DISPATCHES FROM HOME – I Never Had It So Good! January 22 2022

Twenty-five years ago, the early morning air was thick with the smell of melting frost. Dusted with shards of sunlight, the ice glazed everything it touched with a kaleidoscope of prismatic colors. As I stood, looking out a window of Ochsner’s Intensive Care Unit, little did I know that come day’s end, the frost would turn to rain, the sun would give way to dark rain clouds, and my dear father would be carried Home to the loving arms of Jesus.

My Dad was a warm-hearted, kind man, which is remarkable considering his childhood. Born in Chicago in 1926, Dad lived with his parents and sisters. Life was good until Old Man Depression came calling. The country and the world collapsed into bankruptcy, submerged under a writhing sea of debt. Dad’s parents, never the best of parents, divorced. That divorce changed his life. He and his mother and twin sister moved to Memphis. There, they lived with his grandmother. Times were hard.

At 12, Dad got a job delivering groceries, rain or shine, cold or hot. He told me he delivered them after school until dark. On Saturdays, he worked from “can see to can’t.” He received three dollars a week, which was pretty good money in those days. He also sold papers for two cents. The paper got a penny; he got a penny. The most money he made selling papers was two dollars–the day after the legendary radio broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS, everybody wanted a paper to see what all the panic was about.

Most of the money Dad brought into the household went to help pay the rent. He came home one afternoon after school, only to find his mother pulling dollar bills out of the coffee tin in which his grandmother kept the rent money. He asked why, and his mother told him she was leaving. Dad later told me that she ran away with a man, one of many in her life. Had it not been for his grandmother coming home early from her job as a seamstress, the rent money would have been gone, and Dad and grandmother would have been evicted, thrown into the streets with no place to go.

Despite these hardships, Dad managed to stay in school, graduated, and joined the Marines in the last days of World War II. Like many young men in those days, he “danced around the truth” concerning his heath. He went through boot camp at Camp Pendleton, was shipped overseas, saw combat, but was put behind a desk when his health records caught up with him; childhood scarlet fever had scarred his heart. However, Dad eventually joined the Merchant Marines, then got a Civil Service job, married Mom, and had me. The rest is history.

Sitting beside Dad’s bed on that cold morning twenty-five years ago, I thought about the many childhood stories with which he regaled me. Dad’s doctor told me that he, most likely, would not survive the day. His heart surgery, due to the ravages of his childhood scarlet fever, had been successful, but his body just shut down not long after it. The tedious drone of his breathing machine, coupled with a myriad of blinking computer screens, did nothing to soothe my troubled mind and heart. I knew Dad’s time on this uneasy earth was not long.

Looking at his bloated body, face almost unrecognizable, I smiled, though. I knew Dad was going Home. I gave the nurse permission to shut down the machines keeping him alive. As the computer screens, one by one, flatlined, Dad breathed his last. It was precisely 5:45 in the evening. Tears welled up in my eyes. I thanked the nurses for Dad’s excellent care; I thought of Mom waiting anxiously in Dad’s hospital room.

Walking down the long ICU hallway, I was surprisingly calm. I knew I had to be strong for Mom in the trying, grieving days to come. I stopped for a moment to gather my thoughts and looked out the same window from earlier that morning. A rumbling roll of thunder announced the arrival of rain. I heard the rain, like minute pebbles of water, dash against the window glass. Tears filled my eyes once again. But then, I heard my Dad’s calming voice. “Son, my last days were my best…I never had it so good.” I couldn’t count how many times I’d heard my Dad say that in the last years of his life. It comforted me then; it still does.

Having more years behind me than before me, I pray that when my time comes to leave this mortal coil, as I wrap the drapery of my couch around me and lie down to pleasant dreams, I will smile, remembering Dad’s uplifting words, and say, “My last days were my best…I never had it so good.”

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