I’m Glad Dad Understood the Last Tabasco Comment

Explaining the title is easy but deep, although it’s taken a lot longer, two weeks, to get even these words into shape than I would have imagined. Eulogies aren’t easy; Mom noted my brother Mike wasn’t talking all that loudly at the church service before we buried my Dad, and Mike responded he’d been doing the best he could. We all grieve in our own ways, and while I choked up a little while saying what I wanted to at graveside, I was glad to have written what I felt needed saying almost eight years ago for my folks 50th anniversary.

If there’s one absolute about having a loved one die, it’s that you shouldn’t wait until after the last moment to tell them how you felt. That was my guiding principle when composing a ‘take-away’ for friends and family at the happiest time of Mom and Dad’s life in 2005, and thankfully only minor updating got me through.

About the tabasco…Having tasted some of the meatloaf-mac ‘n cheese-green bean lunch plate in his hospital room, I declared the meatloaf needed that particular condiment, and Dad rolled his eyes behind the oxygen mask, because he used to say I’d put it on corn flakes. Knowing Waldo Frederick Shorkey only had 15% heart function, and Mom had reiterated to doctors that morning about no extraordinary means to prolong his life–“Why should they crack open an 83 year old man’s chest or put him on a ventilator he’ll never come off of?” was her reasoning–I’d been very aware the end was near. That eye roll of recognition is an important something for my head and heart I’ve repeated many times since. My three brothers actually made it to Tampa by 6:00 that evening, an incredible and immediate support for Mom, but because she’d been ready to let the only man she’d loved for even longer than the 58 years they’d been married go, that counted the most.

I’m grateful for the Luck-karma-Godsend of having two communicants from Christ the King waiting to get into ICU when I returned from a cup of coffee in Tampa sunshine that morning, too. Dad was a lector/flower arranger there for 20 years, and when Mom and I had to leave after giving him some soup and water, the nurses call about Dad’s ‘turn for worse’ as I walked in the back door was followed maybe 30 seconds later by a call that a priest was already on his way. My father getting Last Rites less than two hours later might’ve happened even if I hadn’t gotten him on their list, but that’s one of those moments I know won’t be forgotten.

As succinct and dear as those 50th anniversary notes were, I’ll use them again now:
How he came down our driveway in Schenectady, NY within 5 min. of 5:00 *every day* was a Goodness that isn’t easy to explain. Sometimes it seemed an inconvenience, but I’m smiling with memories of how the other half of our inevitable 3-on-3 basketball games would dig in defensively, knowing 19-16 wasn’t actually a loss if/when we got called inside for dinner. (Major props for our ‘5th brother’ Dave O. for coming too)

Whistling tunelessly in his workshop and tapping a ring on the steering wheel during many, many family road trips. Swearing I took half a layer of paint off a telephone pole on that first drive after I got my permit. Accepting Mom’s “Let it be on your head!” about being paralyzed before signing a release for Pop Warner football and saying “Don’t get hurt.” Taking us to the Watervliet Arsenal early on Saturday mornings to tear apart wooden crates, my hammering/knocking apart skills something brothers have called on repeatedly since. How we managed to get one 24-foot beam home I cannot imagine. Christmas Cookies. Mom was the ‘regular’ maker, but those last haystacks and biscotti this Christmas were a long cry from the variety and tins from 1960s-70s. Lacy molasses praline rollups and date filled ones, hours spent decorating others with cherries, sprinkles, slivers of almonds or little silver balls. Oh, and the eclairs in swan shapes!

It wasn’t in my written anniversary piece, but the fact he ate veggies, which he didn’t actually like but did to set an example for four boys, was righteous. One of the stories he included in the leather journal I gave him, about how he lied about not going to eat a piece of coconut cream pie– which he dearly loved– before giving it to his oldest brother who was scraping the house, was elementally his spirit of giving. Dad had polio as a child, but was proud about having served his country in the Navy–all four boys in his family actually served. Racquetball games, especially when I got pinned against a wall and needed him to make some shots in the clutch, are held dear. He couldn’t move very fast, but God! the joy in winning the moment against another father-son team worked great for both of us. The way he turned around and looked at me before one particular serve because he knew I was mildly hung over, that’s a keeper memory.

I didn’t actually cry all that much about his passing, and I believe its because he’d lived a good and full life, even if it meant leaving Mom alone. I’d raced down from Charlotte on Monday intending to pay my respects to Uncle Donnie, his baby brother who’d died in the same hospital on Sunday, also of congestive heart failure. If I failed on that, getting the last bits of time to give him a sip of water, to watch his open mouth beneath the oxygen mask, realizing he’d normally be making a racket with his snoring, was worth the effort. Getting up to pee during the night on camping trips, you tried being subtle about shutting the camper door or shaking the floor getting back into a sleeping bag, but if he stopped sawing wood, you tried getting to sleep fast.

My cousin Frank (‘Skip’ for first 30 years of our lives), whose birthday and Dad’s funeral were Groundhog Day, gave an excellent perspective as we had some wings and a beer at the house. “Uncle Walt had lots of little pieces of wood saved in the garage because there might be a need for some particular piece for some future project he’d work on. As long as you’re thinking like that, you haven’t given up on life.”

Amen, Frank. And now I’m crying Dad.
Love, Glenn, Son #2