It has been twenty years since you took your own life. I have only just begun to openly talk about your life and death. Why? Maybe it was because we didn’t celebrate your life with family and friends in early February, 2001. Maybe it was because I didn’t fully understand the extend of your mental illness. Maybe it was because you and Mom moved to Florida in 1972 and there wasn’t much visitation between the families.
Thanks for being my father. I am blessed to call you “Dad” and want to tell the world about our life together.
I remember living in our small house when I was very young. I was unaware that most six-years didn’t go to bed while the sun was still shining brightly. Mother would fix supper for Nancy and me. She would not eat with us but ate with you when you came home from work. She told us that you liked things “quiet” in the evening.
Moving into Nana’s two-story house in 1952 was a little different since the sisters lived upstairs. We were preteens and delighted to have our own phone upstairs. Our bedroom happened to be above your bedroom. We had to be “quiet” when we went to bed since you had “trouble going to sleep”. When I think back to my teen dating days, I thought it was weird that my curfew was either before 11PM or after midnight. Again, Mother explained that you had “trouble going to sleep”.
You always had a garden in which you worked on weekends or the evenings when we were older. Nancy and I loved working in the garden with you. It was “our time” alone with you. The garden hoe was your favorite tool. Little did I realize this was the beginning of what I assume now was OCD. You wanted everything organized and the garden to be perfect with no weeds.
But, oh boy did we have lots of fun on our vacations together! We went to General Butler State Park for our first two vacations. I remember sitting on the cabin’s porch overlooking the lake. That is where the sisters learned to play gin rummy, where we watched thunderstorms come across the lake, and where we ate family meals together.
You must have earned more vacation time in 1955 since this was the beginning of our vacations to Daytona Beach. We spent two suiciddsuicweeks vacationing in a small cottage on the quiet beach front. In 1960, the Florida beach vacations became three weeks. It was a great family time playing in the surf, walking the beach and just sitting quietly on the beach towels.
Taking our yearly trips to Florida was the beginning of my love of maps and all things geography. This was the time before the country was covered with interstate highways. You and I carefully mapped our trips to Florida and back each summer. We always went a different way each year. We wandered all over Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia visiting new towns and tourist attractions.
When you retired to Florida in 1972, I struggled with the fact that you didn’t want to visit Kentucky for more than a few days at a time with my family. The kids were bursting with joy when we spent a week at Christmas time with you and Mom. While we were there, you spent a lot of time taking long walks by yourself. I never thought to talk with Mom and ask any questions. I just assumed that your exercise preference was walking.
I was most upset with you when Mother had her open-heart surgery in late August, 1988. You didn’t want Nancy or me to come to Ocala. You simply told us that you “were okay and could handle things by yourself”. Your other excuse was that Nancy and I were both teaching at the time. Well, I’m very glad that I turned the tables on you during that Labor Day weekend. I called your pastor and told him that I was flying to Florida without your knowledge. We worked out a plan and your church friends picked me up at the airport. I can still remember the gigantic hug when you opened the door. And, yes, there were tears. You were, indeed, glad to see “family” and Mother’s recovery improved so much in those few days.
When Mother died with ovarian cancer in 1999, her surgery was on a Monday. Again, you didn’t want the sisters to come to Ocala. One of my saddest moments was your phone call telling me that her tumor was so large that it was useless to remove. You still didn’t want us to come visit at that exact moment. The plan was to visit in ten more days which would be Memorial Day weekend. The very last time that I was able to talk to Mother coherently on the hospital phone was the Thursday following surgery.
Your call the next day informed us that she had been moved to a Hosparus House. She was gone within forty hours. We visited over Memorial Day weekend and stayed a few more days so we could bring her ashes home with us. There was a private family burial without you. “I’ve already told her good-by” was the only thing you told Nancy and me as we walked out your door.
For nineteen months, you lived alone in Florida. We talked every Saturday. But I could tell that you tried to convince me that you were enjoying life and doing “happy” things. Whatever took over your thoughts those last few days, I’ll never know.
Thank-you again for being my father!! I will cherish all these memories as I begin to think about your life and share the stories with my family and friends.