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September 20, 2011

I do not like driving because I like to let my thoughts float around more than you can when you’re behind the wheel of a metal vehicle going 70 miles an hour.  Nevertheless, I will be doing a lot of it this fall.

Over the weekend I drove to Missouri to see my father, who is in the process of shuffling off this mortal coil, and we will all be driving there again next month, stopping first in Iowa to pick up Eleanor and take her with us.

Suddenly everything I read about mortality is suffused with new meaning. But this is the poem I keep thinking about, despite the fact that the speaker of the poem had a father who was strong and worked with his hands, while my own father is a slender, bookish person who usually wore suit pants to mow the lawn:

By Stanley Plumly

Whatever it is, however it comes, it takes time.
It can take all night.
My father would sit on the edge of the bed
and let the tears fall to the floor,
the sun the size of the window, full
and rising. He was a dead man and he knew it.

I think of him almost every time I fall in love,
how the heart is three-quarters high in the body.
–He could lift his own weight above his head.
–He could run a furrow straight by hand.
I think of him large in his dark house,
hard in thought, taking his time.

But in fact he is sitting on the edge of the bed,
and it is morning, my mother’s arms around him.

If I am here irregularly over the next month or two, it’s because “whatever it is, however it comes, it takes time” and time is hard to manage while you’re being reminded that something taking all night can be an unimaginable span.

Driving is always a good reminder of that–you’re lulled into a highway daze after the first nine or ten hours, and then you hit a patch of oil or see a truck turn over, and you’re suddenly quite aware that life can change irreversibly in just a second.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 10:19 am

    Reading about your Dad reminds me of Dave Barry’s pieces about his father – how much he admired him, how clueless he was about home repairs or hair cutting, how much he loved and cared for his family and the world –

  2. freshhell permalink
    September 20, 2011 10:37 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about your father. Not sure what I’ll do when mine is gone. I love the image of someone mowing in suit pants. I wish you strength and fortitude as you deal with all of this.

  3. September 20, 2011 10:43 am

    Being as you and I are of the same age, I can see this time approaching for me as well especially since my mother does have leukemia. Although she’s pointed out that she may still die of old age before the cancer kicks in and kills her. I do have a rather morbid mother.

    Just as you’ve said you read with interest where I am with my children because they are older than yours, I am reading this knowing it will be where I am in the very imaginable future. I won’t cheer you on, this is not a cheer-worthy time, but I do hope this time goes as well as is possible for you.

  4. Lass permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:39 pm

    I wish you strength and peace in the coming weeks, my imaginary friend.

  5. September 20, 2011 7:05 pm

    *hug* I’m sorry your family’s going through a hard time, Jeanne. Maybe audiobooks can make the driving time go faster?

  6. September 20, 2011 7:57 pm

    Oh Jeanne, I’m sorry —

  7. September 20, 2011 8:42 pm

    I’m so sorry, Jeanne. I love the line “I think of him almost every time I fall in love.” I don’t know exactly why it made me want to cry, but it did.

  8. September 21, 2011 7:52 am

    Our fathers are so entwined into the fibers of our lives…my dad’s face and voice come back to me unexpectedly, randomly, and almost always make me smile. I can’t even put cream in my coffee without thinking of him doing the same, his little morning rite. Wishing you strength and fortitude as you go thru this time.

    The last time I spoke to my dad was over the phone…it was such a busy day, I almost didn’t call him back. But I did, and lucky me, the last words I ever said to him were, “I love you, Dad.” I envy you living near enough to drive during his last days, but I know that is hard too. (hug)

  9. September 21, 2011 8:25 am

    Thank you, each one of you.
    I especially need reminders like getting more audiobooks for all this driving; Nancy Farmer’s The Land of Silver Apples was okay for the last trip, but a children’s book is somehow not absorbing enough. Nothing too sad or too silly, either. I might need SF–something long like Anathem, about another world. Wonder if the newest Neal Stephenson that came out yesterday would be good for traveling?

  10. freshhell permalink
    September 21, 2011 9:44 am

    You’ve probably read it but it makes for GREAT car listening is Bill Bryson’s At Home. It is a book of digressions and loads of fun. It’ll keep your mind off other thoughts.

  11. September 21, 2011 8:18 pm

    The irony of listening to At Home while traveling is well nigh irresistible.

  12. September 21, 2011 8:52 pm

    Hard times, I’m so sorry. Drive carefully on your way back especially, nothing to take your mind off the road when you’re not expecting it like an emotion-dense place you’ve just left.

    Just a couple of days ago I was resenting the fact that if you to live out in the country (I live in a country town with only a few services, and hope to live in the real boonies someday) you are are tied to your car. How different it would be to go through the process of hitching up a wagon and driving it instead of a car. Maybe I’m telling myself lies, but I think I would resent four hours on a quiet road staring between a horse’s ears once a week a lot less than the darting, time-sucking forays I make with a car: 30 minutes on the highway here, 45 there, and an hour to get home again.

    Kage Bake imagined up a New Age of Sail. How about the New Age of the Draft Horse? (And the stablehand, naturally.)

    • September 21, 2011 10:08 pm

      Having a stablehand to deal with the horse would be a lot like having a pool boy for your pool or a captain for your boat–the only way to do it.

      One of our cats brought in a still-live chipmunk through the cat door today, and it was running around the living room with three cats chasing it. I still haven’t found it. This makes the romance of the draft horse somehow less idyllic, just thinking about how much work it is to take care of animals. Of course, horses are much less contrary than cats.

      I’m glad to see you back in the land of the internets…I missed you. And I was thinking about your hospital tale, of course, when we were talking about ways to deal with the possibility of more hospitalization.

  13. September 21, 2011 9:18 pm

    My heart goes out to you. This is a difficult and painful process to lose a parent. I lost both of my parents very suddenly and without warning and still can’t quite adjust to not having a chance to say “goodbye.” Take advantage of the time you have left and say anything that has been left unsaid. It is a gift to be able to do so. On the other hand, I wish your father an easy passage to the next stage of being.

    • September 21, 2011 10:11 pm

      We do have that chance to say goodbye, it’s true.

  14. September 22, 2011 6:37 pm

    Despite all that, I find driving oddly comforting even in the face of grief.

    It’s like life: you just keep going.

  15. September 26, 2011 7:44 am

    It’s true; the driving was oddly comforting; it was something difficult and time-consuming that I could do.


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