My father doesn’t have words any more. He seldom if ever speaks. We can’t tell if he really knows we’re there. Last Sunday Reggie and Sharon (my brother and sister-in-law) drove up from Florida and we went to the Nursing Home where my father has been living for the past 6 weeks. Gloria, my step mother, came too and Ron and my son Simeon. Daddy never said a word. He didn’t look up from the sunlight he was trying to catch on his left pant leg. We rolled him out onto the large front porch into the pre-spring air. Simeon kept looking away. His eyes were wet.
When Simeon was little he thought Papa was the biggest and strongest man in the whole world. He even brought him to kindergarten for show and tell once. It was like bringing his own superhero. Papa was my superhero, too. When I was a child I thought he was perfect. Actually, I thought he was perfect up into my early 20’s. Hero worship dies hard. But even when he ceased to be perfect he still was my comfort and support. The man who believed I could do or be anything. The parent who took the time to listen. He used to bake bread and german chocolate cakes and on Friday’s would introduce us to something new for dinner. Even when we married and started our own homes, he would always find something to fix for us, from a running toilet to our taxes, when he came to visit.
But now he sits slumped in a chair, his eyes turned inward to something we can’t see. We talked at him. And finally we decided to sing. My Daddy was very dedicated to the church. My mother used to say he was there whenever the doors opened. I don’t know about that, but we did spend a lot of time there. And we sang alot. As a matter of fact, I learned to sing harmony listening to my Daddy. The first line I learned was the bass line. So we started to sing old hymns and after a while his mouth began to move and, very faintly, he began to sing with us. Encouraged we sang hymn after hymn. We stopped for a moment to chat among ourselves. And then we heard, from his chair, a clear soft baritone singing the chorus of “Shall we gather at the river,” a song we’d sung a few minutes before. My daddy singing. We immediately joined in and sang another voice. But soon he fell quiet and it was just us. He didn’t make another sound for the rest of our visit. It’s hard to sing when I want to cry. The notes aren’t so clear. Plus I was trying to be tough for my family. Maybe they were too.
We took Daddy back to his room. My brother and Gloria got him in to bed. There was a man across the hall who kept calling for help. We knew him back when he owned a store downtown. Simeon was worried about him and went into his room to see if he could do anything. He couldn’t really. The man thought he was in his store and wanted something from a shelf that wasn’t there. But Simeon stayed and talked to him for a minute and that seemed to help.
I am Simeon and Sara’s mom. I’m Sabrina’s Momz (her term for me), and there are other children who call me by that name. But this morning, as I sit thinking of my father, I am really just my Daddy’s little girl.