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Mar
22

The Things Not Said

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Joshua Tree, 1972

When I was in high school, somehow you conned me into taking Business Law. I am certain you said something about it being practical, but it probably came out as,“If you had any sense, you’d take that business law class.”

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vietnam

So I did. Just to prove I had some sense.

 

We girls sat towards the back, passing notes, talking about boys, thinking about college. This one girl, she blurts it out one day, “I get to go to collegefor free.” And we all are thinking, we want this gig too.  And we are leaning in, wanting to know, urging her on, and she says, “because my dad died in Vietnam.”

I sit slack jawed, sucker punched with shock, think about what my life would have been without you. And as I weave in and out of classes the rest of the week, the thoughts, well, they just consume me.

 

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The Zoo Keeper, 1976

I would have been an only child. The first realization hits me when I am angry one morning – they have run me late again arguing over who sits in the front seat. This is the fourth time and if I get caught slinking in today, its detention for me.

Again.

And I am thinking a no-sibling life might have rocked.

But a few weeks later, someone starts a rumor and the two that might not have been, they stand ready to set the story straight on my behalf.  And for the first time I see they have your mighty heart – a warrior’s heart overflowing with a fierce and  protective love. I feel embarrassed, knowing how ashamed you would be had I spoken the thoughts out loud, and I carry guilt like boulders in my pockets, learn to love in spite of faults and inconveniences, remember the things you have taught me about the importance of family.

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USMC

Years later, when tragedy strikes my life, you show up selfless and strong, the whole family in tow, because that’s just what families do. You do the hard things: pick out caskets, stand vigil outside hospital rooms during the night, sit and tell me stories about squirrels in trees to distract my mind from pain.

One day months later, coming home from a doctor’s appointment, I fumble words, try to thank you, tell you how much it meant to me. You shrug it off, say, “kid, that’s just what fathers do.”  But I know better, not all father’s do these things, some fathers were lost in war ravaged places and aren’t even here to do these things. I count myself fortunate, say grateful prayers for this provision of a great father’s selfless love.

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perpetually goofing off…

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late-night builder of dollhouses

I wander around D. C., end up on the Mall, stumble across the Vietnam Memorial and I am struck dumb by all the names carved in granite. I step into an empty space, run my fingers over names with eyes closed and thank God over and over your name is not here, not anywhere on this cold black stone.  For the first time in years, I think of business law classes and girl talk. I rush home, call you and we discuss the timing of Google Earth photos; you certain it is a photo of my house from last week that you are looking at, me arguing telling why it can’t be and you say real serious, “You know, there was this one time I was wrong, back in 1986. I guess it could be it just happened again.” And I can see you there, shrugging your shoulders, grinning. And then, “maybe,” you say. I tell you God exists and anything is possible and I laugh loud, hang up happy.

God gifted me with your same infinitely curious mind and I want you to know, it drives my husband to madness, the unending whys and hows I need answered. He would prefer I use Google; I call you instead because Google doesn’t kick back your unique answers or your long winding ways to arrive at them. Now I wonder, how many times will I call before it sinks in deep, you won’t be there to answer, and how many rings before I understand this is the day the internet has to be enough.

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faithful and true

 

You always had a back-up plan and it was always practical. I admired this because I am the one always caught off guard when my perfect plans go awry. When I was five, and I got kicked out of ballet for not having enough grace to dance, Mom stood angry, cooked dinner, slammed down pans and wooden spoons; the audacity of it all in every action.

You try to soothe her anger, shrug and say, “What in the world is she going to ever do with a tu-tu? I’ll just teach her to shoot.  That is a skill she can actually use.”

 

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protector

You told me I could be anything I wanted to be and I often wonder, if it disappointed you when I turned to words and cameras and paint, never aspired to something greater.

But you were this great storyteller. I loved to sit and listen to stories about your granddaddy working on the railroad or deer hunting. Or about the time Papa left for work, told you to target practice and Aunt Dianne came home from school to find you shooting brown thrashers. Every time you tell it, I gasp, laughing, “Daddy, didn’t you know brown thrashers are the state bird?”  Your laughter would roll forth, “no, but Dianne did and she sure was sore about all those dead ones.”

And I never told you this, but you are the reason I choose to tell stories, write words. But for the last three days, words have eluded me, like convicts tunneling into the night seeking escape.  How do I describe the love you gave or the spaces in my life that you filled and how do I convey the emptiness that remains in your absence?

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lover of literature and baby snuggles

I find that I can not because words are scarce, but hyperventilating breathes are not.

 

I just know these things:

 

Wrapped in your bear hug was the safest, sweetest place to be, those long arms wrapped strong, enveloping me in unconditional love. Now panic sneaks up with frequency and great zeal, fills that space like a thief, steals my breath when I think about never hearing another, “hey kid” or watching your calloused hand cut wood. I already miss sitting there while you show me “just one more thing” on the computer, mom impatient because we haven’t come to fix plates, join others to eat.

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passing the time, awaiting your return

 

God gave me the perfect daddy and I would have never wanted another. Gods plans are perfect and without flaw. I know there is purpose here in this place, in this time and I can trust in that alone.  I can have peace you reside with Him.

But I can not make this aching go away.  I can not settle in to you being there and us being here.

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Christmas gifts from Okinawa

 

 

 

 

And for days, I have thought about that girl, sitting there, shrugging it off.

She never knew her father, never really knew the contour of his face or touched scars upon his arm, never heard his voice boom loud in joy or disappointment, never felt his scruffy beard.

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crooked and happy grins

She never had him rush in from the road – unfed and still in work clothes – just to hear her lead the Lord’s prayer in a school cafeteria full of stranger’s; never raised her head and opened her eyes and saw a crooked grin of approval shining forth.

He never taught her how a southern girl should behave or threatened to personally revoke her license if she got in too much of a hurry to pull over for a funeral procession.

I feel sorry for her; mourn her empty spaces that never filled up with a father’s perfect love.

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goodnight kisses

 

 

 

 

And she is the reason, in this swirl of grief, I can stand here grateful and praise Jesus for the beautiful gift of 43 years of your sweet, perfect and unconditional love.

And I wait for Him alone to fill the empty spaces that you have left.

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to “The Things Not Said”

  1. Ann says:

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute to your daddy. It is perfect.
    Love
    Mom

  2. Elizabeth says:

    It was an honor to write these words….

  3. Ashlea says:

    I often enjoy hearing you speak or reading your thoughts, with such words of wisdom, you are so well spoken, But to hear you speak with such heartfelt words at such a hard time where it may have seemed as if words can not express all that you feel for such a great person and I am sure it may have seemed like words eluded you but although many spoke about your father, you did it so elegantly and I know he is in heaven and many of the angles including your dad were in heaven smiling down upon you that day, you helped make that day much more joyful and that was just the way he wanted it to be. I feel blessed to have sat at the dinner with you and your family many times and was glad that I had the opportunity to do so . But here is something I wrote a long time back now . Through all the pain and sorrow I know that there is a new tomorrow ,You take me to a place that puts a smile on my face. With each day that passes it get easier to bare.it will never be the same and I don’t know what it is like to have lost a parent but have had great loss in my life but as you know God is always there to help heal and help comfort.

    Love Ashlea

  4. Ashlea says:

    P.S. Thank You for sharing those great pics

  5. Nancy Saunders says:

    I love what you wrote about your Dad and feel like I got to get to know him a little through your wonderful words.
    Love,
    Nancy

  6. Cheryl Marantino says:

    I stumbled across your post quite by accident, and read because I am permanently curious as well. Your father, and my father are of similar generations, have similar stories and personalities. I am 61, and still have my father after 3 strokes and 2 seizures, at 86. I have written our story in my head a thousand times, shed a thousand private tears, but never as descriptively as you wrote yours. Thank you for more nostalgic tears, cleansing teats, preparatory tears. I pray the pain of your loss has dulled.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Cheryl,

      I am grateful for your kind words. Cherish every moment you have with him. As with all losses, the pain is strong at times; yet, at other times, I seem to be accustomed to his absence. I still find myself thinking I will call him to ask a question and reaching for the phone even, but at the last moment catch myself. I read this at his funeral…

      I would get a journal and write down all the words running through your mind. One day, they will be a comfort to you.

      Peace and blessings to you,
      Elizabeth

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