Good game, Keith Honey

Come back, Dad. I’m not ready to let you go.
I know you were ready to go for some time. About six months, probably, ever since Mom went. I’d say life lost its thrill for you the moment she slipped away in her sleep early that Sunday morning. You had been with her for more than 70 years. You had done everything else you set out to do, and done it well. What was the point?
But we three needed you – Maureen, Mike and I. We needed you more than ever, without Mom there to guide us and nag us and laugh like a delighted child.
And so you stayed, for us. The ball game was over as far as you were concerned, but we needed you to keep playing.
I needed you to keep talking to me about good books and your life’s adventures and baseball. It had been a long time since we could play catch like we used to in the side yard, when you taught me the curve ball and how to keep the ball low. Since you coached me and watched me strike guys out with that big bender.
But we could still talk baseball, remember the delectable smell of Lakeland in spring and the pop of the gloves as the Tigers warmed up. We sat there, you and I, on a Friday evening as the game was about to begin, and life was as perfect as it could possibly be.
Although it’s hard to get as perfect as it was back in Grand Rapids, when you tossed the Frisbee back and forth with Maureen in the driveway. When you knocked the Ping Pong ball back and forth with Mike in the basement. When you wrestled all three of us at once on the living room floor, grappling Mike and Maureen with a hand each and pinning me to the floor with just your leg.
Perfect too was the way you held me on a Friday night, watching our favorite shows. I cleverly covered up your watch with my hand so you wouldn’t notice it was bedtime. It worked. I got to watch “Wagon Train” with you that night, and somehow Mom missed the rules violation.
Perfect in their way were those later Friday nights, me in my early teens, you fully in mid-stride. Driving up 127 through the tunnel of snow, stopping at Open Hamburgers in Clare for the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten, burger and fries and a Coke in the little diner damp with snow melting off everyone’s jeans.
Then deep into the forest, trudging through the deep snow into the woodland retreat, opening the door and feeling the coldest cold ever. Turning on the lights. Climbing into the well pit to turn on the water. Stoking the wood stove and standing there as you unpacked, my back to the flames, my front still shivering.
You were not a perfect man, Dad, no one is; but in love and fatherhood, you aced it.
You encouraged us, always. You picked up the phone and always welcomed our voices with such good cheer. “Well Charles H!” “Well Tilda!” “Well Mickel!” You made us feel special, precious, loved through and through.
And all through the years, from the summer you went out West to fight fires, to flying through shrapnel over the South Pacific, to starting your family in a Memphis chicken coop, to building your career and sweating out meetings and nearly losing it until you found your place in the sun at MSU – you loved Mom.
You danced with her on New Year’s Eve in Grandma and Grampa’s basement. You took long trips with her, to California, Alaska, Quebec. You sat and listened to her expound with a glass of wine, withstanding her mountainous opinions and patiently letting her have the floor, always. After all, she was your dark-haired beauty, the catch of McKenzie High. Always.
So you’d almost drowned in the war, taken savage hits in hockey and football, felt your nerves fry through interminable planning commission hearings. But when Mom went, it was just too much.
Yeah, you took it with grace. You showed us kids how to grieve with dignity. But man, did you grieve, day after day. The love of your life, the candle in your window, she was gone. She came to you in a vision of fluttering colorful curtains, and you felt her plant a soft kiss on your cheek.
From then on, it was just a matter of time for you.
And your body took you to her. The day your legs went out from under you, you were on your way. We thought you’d pull through, as you always had before. And for awhile you did, with the care of wonderful doctors and nurses and therapists and dear friends.
We had one last summer and autumn with you, talking over so many things. You read good books and took solitary walks with your walker. You basked in the sun at Clark on Keller Lake, looked out at the ducks and Canada geese under a canopy of brilliant leaves. I still see your beautiful, noble face, eyes closed, drinking in the life-giving sun like a wise Indian.
We watched the Tigers one more time, your beloved boys since Greenberg, Gehringer and Schoolboy Rowe. They didn’t make the Series, but they beat the damn Yankees.
We had one more Thanksgiving, one more Christmas, one more New Year’s, together. Mom’s chair sat empty. Still, she was with us though uncharacteristically quiet. You filled the void with stories. Man, we didn’t know you could talk so much. Mom never gave you the chance.
You kept saying, “I’ll make it to 90, and then we’ll see.” And that’s just what you did.
Finally, your body said, enough. You’ve lived a glorious, full life, Keith Honey, but the light of your life has gone out. You miss her so. It’s time.
You kept fighting to stay in the game, for us, but suddenly it just got to be too hard to live. First it was this, then it was that, and finally there were too many for you. Even such a strong, incredibly youthful man can only do so much.
And so, having pitched a near-perfect game, you finally came out. The manager walked slowly to the mound, while the hushed crowd watched. You handed him the ball and walked off the diamond. Everyone cried and cheered. You tipped your cap, a gentleman to the end, took one last look at the sky, then disappeared into the dugout.
You walked straight out of the ballpark into the field beyond, where Mom awaited you with open arms.

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33 Responses to Good game, Keith Honey

  1. Carol Tanis says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart so generously with us. As a writer, this column is pure art, but as one who has also lost her parents, I’m sorry it had to be written.

  2. My dad is smiling down at me as I read this, and I feel so much of the same pain and love. Take heart, my friend.

  3. metaforehead says:

    Cannot respond. Too many tears.

  4. Bruce Buursma says:

    Thank you, Charley. This is tonic for my soul today.

    • michael honey says:

      My brother, how did you achieve this ability to put life into words? Saying something in word pictures that we could never otherwise convey: the meaning of love between a father and son, and love within a family. Your words are graceful and elegant, just like your father. Your evocative words help us to remember and that memory is part of his great gift to us.

      • soulmailing says:

        Thank you Miguel. Dad makes it easy to write about him, because the truth about him is so apparent. Nothing to work around cleverly, just a good, loving man. We all carry forward the love and lessons he taught us.

  5. Ruth says:

    Wow. Just “wow.” What a precious gift. Thank you.

  6. Eileen Briesch says:

    Such a beautiful tribute.

  7. sharon Miner says:

    A wonderful tribute Charlie! Gary and I are keeping all of you in our prayers.

  8. RA says:

    Oh, sweet Char. Finding grace in such pain and the ability to write about it is a great gift, both for you and those who read it.

  9. Tears in my eyes … in appreciation of Keith Honey … in appreciation for your moving words … and in appreciation of what Keith and Betty Honey have given the world in the form of their children.

  10. Julia Bauer says:

    You have been richly blessed, Charlie, to be able to carry on the gifts of life and caring you so clearly learned at your parents’ knee. In your grief, I pray you will find solace in the hugs of family and friends. Peace, my friend. We love you.

  11. Elaine Drake says:

    Oh my-how fortunate you three were to have had Keith Honey as your dad and Betty Honey as your mom. I wish I had known them both alot longer than I have. This piece of writing is magnificent and one that you will always be able to go back to. I am thinking of you all.

  12. joannesher says:

    What a beautiful tribute, Charley. Praying for you and your family. So glad i found this link.

  13. One of the finest things in life and death, is the child who remembers you for who you were, what you stood for, and that you spent time with that child. I cannot imagine more than that, Charley. You clearly had not just a father, but a Dad with a capital “D.”

  14. Stephanie says:

    So beautiful, Chas. My heart is with you today, thinking of you and your family. Thanks for sharing your memories and your sorrow. We’re grieving with you.

  15. Sue Schroder says:

    Charley, your love for your parents, theirs for you and your ability to share them so intimately with us are amazing gifts. Your writing is a tribute to them – may it be a safety valve of the heart for you.
    Wishing you the peace and warmth of beautiful memories.

  16. Just beautiful Charley.

  17. Sue M. says:

    What a treasure. In many ways, you speak for all of us who have lost our fathers. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Marg says:

    Hi Char
    I had to wait awhile to read this because I knew I would cry, and I was right. Thank you for creating this beautifully written piece; like a slide show of Twister for our minds.
    I was thinking today how the love between Little Honey and Twister was the only perfect and lasting love I’ve ever known. That such a love existed, and that I got to be a part of it, was a rare gift I will be eternally grateful for. It’s hard to accept that they are gone, and indeed, I have not reached that point yet.
    I’ll carry the gift of their love in my heart forever.

  19. Sue Ann says:

    Truly a beautiful piece written by a gifted writer. I envy your ability to put into words what I can not. Both Keith and Betty were bigger than life for many of us. I personally will miss them both for a very long time. My heart goes out to all of you in your time of great sadness – know you are in my thought and prayers.

  20. Tom Nowak says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  21. Patricia Mish says:

    What a tribute, Charley, and a way to pass those memories on to your grown children. As I grieve for my own parents, imperfect as they were, it’s those simple real things — like my dad licking my ice cream cone so it wouldn’t drip, or my mom bribing the ticket guy at Wrigley Field for better box seats and taking us for greasy cheeseburgers at Bill’s Drive-In — that stick. So thank you for sharing this column and giving me a chance to have a good healthy cry this morning.

  22. Walt and Sue Marston says:

    Charley, we’re so sorry for your loss. This is a wonderful tribute. I only regret I didn’t reach out to Keith in the last few months. We have wonderful memories of him as our planning prof at MSU.
    Wishing you and your family peace and comfort. We continue to hold you in the Light. Walt and Sue Marston

  23. ruth says:

    What love…..

  24. Mary Ann Sabo says:

    What an ache of a read, Charley — beautiful and loving and raw and tender and so packed with memories. Thanks for sharing. Drinking a toast to you and your Dad tonight.

  25. Cathy Sanchez says:

    Wow I didn’t know him but by reading your blog I felt like I did. Sounds like heaven just gained an extra special angel. I will continue to pray for peace for you and your family.
    Cathy Sanchez

  26. soulmailing says:

    Thanks so much to everyone who has read this, and to all who have left such kind comments. Your thoughtful words reflect Dad’s loving nature, which brought out the best in the people he met. And they are so helpful to Maureen, Mike and me as we walk through this time of grief and healing.

  27. Carolyn Heines says:

    Daer Charley,
    This is the most beaufitful tribute I have ever read. I am moved to tears. Holding you in my heart and sending love and light to you

  28. A lovely tribute, Charley — I appreciate it both as a writer and as a now-parentless daughter. This is a hard time, but grieving holds its own gifts. May you find them among the sadness. Sending you blessings.

  29. Jackie Wondolowski says:

    Charley,

    What a wonderful tribute to your father; one of the great men of our greatest generation. All of us who have lost parents can relate to your well-chosen words of tribute. Take care.

    Jackie Wondolowski

  30. Logan says:

    Beautiful tributes like these are helpful for us troublesome younger folk to get perspective, and reminds us to savor our families and life itself, and their sometimes ephemeral nature.

    Thank you for sharing a part of your blessed life in such a beautiful way.
    I’ll be praying for you and your family’s peace.

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