Thursday, July 31, 2014

One of Those Days

I had one of those days. Tuesday. My wife has them often and I always know it because I can see the signs. It makes me feel helpless because I don't know what to say or do to help her.

When I have them no one knows and I am not fully aware why no one recognizes it in me. I had my worst one ever when my aunt Barbara died. I worked that day and dealt with people from the beginning until the end, and no one ever noticed that I cried all day long.

No one.

That makes me feel invisible.

I'm sure it's my fault because I will never say to anyone, I am hurting or sad or disturbed. I suppose I am too much like my dad in that regard as I am like him in so many other ways. Men of his generation did not talk about their feelings. They just didn't, and looking back I can now see how he sent out signals, but I was too obtuse to read the signs. I would drop by the house to see him and when I would get ready to leave often he would say, "I'll fix some popcorn." I used to think that was comical, but I didn't have a clue that he was really saying, "I'm lonesome, and I want you around." One day it was around 3:00 pm, and I started to go. "I'll cook some fish," he said without even looking at me. And he did. He just got up and went to the kitchen, and twenty minutes later we were eating fried speckled trout.

I have written before about his death and my reaction to it. Shock was the biggest thing I had to deal with. Over time I came to see that disappointment was also in the list of things I had to wrestle with. My hero, who had never let me down, had failed me in the worst way by showing he was mortal after all. Eventually I came to terms with his passing and accepted it. Yeah, those five stages of grief are real after all. But even now, even after acceptance I have those days when I cry and cry and cry.

It was my truck breaking down that was the trigger to this one. I couldn't drive my wounded auto to the repair shop but had to drag it with a tow strap, and like so many times before I picked up the phone to call him. "Who ya gunna call?" For me it was never Ghost Busters or any one else. It was always Dad.

This time I called RT. Ronald Terrell is my brother-in-law, and he drove from Ruleville, MS to Greenwood, MS to help me haul my truck to the repairman. I asked him how my sister was doing. "She doesn't talk much about your dad anymore," he said. "But I think she's still dealing with it." I guess she's like Dad too. When I see her again I will want to ask her if she ever has one of those days, if she is OK. But I already know that when that time comes it will be as if my jaws are welded shut. The thoughts will be there but the words will never exit my mouth. I'm too much like Dad.

He taught me a lot and maybe emotional awkwardness was not one of the best lessons I learned from him. But he taught me to mow the lawn, how to change a spark plug, how to drive a car, a truck, and a tractor. He taught me how to shoot a shotgun and a rifle, how to hunt and skin animals. He taught me how to build a fire, how to train a bird dog, how to oil leather boots. He showed me fishing knots and how to tie progressively smaller leaders together so that a popping bug would curl out under a limb and gently drop to the water's surface if the fly rod was handled correctly. Besides fly fishing, he taught me how to bass fish, cane pole fish, and fish the marshes of Louisiana. He taught me how to make a meal of sardines and crackers, how to plant and hoe vegetables, even how to make gravy.

One of the best things he ever taught me, however, was about cats. When I was a very young boy we had a cat named Gladys who somehow got in the family way. She went off and had her brood and returned home only to eat. Dad fed her and followed her from afar one day. He tailed her across the backyard, through the cane patch that bordered the back of 422 West Harding Street, and across the huge empty lot between the canes and Park Avenue. Past Park Avenue Dad trailed the cat to what was then a tire place next door to what is now No Way Jose Restaurant. He found Gladys and her brood in a tire in the lot of that business, and he brought them home where they belonged. That taught me something.

Once he showed me how to play with cats, how to tease them with a partially hidden finger and make them pounce and bite and kick. He taught me that they like to have their ears pulled and the sides of their faces rubbed across their eyes because that is where their mommas lick them when they are babies and it makes them feel secure and loved and cared for. I use those lessons often, especially when I have one of those days.

That new kitty, the yellow tabby tom who was living under our house, sleeps on my chest at night. I love that. Sometimes I instinctively reach up and apply one of those lessons Dad taught me so many years ago. I grab an ear and gently pull and rub the face across the eyes. I did this the night after that day. The baby began to purr so forcefully I could feel the vibrations going through the covers and into my chest. Those vibrations and that sound had a soothing effect, and I drifted off to sleep while a tear leaked out of the corner of my right eye.