now those hands were still. One, light as a feather, rested securely in mine. Safe.
I’m here, Daddy, I’m here…
He gave me a tired smile. “Well, Janie, back then, we didn’t need much to entertain ourselves. It ain’t like that today.” To illustrate his point, he nodded in the direction of the TV, its screen flashing images of some reality show.
Daddy had never been much of a one for TV. I guess that’s because his own reality was sweet enough – a sweetness that included me, mama and my three little brothers. He used to say he didn’t have time to sit and stare at some box. He had a farm to run and a family to clothe and feed.
Daddy was the rock of our little family. He spent his prime farming a small patch of land nestled in the hills of Charlottesville, Virginia. Like his Pa before him, he spent most of his waking hours on an old John Deere. In the evening, after putting the machinery away, he’d sit down to a late dinner, too exhausted to do more than eat and then go to bed.
Even so, he always had a moment to kiss us kids, ask how our day was, and remind us to help Mama with the chores.
Sunday was the best day of the week for our family because that was the day Daddy would put aside his farm work. It was the Sabbath, and he and Mama always made sure we were cleaned up and dressed in our best clothes.
Sundays meant mornings spent in the small yellow church not far from Tom Jefferson’s house. We’d listen to Reverend Gibson and get our dose of weekly religion. I suspect Daddy would have rather slept in on those Sunday mornings, considering he was up at the crack of dawn every other day of the week, but Mama was determined. We would go to church on Sundays – and we would go as a family.
There wasn’t much Daddy wouldn’t do for Mama, and the same was true for her. They were a loving pair, and they never seemed to run out of things to say to each other. It stayed that way for nearly half a century, until Mama passed away one wintry morning ten years ago.
I was living in New York when the call came that Daddy’s cancer was back. Clinton, my youngest brother, said things were bad and if I could come, now was the time. The urge to go home, to see Daddy, to view my beloved Blue Ridge mountains and everything they stood for, nearly drove me to my knees.
You see, I have a lot of good memories. Memories of Sunday afternoons spent playing Scrabble on the front porch with my brothers. Daddy and Mama would be holding hands, slowly swaying back and forth on an old porch swing. That was life for us… enjoying each other’s company, our home, and talking about the things that made up our days. And the mountains, those beautiful mountains, they were the peaceful backdrop we lived our lives against.
Guess Daddy was right: we never needed much in the way of entertainment. We had each other.
“You know what your Mama and I used to do for fun when we were dating?” Daddy’s voice cut short my musings, recalling me to the hospital room where the two of us now kept company. It sure was a long way from the old front porch.
“We’d borrow my Pa’s old yellow station wagon and drive out to the small airfield on the outskirts of town.
“That little airfield ain’t there no more; it wasn’t very big, a couple of landing strips was all. We’d park by the side of the road just as dusk was falling, and watch the last of the planes coming in.”
I grinned. “Gee, that sounds exciting.”
“Damned right it was,” he said, a slight smile on his face at my teasing. “Weren’t nobody around but me and your Mama – and those planes. We’d sit there sharing kisses and stories. Lil always was one for telling stories. She’d spin some good ones, too, stuff about people and far-off places.”
He closed his eyes. “You know, if I try real hard, I can still see those planes coming in for a landing… I can hear Lil’s voice, remember those kisses as nighttime approached.
“Such good years…”
Daddy opened his eyes and looked at me. “Guess you got your love for telling stories from Lil.”
“I guess I did, Daddy.”
It’s true. From Mama I got my love of story telling, and I’m glad Mama lived long enough to see my name on the front cover of a book.
From Daddy I got my heart, and my understanding that reality isn’t something we see on a television screen. Reality, the best kind, is being with the people you love, working for them, working with them. It’s the everyday stuff that makes up our lives.
It’s who we love, whose hand we take the time and trouble to hold. It’s what really matters in this world.
I watched Daddy close his eyes again. “I’m awful tired, Janie. If it’s all the same to you, I think I’m gonna close my eyes for a while.”
I lifted his hand and kissed its palm. “You go ahead and rest. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
And, Daddy… thank you.
Word Count: 1,032
Author’s Note: This story was written in response to Keith Channing’s photo challenge, found at KeithKreates (here).