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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