THIS ONE IS FOR YOU, DAD

Dear Dad,

Seeing you sick the other day when I was home was very hard to watch. I don’t want to believe my father is in pain, or struggling, and yet, it was right there in front of me. I’m sorry, Dad. I’m sorry you are in pain and your limitations are growing. That must be very hard for you to face every day.

In light of that, you have done amazingly well growing older. Your intellect is still something to be reckoned with! And you still have your sense of humor. You are remarkable really. I just want you to know I still see that about you, despite the changes you are experiencing.

I thought you might enjoy hearing some of the memories I have of you in my life and the ones I really treasure. A little trip down memory lane just for fun. I’ve condensed some of them, because this letter grew long! But I hope it will bring up some your own memories of the times we’ve had together.

Indian Princesses. You were Big Rainbow, and I was Little Rainbow. Even though this is now politically incorrect (to play “Indians”), I loved it as a child! It was about being outdoors with others, fathers and their young daughters, having fun and learning about nature. And who doesn’t want to be spectacular like a rainbow at least once in their lives?! I remember our camping trips and sitting on a pier, barefoot, catching fish for the first time and eating smores around a campfire.

How about that time Santa left his boots stuck up in the chimney on Christmas day?? I couldn’t believe I had just missed him!!! It’s the closest I’ve had to a Santa sighting before or since! I mean, really, who’s ever almost caught Santa leaving after a job well done?

Riding down the hill of the golf course behind our house on the old wooden toboggan—Tigger in front, and you wedged behind me. Tigger’s black face would be covered in snow by the time we got to the bottom!! She’d hop off and doughnut around, ears flying, tail like a pendulum, as we dragged it back to the top of the hill to do it all over again.

One time you and Mom let me tag along on your “couple’s run.” I was so excited to ride my bike while you and Mom ran around the community college campus. Mom quickly skidded off in front, and there you were, far behind, diametrically pumping your long arms in slow motion, in perfect tempo with your long, gangly legs, mouth puckered in a perfect “O,” blowing out long, vocal exhales in perfect tempo. It must have been your love of trains that drove your “train-like” running style! Or, maybe that’s how Gooney Birds run, hence your nickname!!

We went to Somerville just about every Saturday when I was a kid. I would buy a couple of goldfish from the pet store or something for my fish tank, then we would head to Liddell’s to buy a Breyer’s horse if I had any extra cash on me. We would finish our excursion with sliced pizza for lunch, always sitting on stools at the counter. Even then, barely the size of a widget, I could eat two slices just like you! I’m pretty sure they cost 50 cents each. Imagine that!

You used to call me “Flea” and say to me, “What’s that string hanging out of your shorts? Oh wait. That’s your leg!!” Slapping your leg, you cracked yourself up every time!

On our many road trips as a young family, I rode in the very back of the station wagon. Wasn’t that illegal, Dad, even then?!?  You’d leave a little square empty of luggage for me to sit with my knees tucked up under my chin. When I needed more room, I’d crawl on top of the luggage and stretch out and go to sleep. I loved it. It was like my own little safe zone away from my adolescent siblings who were like a different species to me at that time.

I’m not sure if I remember this, or if I just remember hearing the story of it—that time the Christmas presents flew off the roof of the car on the way to Baltimore. They were supposedly contained in a roof-rack carrier, but something happened and we arrived presentless. Even if I don’t remember the actual event, even retelling the story made you pissed. Probably still does!!

Every summer when we went to Myrtle Beach, we would get dressed up to go out for dinner at our favorite restaurant called Rachel’s (?).  Maybe I think that because it was part of the Ramada, at that time the nicest hotel there with the fanciest restaurant. I loved getting dressed up, everyone piling into the car, and heading off for the best fried seafood platter in the Carolina’s.

All of the Painter’s ice cream that we ate! I loved it!

Eating and stocking up on Mrs. Fernow’s stew while we were in Myrtle Beach. It’s still the best canned soup you can buy by a landslide. And all that Cheerwine! As a kid, it was like the champagne of sodas. That’s right, I felt very sophisticated drinking Cheerwine, like I knew about something special that most other kids didn’t because they were too provincial to know.

Who knew I was an elitist as a kid?? (Shaking my head.)

You introduced me to Scrapple. Thank you! I still order it whenever it’s available. You probably don’t remember, but as a kid, I took a liverwurst sandwich to school every day. For years. With mustard. Every. Single. Day. In fact, I’m probably the only kid ever born who hated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But I digress. My love of scrapple, and liverwurst, must be genetic. A Simmons’ gene!

Maybe you were talked into it by Mom, but you bought me my first horse, Garlibra. We rented a horse trailer off the side of Hwy 59 to take him up to Mary McCartney’s for lessons on the weekends. The trailer was royal blue and about the size of a tuna can. I didn’t know they came in different sizes, and lucky for Gar, he was small, so it somehow worked, even if it was still too snug for him. Ignorance is bliss sometimes, and Lord knows, Gar was the recipient of that many times! Bless his little heart for surviving me, his designated kid.

All of the horse shows we went to! Waco, Pine Hill, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and even Arkansas once.  I think you really enjoyed the people as they were a fun group-Jen and Johnny B, Anne who was an attorney for Godiva, I think. Not sure what she did, but she always had Godiva on hand. And crazy Susan with short red hair. You never knew what was going to come out of her mouth, but it was guaranteed to be shocking, funny, and inappropriate!

Remember driving me to the barn at 4:30 am in high school to feed the horses before dropping me off for swim practice?Thank you for doing that. All before you started your own day of commuting into Houston, working all day, and commuting back. Of course, I couldn’t appreciate just how hard that would have been for you before heading to work, but I certainly do now. Thank you, Dad.

Once when I came home from college during the holidays, you decided you were going to ride your yellow Huffy bike while I rollerbladed. You weren’t really invited, I should tell you, but you insisted. As you cycled past, I shouted, “Just say no to crack!” because the edges of your shirt and shorts had separated just enough to show the beginnings of the crack of your ass. I thought you were going to wreck you were laughing so hard. And so was I!

Remember when you stood on the chair in my freshman dorm room hanging a shade, and fell off? I thought you were dead! You hurt your elbow and were shook up, but luckily, that was the extent. I would like to believe that’s the last time you stood on a chair. I sure hope so anyway! (That’s code for you are never allowed to again, just so I’m clear.)

All of the times you combined a work trip with coming to see me at college. Thank you for that. Thank you for my college education. That was a priceless gift and I am very grateful for my education.

Remember the time you picked me up in Virginia for Christmas break? God love private education where you get over four weeks off for Christmas! You flew up and we were going to ship George back to Texas for the break. Except I didn’t meet you at the barn. You finally drove to Randolph Macon only to persuade security to unlock my dorm room. There I was, still passed out from the night before, the evidence laid out before you. On my shirt, to be exact. We got in the car and you called Mom and said, “She’s just been working so hard and she’s so tired!”

Crickets.

Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt, even when I didn’t deserve it. I will tell you, I have drunk my fair share of booze, and drunk way too much too many times, but that was the first and last time I had a night like that one. I crossed a line, a dangerous one, and I knew it. However, when we got home, I don’t think Mom was as convinced that my “rigorous scholastic schedule” was to blame for my subpar condition. We didn’t call her the “CIA” for nothing!

All of the beautiful meals at Brennan’s. For birthdays, anniversaries, the holidays. I really enjoy and appreciate beautiful food because of you.

Our trip to Europe when I was 15. Arriving in Paris and you yelling at the cab driver. He didn’t understand English, or at least pretended not to, so you thought saying it louder and louder would help. He drove off in a huff. Or how about when we arrived in Italy, famished, so walked into the first place we saw to eat breakfast. It was a beautiful European meal with poached eggs sitting in the little dainty cups, along with cold cuts and cheese, yogurt and bread. But the check never came. We waited and waited. Finally, we realized the check was never coming, that breakfast was included in your room, so we very quietly slipped out of our chairs and tiptoed out the door. My one and only dine and dash was in Italy, with my parents! HA! Can’t top that!!

The Thanksgiving Day parade in New York when I was a kid. Walking through the zoo waiting for it to start, holding little cups of hot chocolate Mom poured for us out of the thermos she brought, our mittens feeling the warmth of the cup. We all had our hats pulled down and scarves pulled tight to fight the chill. It was priceless really.

You were christened “Dick-let” when you entered “Let World” in the basement on Katydid Dr! We had covered every wall in tinfoil and hung Christmas lights. That was a great summer with my cousins hanging out with us. I was Jenn-let, Susie was Sus-let, Rick was Rick-let. We thought we were so ingenious.

Playing pool and ping pong in the basement (when it wasn’t our disco, Let World). It was such a great game room! I almost became a pool shark…almost. I just needed another 10 years I think.

Dinner at Sardi’s. Now I only think of you when I go there and it’s a must whenever I go to New York. Even if I’m only ordering a single martini as Sardi’s is out of my price range, it’s still worth it. Sardi’s is still old school, Dad, with the white table cloths, wait staff and bartenders in uniform, and a bathroom attendant who’s stationed there the whole time. They make a perfect martini, I can tell you that. You would still love it, Dad.

Remember when you and me, Mom and Susie went to New York right before Christmas? The decorations were amazing as they always are. We stayed at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and picked up cheap theatre tickets in the square. We saw Proof with Anne Heche. I’m sure you don’t remember that, but for me, it was a monumental trip. My first “adult” play with serious acting. Also, she wasn’t the best actress on TV (in my opinion), but she was magic on stage. It was very eye-opening for me. It was the first time I understood how special the theatre was, and I still believe that. You and Mom always valued the theatre and I am so grateful to have had so many opportunities to see it firsthand. I will always scrape money together to go. It’s so inspiring every single time.

When I just got my driver’s license (at 15, remember!?), we went out for ice cream, just the three of us, and I drove. It was some place on North Park, next to the dentist (that right there is kind of funny, right? Eat ice cream so the dentist can fix your cavities?!). When we returned, I was pulling Mom’s car into the garage, when I had to give it a little gas to go over the lip of concrete into the garage. The car surged, and I panicked, and hit the gas again, instead of the brake. I ended up running into all of the stuff stacked against the wall in front of the car. It all toppled over the hood, and you were in the back seat screaming and cussing and freaking out. It could have been worse, Dad. You could have been in the passenger seat up front, closer to the action, but you weren’t. And the car, miraculously, was pretty much unscathed. I am not sure to this day how that was possible, but the car was indeed fine. I think we should all thank God for how that turned out!

The Varsity in Atlanta. My first proper “dog.” I always imagine you and Mom there in your college days, still wet behind the ears, dating, trying to figure it all out.

Driving to Bromont. I had food poisoning the night before and we had to stop in New York, keeping George at David’s, while I got fluids at the emergency room. You and Mom were my first grooms in the ten-minute box. George had Crisco EVERYWHERE. Even on his ear which I noticed once I got on to go cross-country. He wasn’t supposed to have Crisco on his ear, just in case you were wondering! (Ha ha!)

The Gage Hotel at the holidays. Playing Secret Santa. That stupid lawn elf that Judy painted, that like a bad penny, only turned up at Christmastime for the Secret Santa game! Sitting around the fire pit outside with our coats on in west Texas, drinking wine and eating big steaks at the hotel restaurant.

You and the paintbrush you found in the men’s bathroom at Ninfa’s. You came out declaring it was “time to paint the town red!” We were laughing crying! It’s hilarious to see your dad do that.

Eventing at Diamond L Ranch in New Mexico. Amos stepped on your foot as he turned to run out into the paddock there. I think you lost your toe nail in that deal. Remember the horses biting into the prickly pear cactus?? It was so sweet that they didn’t care about the thorns!

All of the cats: Turkey, Mama, Pilgrim. I asked you recently, “How did you ever get into cats?” You didn’t have any as a child and neither did I! But I already knew the answer. You agreed to take Turkey when I went to college, and Mama arrived soon after. And quite frankly, you never looked back after that. So you’re welcome. I think I can take credit for your affinity towards all of the cats, past and present. They’re such good little friends and I’m glad they bring you comfort, friendship, and laughs.

Hami the hamster crawling up inside your pajama leg in the middle of the night. I’m glad you didn’t smush him! I’m not sure what I would have done myself in that situation! Miraculously, Hami survived, AND SO DID YOU!! Phew! All of the guinea pigs and hamsters we buried in the yard. Every time I needed a shoebox, you provided one, as well as a shovel, and a bible, because there was always a religious service before we buried our critters.

Remember seeing Jersey Boys in DC?  I’m so glad we did that!! They were amazing!

I could go on, Dad. How about the Dude Ranch in West Texas? Cibolo Creek Ranch, where Justice Scalia would later make famous when he dropped dead there!

Basin Harbor in Vermont. So special. It was before Carl died. Before I got divorced. A lifetime ago, but so, so special.

There are so many great memories, Dad.

These are a few of my favorite ones, though there is sure to be plenty more that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. I’m so glad I wrote them down so I don’t forget. Life is flying by and it’s easy to lose track, to let our experiences fade into the horizon.

Thank you, Dad, for being a great dad. Thank you for all of these memories, starting as a child, into adolescence, and now as an adult. You have provided a lot of amazing experiences for your children and I appreciate all of the opportunities that I’ve had because of you. In short, I appreciate you.

I know things are hard for you right now, and that you experience pain and the inability to do the things you have always been able to do. I’m really sorry, Dad, that you are struggling. That must be incredibly frustrating for you. I know how hard it must be to accept help when all you really want is to do it yourself. I’m just a phone call away, Dad, and I can be in Texas in 2.5 hours. I am going to come home a lot more often so I can check on you and help you in whatever way you need.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you. Thanks for everything.

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