Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Wave

My sisters and I all grew up in the same house. Two of us even shared a corner bedroom. Still, sometimes when the 3 of us get together and talk about something from our childhoods, I almost never remember it the same way the other 2 remember it. I don’t know if they will remember these things the way that I do.

In the house we grew up in, which is the same house our parents lived in for over 40 years, there were two hall closets. The smaller of the two was, I think, by design supposed to be a linen closet because its breadth was narrow and it had shelving from ceiling to floor. As far as I can remember, we never kept sheets or towels in it. The shelves were filled with books. There were two sets of Britannica encyclopedias that took up most of the shelf space. There was also a pencil sharpener that Dad had mounted front and center on the middle shelf, which was most often the reason any of us even opened that closet door.

Near the bottom shelf were a stack of our mother’s yearbooks. Some of those were from her own high school days, others were from the schools where she worked as a bookkeeper. Right next to those was a couple of other tattered, old books with dingy brown covers. The binding on them was worn and frayed. The pages were glossy, but not in color. Each page had two black and white photographs on them. The entire book was nothing but photographs. The only typed print was a couple of caption lines under each photo. There were no descriptive paragraphs, just pictures of war. They were very graphic pictures of Europe during World War I and II. I don’t think I ever opened that closet door specifically looking for those books, but they often sucked me once I was there. The photographic images of extreme devastation and death always left me speechless as a child.

From that perspective, it’s not hard to understand why my dad never talked about it. We have pictures of him in his sailor’s uniform as a young man, but for a very long time that was about the only evidence we knew that showed he had that served in the Navy. He was in his eighties before I ever heard him actually tell the story of being in the English Channel on D-day.

Even though he was a man of few words about his participation on World War II, his patriotism showed throughout his entire life. Today’s evidence of that is the full size flagpole bearing the stars and stripes waving in his front yard. Only today, that flag is at half mast.

The bottom shelf of our hall closet housed books of our mother’s school memories and our dad’s war memories. Those war books were indeed our dad’s yearbooks, because he never finished high school as a boy.

He never said much about that either. But like the pictures of the handsome sailor, there was a little evidence about his education and schooling. In the dining room of that same house was a china cabinet. It was just an ordinary, everyday china cabinet. The top half had about 3 shelves enclosed with glass-paned doors. The bottom half of the cabinet consisted of 3 or 4 drawers. The top drawer was shallow. I think maybe it was designed to put napkins and tablecloths in (come to think of it, I have no recollection of where we kept any kind of linens in our house) but this top drawer was filled with papers. In among all the insurance papers and official looking documents from the Duval County School Board, from where Mom and Dad both eventually retired, there was a folder of papers that always intrigued me. It looked like some kind of standardized test and I remember that there were math equations on it. It was the test our dad took to get the certification he needed to be classified as a high school graduate. I don’t ever remember him taking any kind of class, nor do I remember him actually taking the test. He never really talked about it. He just did what he had to do in whatever way he could get it done.

I did a lot of my own school homework at the dining room table that was positioned right next to that china cabinet. On one occasion, I was in the fourth or fifth grade and we were learning about the 50 states and their capitals. Each student in the class was assigned a state and given the task of making a drawing about the state. In addition to a map of the specific state we were supposed to draw pictures of the state bird, state flower, state seal, and anything else the state was known for. My assignment was Maryland. I tried again and again to draw an outline of the state of Maryland and failed every time. Have you ever tried to draw the Chesapeake Bay? It was my demise. I wadded up several sheets of drawing paper and eventually ended up in tears because I just couldn’t do it.

Dad, always one to rig up something unconventional to make a broken thing work again, stepped in. From his garage where he kept everything but cars, he got a 10 gallon bucket, a small lamp minus the shade, and a large piece of glass. He put it all together to make the most innovative light box ever. He took a map of Maryland from an atlas and put it on the glass top, he then put my drawing paper over that, and turned on the lamp. All I had to do was trace the outline. My assignment and sanity had been rescued. He never finished school himself, but he did everything he could to make sure his three girls finished not only high school but college too.

Once we three girls started college and began leaving home for long periods of time, and eventually getting married and moving away, we developed a little ritual with each of our departures. It’s probably something a lot of people do when family from out of town leaves to go back to their own homes after a visit. We pack up the car, make one last bathroom visit, fill up our cups in the kitchen, and then we all walk outside. Standing in the driveway we hug and kiss. We pile in the car, crank it up, roll down the windows and back out of the driveway onto the street. Mom and Dad stand in the driveway and wave. They continue to stand there and wave until we have driven out of their sight.

This driveway scene has occurred every single time we’ve ever been to visit our parents, no matter where they are. The last time I left Mom at the assisted living facility she lives in now, she insisted on walking me outside and stood there with her walker in the driveway until we had driven out of her sight.

For several years now, I’ve had the very same thought and feeling every time we drove away with Mom and Dad in our rearview mirror standing in the driveway waving.

Grief. I have grieved every single time. I grieve because I think to myself, “Will this be the last time I see them?” With parents in their seventies and eighties and not living nearby, that is what you think when you leave them. So in some way, I have already grieved this passing.

It hasn’t been until now that I have thought about what they must have been thinking as they stood there in the driveway waving goodbye.

For one, longing. Longing for time to stop. Wishing things could just stay the way they were. Wishing we could all just stay together.

The other thing, they must have felt some relief. Relief in not only us taking the chaos of our own lives back to our own homes with us, but also realizing that we have outgrown the little corner bedroom of that house and sensing relief in knowing that we have homes of our own to go to that fit us better now.

I know that, because now it’s us standing the driveway waving goodbye.

We long for time to stop and wish things could stay the way they were and that we could all be together all the time. But today, Daddy, we know your spirit has outgrown this world and the only place that can house you now is a mansion built for you in glory by the King of Kings himself.

Welcome home, Daddy.

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. 2 Samuel 12:20