Thursday, January 26, 2012

Treasure Chest Thursday: Dad's Tombstone Tuesday and a treasure chest of memories

Note: This began as a Tombstone Tuesday, but being about my dad, it ended up as a Treasure Chest Thursday kind of post.  And yes, it was my "blogiversary" a few days ago, and I'm still here, but as I had the flu last week and now a cold this week (bleah!), the festivities will keep.

George Constant Hall headstone and military burial marker, Antioch Cemetery (within Big Woods Cemetery), Edgerly, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, Nov. 2011.  Photos courtesy of cousin Janice M.  (My (living) mom's info is on the other side, so I'm just posting Dad's half of the stone.)

My dad died two years ago Tuesday.  It was the night the New Orleans Saints won the championship that sent them to the Super Bowl.  He wasn't really responsive that night, but I'm sure he hung around just to find out how the game ended before he left us; we had the TV on & kept updating him on the score.

I want to tell you so much about my dad; where do I possibly start?  He was complex, like most--well, many of us humans (I can be a bit cynical about some of them), but also a man of simple, "old school" tastes and values.  

In the last year or so of his life (he had terminal cancer but managed to hold it off for 2 1/2 years on chemo in his late eighties), I delighted in, um, "showing him off" to a few people.  I know that sounds condescending, but he was, at times, a real "character" and enjoyed telling stories, whether it was Cajun jokes at my wedding in California or to his newly-discovered first cousins once removed in Louisiana, or World War II tales of derring-do to anyone interested in the war or in planes (he was a fighter pilot in the Pacific and loved, loved, loved flying). 

He blossomed in late life as a bit of a raconteur with his Baptist church's choir, the "Agin' Cajuns," who toured area churches and occasionally went on out-of-state concert excursions.  And he could be a real ham, too.  It occurred to me a few years ago that maybe I got the performing gene (I studied music in college) from him, only I break out in a cold sweat if I actually have to talk in front of a group of people; give me a flute & I'm fine.

I didn't think of the date Tuesday until I was doing genealogy research and came across an obit for someone who died last January.  I thought, "Hmm, he died a year after Dad," then I remembered.  I was a little sad, but mostly I just miss him in certain moments here and there when I think of him: in seeing a trailer for the movie "Red Tails" and thinking he really would have enjoyed watching the fighter plane footage, in joking about "evening up" some leftover cake with my husband.  (Dad had a habit of late-night snacking on sugary food he wasn't really supposed to eat; when caught, he'd say, "Oh, I'm just "evening up" this cheesecake.  Look at how ragged that edge is there!")

And then sometimes his words come out of my mouth or I hear his voice in my head (not as scary as it sounds).  The other night I was ready to eat dinner and my husband told me to go ahead and start while he finished using the microwave.  And before I knew it, I heard my dad's voice saying, "Yeah, I'll wait for you like one hog waits for another!"  Which I promptly repeated to my hubby, who laughed.  We already have a constant joke about Dad's saying, "that's good eatin'" about almost any critter you can name, catch/shoot and throw sauce over.

Other mealtime Dad-isms that come to mind every time there's a holiday gathering (I suppose because it always seemed to follow saying grace aloud and that's when that usually happens), are "Grab it and growl" and "Take some and leave some."  I'm guessing Dad may have been repeating my Grandpa Hall's words.  When you have seven kids in the Depression, you definitely have to grab food you want before it's gone and you might have to remind them to leave some on the table for others!

Those are just a few of the things that make me think of him often.  There are still many stories to tell about him:  I have to tell you about the time he and his brother were interrupted fishing by a truck flying off the interstate into the pond (they couldn't save the man but they did meet the Governor), Dad's "pet" alligator (yes, alligator), his penchant for cooking steaks on the car manifold while traveling, his incredible generosity and much, much more.

I miss his stories, the twinkle in his eye, his growly drawl, hearing a joke for the third (or fifth, or seventh) time, his flirting with his nurses or waitresses or whoever new was in the room (it was completely harmless, though), even his stubbornness.  (Yeah, I inherited that.  It's the Cajun/Irish-ness, I think.  But it comes with tenacity, too, not a bad inheritance.  It certainly impressed his doctors.  How many late 80-somethings do you know who fish and garden and ride an exercise bike on chemo?  He even fished once while wearing a chemo pump.  He put it in a plastic bag.)  I probably got his sense of humor, and his storytelling influenced me a lot, I'm sure.

We butted heads at times, but that became less as we both grew older.  In searching for clues about my grandpa in the last 20 or so years, I have somehow also come to understand my dad a bit more.  A year before he died, Dad told me something that let me know he had finally come around to understanding me, as well.  He had an episode of internal bleeding so bad I was told to fly home to Louisiana immediately because they didn't know if they could stop it.  I stayed a few weeks and when I left, it was very emotional because, though Dad was better, I wasn't sure I would see him again.  I might not make it home in time the next time. 

Dad told me something that day that stays with me now: "I wish you could stay a little longer.  I feel like I'm just getting to know you."  Now maybe it sounds a little sad that my dad was just getting to know me at 45, but I've lived in California since I was 25, and our phone chats were never exactly heart-to-hearts (Mom's department), so it was really more like: "Hey, I'm seeing you as your own person now, not just my daughter.  And I like what I see."  I think that was better than all the "I love yous" that he ever said to me.

I started this blog for fun, as an experiment and a way to share some info with family and possibly connect with cousins researching the same lines, and hey, maybe eventually solve the Grandpa Hall mystery!  After Dad died, blogging became a bit of therapy at times, a way to remember him.  I wish I had shown it to him, but his spirit is in it, with every story I tell about him or his side of the family (Mom gets less mention because I want to respect the privacy of living relatives--though she's thrilled whenever I write about her ancestors).  I guess I'll just have to keep writing about Dad to tell you all out there more, or perhaps I'll learn to edit digital video so one day I can post a clip and you can hear him tell a story or two himself.

Miss you, Dad.  Love you always.
p.s. You know why a kiss over the phone Internet is like a straw hat?  'Cause it's not felt.  That one's for you, Dad. :)

© 2012, Liz Hall Morgan, all rights reserved