I once asked my fictive son, Steve, if it was alright to write about him, about our relationship. He simply said, “I don’t care what you write about me because I know you won’t hurt me. All I ask is that you be honest.” It was a good message to hear and as I continue to write I try to keep that in the back of my mind and always try to be honest. So, here’s some honesty for you. I generally hate Labor Day weekend. There are too many things to think about, too many things to remember. I’m not sure Labor Day will ever be the same as when I was a kid, my family went camping, and there was laughter and smiles all around. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe it is a time that should be reserved for nothing more than thinking about my father.
I don’t why but I thought about an afternoon when, Ben, my oldest, was sitting in the kitchen talking to me while I cut up cobs of corn. This was at time when I first started getting shaky but had not yet acknowledged that there might be a problem with me. I was cutting through a not particularly ripe ear and I sent the knife right through my finger. I looked at it, and Ben said, “That’s bleeding really bad. You need stitches. Get a towel; we have to go to the hospital.” I wrapped my hand and he drove me there. They got me in pretty quick, because I was willing to be treated in a pediatric room. Ben sat with me the whole time as they fixed things. Driving me home he said, “You know what? I totally get what it must’ve felt like every time you brought me, or Matt, or Meredith to the hospital. How worried you must’ve been.” As I stood and smoked a cigarette out in the nursing home courtyard that afternoon, I realized just what Ben meant. It's hard enough seeing your kid in a hospital; seeing your father is a whole different ballgame.
One afternoon when Jeff’s young son, Will, was getting restless I took him out into the courtyard. Will is an interesting boy. He is very smart and very curious, and for his age very wise. As we played in the yard he kept coming up with grand projects. I kept coming up with practical reasons to shoot them down. After awhile he got tired of me. He started slapping his forehead. He said, without reservation, “Uncle Tom, I have ideas. Why won’t you work with me? I started laughing. I said, “You’re right, Will.” After that we spent about an hour devising ways that we could catch birds by putting nuggets from the tree-hanging feeders on our chests and waiting for them to land. Just as good as a Hannah hug and just what I needed.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself.
'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that ‘Love is watching someone die’
So who's going to watch you die?”