last night in indiana

February 22, 2009

Last night, at least for the time being. Whew. Seriously. Whew. It’s been an intense week. Intense.

I feel grateful for a number of things — to have made some new friends with friends who loved my dad, to have spent time with some of my old friends and family, and to have put together the right kind of memorial for my dad. Thank you mom, Joe and Toy, Brenda and Gary, Bob, Richard and Barabara, John, Kim, Jeff, the Miller clan the Jamieson clan, Colleen, Becky, Ty, Silvie, Rachel, Kathi, Father Bennet, and Bill Kehl. And of course my sister. We’ve been in it together from the get go.

My mom, my sister and I all said some things at the funeral.  I wanna share what I said here.

First, thank you for being here today. It means a lot to me and family and I think it would mean a lot to my dad too.

I got to know my dad best over the last 12 years when I think in his eyes I had finally grown into the kind of adult with whom he could share the events that most shaped his life, that being his experience in WW2. My dad could recall his first day of combat in heartbreaking and elaborate detail. So you can imagine the kinds of stories he carried with him for the last 63 years. And that’s mainly what we talked about – war , plus sometimes running or his cats or work or what he was growing in his garden. It was a consistent conversation until this past summer , which is when my dad told me about trying to teach himself horse whispering. He told me there was a horse at this job he’d worked on with Joe and my dad was pretty sure he could talk to the horse. And even more sure that the horse understood him. At first I thought to myself, of course, this is a perfect story for a guy who not only who spoke a little Arabic and Chinese, but who had also taught himself Navajo and Quiche. And without a doubt that that was probably part of it, but only part, because there was something in the way he talked how you have to watch the tail and where the ears are pointed that made me realize there was more to the story.

Months later, I finally understood what that “more” was. It was a familiar “more”, my dad telling me about teaching himself horse whispering, because that story picked up on a thread of a story that defined what life was like when my dad lived with us. By the time I was nine and my parents got divorced, in addition to a cockatiel, I had lived with two geese, two rabbits, a handful of baby chickens, three dogs, a cat that bore a litter of eight kittens, four hamsters, two aquariums stocked full of a rotating line-up of freshwater fish, a box turtle we found at our babysitters, kept for a week and then let loose in the woods behind our house, an ant eater, who stayed with us for one night, a coyote who stayed with us for two weeks, a yellow rat snake, a black king snake, a succession of nine baby boa constrictors who were all named George, and a couple of mice who, strictly speaking, weren’t pets, but no one had the heart to trap and kill them after they had escaped their intended fates as dinner for one the family reptiles.

It would be easy to chalk up this rotating menagerie, this exotic urban farm, to my dad’s eccentricities and affectations. It would be easy and tempting and it would be partly true, but if we do that we miss what I think is the larger truth. Because in talking about animals, I think my dad was trying to get me to understand that he was capable of connecting profoundly with life. When I think of the all the pets we had and I think of that horse who he was talking to, I believe that in his own way my dad was saying yes to loving life. And I think we are part of that too. We are sitting here in a room we could fill full of smart, funny, sweet and sad stories because we are part of my dad’s yes.

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