Sunday, April 09, 2006

Henry Clay - Part II

I start at the end because the beginning was long and laborious. Grant you, it is a labor of love, but there are a lot of aspects to Henry Clay that are to be addressed in Part I.

The end began on Mother’s day in 1979. Henry was given the diagnosis when he was all alone in a hospital room. Cancer.

At the time Daddy was handed the bad news, we were celebrating Mother’s Day with my mom. Daddy called mother from his hospital room. We dropped what we were doing and we all headed to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital daddy was sitting there on the side of his hospital bed, both hands on the bed with his head hung. What do you say to someone you love when they have been given such devastating news? I chose to say nothing. From Mother’s day until October 16, 1979 was just barely six months, and it was somewhat of a long journey as I remember.

There was chemo therapy and all, but I don’t remember it being called “chemo.” The medicines they gave my father for his cancer took their toll on him. He suffered infection after infection; he lost a lot of weight and seemed to give up hope.

I can remember those six months, as if it were yesterday. We couldn’t get him to eat anything, except Reese’s Peanut butter cups. He loved them and would actually eat them too. I guess it was the only thing he felt like eating. Peanut butter cups weren’t much for a large man who had a passion for a good meal.

Daddy was diagnosed with cancer before he celebrated 40 years of service with the Census Bureau. While he was being treated, his 40 year anniversary date came. Daddy’s boss and some of his co-workers brought over his 40 years service pin and some certificates. He was quite proud of the service pin. His goal had always been to retire next year. Next year never came for my father. He did not get to enjoy the pleasures that retirement can bring.

My dad was very nosy. He loved to spy on the neighbors and keep an eye on the comings and goings of the neighborhood folks. When he would spot something, he would then send my mother to check it out. I guess, although nosy, Henry was somewhat of a chicken. While he was sick he would spend a lot of time staring out of the front door keeping an eye on the neighborhood, but he developed a different type of friendship. There were two redbirds that would sit on the telephone wire outside his front door, and daddy would talk to them. Daddy would whistle in “bird” talk, and the birds would answer. It was if they were carrying on a conversation that would continue each day. Some days my dad would perform his part of the conversation from his favorite chair. The redbirds would always correspond.

During his illness, my dad still kept his jovial mood. I can remember taking my son Johnny up to the hospital to see him. Daddy, who was still in pretty good shape, laid back on his bed and started to moan and groan like he was dying. Daddy did this just to scare Johnny, and scare Johnny it did. It was funny, but in a way it was a weird omen on what was to come.

As the days clicked, the illness took its toll. One day at the hospital my father was very sick with an infection. He asked me to put his watch on for him. As I was doing that daddy commented, “I’m dwindling down to nothing aren’t I.” I again chose not to comment, but in my heart, I agreed.

My dad died the same way he received the news of his cancer . . .alone. We were called in the middle of the night, but none of us made it there in time. When my sister Carol and I arrived, we were ushered into another room by a nurse, who had been crying. I knew then that dad had died, and I think Carol did too. When my mom arrived we were told we could go into his room, but I did not. I wanted no part of his death. I wanted to remember him alive. Carol only spoke of the Reese’s Cups that lay by his hospital bed.

Carol and I also spoke sometime later that we were never able to say the “I love you” words to our father. We both loved him dearly, but the words would not come to me. Carol indicated she did tell him, and I was glad for her. I always figured I had time, but time eluded me and time eluded my father. My daddy died without me having the privilege of telling him that I loved him. My silence – all of it - prompted changes in me. I am less likely today to be silent.

A few days after my father had passed; I was standing at the front door of his home. I saw those two redbirds on the telephone wire. The birds were staring down at the front door as if they were looking for him. I thought of attempting the whistle but I remained once again, silent. I just wondered if they missed him. . . I did.