|Long ago and far away|
Pete probably set up the picture with a self-timer and then slipped in next to Norma Jean, over there on the left. PJ and her first husband Ken stand next to Daddy and Mama. My two youngest sisters are to the right of Mama, one standing and one sitting. Those four urchins in the front row are PJ and Ken's two sons, then Norma Jean and Pete's two kids. Allison, right in front of Mama, is now a career officer in the Army.
Many of us were all together recently at PJ's Celebration of Life in February, those of us who are still alive, that is. Pete died three years ago, Daddy in 1979, and Mama in 1993. Today is Father's Day 2014, and now it's been 35 years since we lost our father. I had already lost a son, Stephen, who died in 1965 at the age of 13 months, but none of the others in this picture had yet lost a close family member.
Daddy was at the center of a bustling, active family at the time this picture was taken. Nobody had any idea what the future would bring, since we all live in the present moment and cannot take a time machine into the future to see what awaits us. But the passage of time takes everyone imperceptibly away from the present as we gradually morph into other versions of ourselves. At this time, my parents had every right to be proud of their accomplishments, their offspring, the life they had created. You can see that happy life reflected in those faces in the picture.
Daddy was only 62 when he died, and I was 36. My sister Fia was only 16. Events like these take a huge toll on us all, but at least I was an adult and had some life experience that helped me put it into perspective. Fia and Markee were just high school kids. We all suffered through, and gradually, as it always happens, we took up the threads of our lives again and went on. Mama was devastated, having lost her husband of 37 years, but she also managed to establish a good life for herself in the fourteen years she had left on the planet. Mama was only 69 when she died. It astounds me to realize she was only 55 when she became a widow. To me, at the time, she seemed much older than that.
Of course, I realize that as I grow older myself, what once seemed to be ancient is now, well, not so much. Someone who is 55 seems young as I look back at the almost two decades that have transpired since I was that age. When I see in the obituaries that someone died at 82 (for example), it feels a little premature. But it's not, is it? In the Bible (Psalm 90:10) the length of a life is supposedly 70 or 80. ("We live for 70 years, or 80 years if we're healthy, yet even in the prime years there are troubles and sorrow. They pass by quickly and we fly away.")
Although my father didn't get to live that long, he lived a very full life, filled with love and laughter, family and friends. After he retired from the Air Force, he continued to work at General Dynamics. My brother wrote, in a previous post, this comment:
Don't forget he also worked at General Dynamics (now Lockheed) for a number of years after retiring from the Air Force. GD was also across the lake, and he often piloted his boat (GiGi, pronounced "jee-jee") to work. It was cool watching him take off into a strong wind with lots of "white cap" waves on the lake, on his way to the office.
That's a memory my brother has of our father that I didn't know anything about. I had already left home and started making my own way in the world. And now, here today, many many years later, I'm taking this time to remember and reflect on a wonderful man, my father, who gave me part of my genetic makeup (along with Mama), and who counseled me over the years we had together. We are intertwined forever, and as I sit here in the dark writing this post on my laptop, I can only feel gratitude for that time. The sense of loss is gone, replaced with a deep appreciation and indebtedness for having experienced it at all.
Thanks, Daddy, for being my father. I hope that someday we will again have a chance to compare notes about what we learned this time around. And to my blogging family, Happy Father's Day!