For the past several months I have taken a break from blogging for a very good reason; my wonderful dad became very ill at the end of the summer. One of the perks of large families is that in a crisis, it’s “all hands on deck” and that is how it played out with my dads illness. My five living siblings and my late brothers sons all rotated shifts in Texas assisting my mom with household jobs, getting prescriptions filled, attending doctors appointments, shopping for, preparing and serving anything we could get into my dad whose stomach inexplicably quit working in August. Having been surrounded his whole life with “kids, kids and more kids”, being alone never sat well with my dad. He didn’t like being overnight in the hospital by himself and so we never left him there alone, not even one night of the over two months he spent there.
Camping At Baylor
I was on a Texas shift when it was determined that Dad needed a feeding tube and this “slam dunk” procedure was the way to go. I was all set up with one of those cozy hospital chairs that turns into a really narrow and hard “bed”. Dad was uncomfortable but predictably stoic and upbeat. Complications set in and what was suppose to be a two night stay turned into three weeks. I entertained my dad with slide shows of my vintage trailer overhaul projects on my laptop and my cowgirl adventures in Wyoming last August.
We got a routine going. I got the paper first thing in the morning and then secured two cups of coffee although, Dad never really could get the coffee down. I got him one anyway and kept telling myself, “It’s the new normal”. We talked about our family vacations and our favorite campgrounds. We talked about our favorite memories and the silly stories that became family legend. Fundy on Sundy, not Mundy, referring to our trip to the Bay of Fundy. Rest stop picnics and peaches from roadside stands. Endless hours of singing rounds of 99 bottles of beer on the wall and Hey Lidi Lidi Lo. “Let’s keep it down to a college roar” was just one of my dads favorite phrases, frequently repeated for my moms sake more than his. Dad always seemed impervious to noise. So many wonderful memories surfaced as we killed time, instinctively knowing it was to be treasured more than ever.
This is me on the left! Love the pixie haircut!
We were “camping” at Baylor now though. I kept the camp kitchen tidy with all the leftover saltine packets and confiscated creams, sugars and unopened jell-o’s that I secured from the collected trays waiting in the hallway to go back down to the kitchen. My dad got a big charge out of my covert operation to pick up supplies for a possible dry spell. When I would come back to the room he’d ask, “how’d you do”? I would report my haul and install the booty in our little “kitchen”. We had so many wonderful talks in those weeks, mostly in the middle of the night. I was blessed with really wonderful parents who loved each other and us. My dad was a full of life dad who played the guitar and banjo and was always up for a sing along. Our house was a gathering space for anyone who rang the bell. I never went to bed one night as a kid feeling afraid. I always knew in my gut there was nothing to fear; Dad had everything under control.
In those weeks camping at Baylor my dad kept saying to me, “I can’t say enough about how good my kids have been to me”. We can’t say enough about how good he always was to us. He reaped what he sowed. Every second of caring for him was a gift to me and my siblings. God called him home on December 8th. To the last he had us all laughing. My wonderful nephew Matt wanted to put a clean shirt on him a few hours before he died. Matt said, “put your hands up Papa so I can put a clean shirt on you”. When he raised his hands in the air for Matt to remove the dirty shirt he said, “Don’t shoot me Sherriff! I’ll go peacefully”. He did go peacefully a few hours later with all of us who loved him so much surrounding him. The leader of our band walked them golden stairs and now waits for us. We will never stop missing him. He was the center of our lives. He gave us the gift of music which lives on in our family. My dad was never happier than when all the kids and grandkids were gathered with their “gitboxes” and the opening song, “Rock Island Line” was played. His presence will always be felt at every gathering, every campfire sing-a-long and every time I pick up a tool and remember all he taught me. The man who measured wood to the 64th of an inch will be measured by the love and stability he gave us, the habits he instilled in us and the amount of undiluted good will he had for every person he ever met.
My dad spent a lifetime making people happy with his gift of music. He was given this Gibson banjo as a gift from his father for his 40th birthday. He had always played the guitar but tackled this new instrument with his usual “can do” attitude.
My daughter Georgia (The Voice in the family!) with my brother in law Dominic Campanella (lead singer for the LA based band, Quarter After) and my brother Gregg (two gg’s!) whose talent made my dad so happy.
My sister Natalie in the green sweater does not play any instruments but is our “train whistle” for Rock Island Line, Charlie on the MTA and The Wreck of Old 97! Train songs are not the same without her.
Whenever my family gathers, whether it is Georgia being home for Christmas, or all of us gathered from all corners of the country, there is music, singing and food!
My amazing parents with their whole crew at my sister Natalie’s wedding.
My favorite picture of my dad and I. It was taken on my 5th birthday at my dads company picnic as we waited for the father/daughter relay race to begin. This picture has hung in my dads office for 45 years!
I love you Dad. Until we meet again, Happy Trails.