Me and My Dad

Dad died 19 years ago. I miss him every day and am proud to see his face when I look in the mirror.Nineteen years ago this day, my family was at a funeral home.More mourners than we expected came to say good-bye to my father, Harlan Stratton. The mourners spent long minutes studying the photographs that chronicled his life.

“That’s the way I remember him,” each one said, pointing at the photograph that encapsulated the years when they had shared life together.

Some chose his high school graduation picture.
Others lingered by the snapshot of him standing by his prize steer, Snowball.
The flower girls from my parents’ wedding pointed to a picture of a grinning groom.
Former 4-Hers smiled at the studio portrait taken when he became a county extension agent.

To be honest, I was jealous of those people who remembered my dad in his prime, when he could still walk into rooms. When his voice boomed above the crowd and took control. When he laughed and traded jokes long into the night. When he drove and Mom sat in the passenger seat. I was jealous because they knew my father in ways I never did and never will.

But now, 19 years after we celebrated Dad’s life my photo pick is one that didn’t get much attention on March 7, 1997. My favorite is his college graduation picture. The one where his flat top is a bit unruly, his eyes a little squinty, his smile crooked, and his chin on the jowly side.

That less-than-perfect face is my favorite because looking at his hair, his eyes, his smile, and his chin, I see where I came from. The envy I once felt toward those who knew the man I didn’t has disappeared. How can I be jealous of people who knew Dad in ways I never will when the imprint of him is on my heart and face?

Oh, Dad, I miss you.

Dad died 19 years ago. I miss him every day and am proud to see his face when I look in the mirror.In memory of Harlan John Stratton: May 11, 1929 – March 4, 1997. Dearly loved husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, uncle, cousin, and friend.

Night Is Coming

When death draws near for loved ones, we comprehend the truth God whispers to his people. “Work as long as it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.”We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day;
night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.
John 9:4–5

Hiram and I are back from visiting family in Arizona. The weather was perfect, and knowing we’d escaped the sub-zero temperatures in Iowa made it feel even better. Part way through the week, my sister and I road-tripped to southern California to visit an elderly relative. I’ll spare you the description of our barefoot walk on a sunny beach in January the morning after we arrived, and skip straight to Muriel, the elderly relative.

She’s 87, sharp as a tack, and an amateur historian who has researched and compiled the story of her grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) during the Civil War. But, her sight is failing rapidly, as is her stamina and mobility. All three of us knew this might be our last visit together, so our hugs were extra long and hard when we said good-bye. Muriel was still waving when our car turned the corner. Leaving her was hard, but she is a woman of deep faith, not afraid of walking through the door from this life into the next.

The Monday after Hiram and I returned to cold and snowy Iowa, an email arrived from a friend in a nearby town. She’s also a writer, and I thought she was confirming the let’s-talk-about-writing coffee date we’d scheduled. Instead, this active, fit mom of three boys (ages 8–13) wrote to cancel because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. She and her husband hoped to know more after meeting with the doctor later in the week. Her note ended with these words. “We’re trying to just do the normal life things, and trust that God knows what he’s doing. I don’t doubt him. I really don’t. I don’t like what he’s doing, but I don’t doubt him.”

The tears that never came while saying good-bye to Muriel fell hard and fast after hearing from my young, talented, and very dear friend. My heart broke for her husband, for her sons, for the fight she faces, and for the words she will not be writing during her treatment. Even though my friend and I are certain of the glory waiting for her if she loses her fight, I am praying she will live to see her boys become men and husbands and fathers, and to experience the joy of being a grandma before she walks through that door.

Like Muriel and my young friend, I don’t doubt what God is doing. I know that though his thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways are not my ways, he can be trusted. I know we pay more attention to God’s voice when health fails and life grows short. We better understand his truths when we realize our days on this earth are numbered. The work he has for us to do on this side of death’s door will end.

When death draws near for those we love, we finally comprehend the truth God whispers into the ears of all his children. “Work as long as it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.” As we cry out to him in our grief and through our tears, we realize that our time on earth is precious and finite. And we redouble our efforts and redeem the time by doing his work with passion and purpose. Until the day he calls each of us to walk through the door of this world into the next.

Walking Beside a Rainbow this Fantastic Friday

The legacy of hope Uncle Marvin left his family and the hope his descendants carry into the future remain a source of hope on this Fantastic Friday.This Fantastic Friday remembers my Uncle Marvin who died four years ago this week. The legacy of hope he left his family and the hope his descendants carry into the future remain a source of hope today.

Sadness kept me company on this morning’s walk. No matter how hard I tried to steer my thoughts to smoother ground, they continually strayed to the uneven place where we stood and buried Uncle Marvin yesterday.

All I could think about were his grandchildren, the honorary pallbearers, gathered from Minnesota and Iowa, North Dakota and Illinois, and one recently returned from Egypt. They stood tall and straight and lovely, in the tiny country cemetery where their grandfather joined his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, only a few miles from where he’d been born and lived all his years.

These sweet carriers of our family’s future stood guard over the coffin, grave and composed during the pastor’s committal service, through the military gun salute, the folding of the flag, and it’s presentation to their grandmother. But when haunting notes of Taps filled the air, they began to cry, realizing for perhaps the first time in their young lives, that there is an end to every good thing.

Will this be the end of their connection to the family farm? I wondered, as they placed flowers on their grandpa’s coffin and said good-by. Will they return to their homes far away and forget their family’s long history in this place, the connection to the land that binds their parents together?

Sadness weighed heavy on me, and my head drooped lower. It’s over, I thought, and tears came to my eyes. For a moment, the sky wept, too, and raindrops wet my shoulders and hair. Maybe I should just give up and go home, I thought, too sad to fight life’s changes or the weather anymore. I looked up to check the sky.

And there against the grey clouds in the east was the beginning of a rainbow. A small, faded streak at first, it grew brighter and brighter the longer I looked up. Slowly, my sad weight lifted, and when I turned the corner I walked beside the rainbow. The further I went, the brighter the rainbow grew, until finally it stretched across the sky, bold against the grey clouds.

When those sweet grandchildren and their far-flung adventures came to mind again, the rainbow whispered to me.

Hope, it said so softly I had to strain to hear the word.

Hope.

Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving Giveaway

Special Needs Parenting CoverDr. Lorna Bradley is the mother of an adult son with Asperger syndrome.and she’s an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. If that short description rings a bell, perhaps you read her Different Dream guest post about beauty in brokenness. Now she’s combined her personal and professional expertise to write an invaluable new book for parents of kids with special needs. I’m excited about how much this book will help families, the book and am eager to tell you more about it.

Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving Addresses Issues

Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving addresses many spiritual questions parents ask when their children are diagnosed with special needs. It discusses difficult issues like dealing with grief and guilt with compassion and candor. And it also offers practical advice to makes life easier for parents. A sneak peek at the table of contents to see what it covers:

  1. God and Special Needs
  2. Understanding Chronic Grief
  3. Breaking Free from Guilt
  4. Tools to Increase Patience
  5. Self-care for Caregivers
  6. Building Healthy Relationships
  7. Hope and Healing

Appendix
Notes for Small Group Leaders
Blessing of the Parents Liturgy
Resource List
Self-care Inventory
About the Author

As you can see, Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving has something for every parent of a child with special needs. Each chapter ends with a list of questions for personal reflection, prayer helps, and Scripture references. The questions can also be used for small group discussion, which makes Bradley’s book a natural for Bible study or support groups.

To read the rest of this post and enter the give away, please visit Down the Gravel Road’s sister site at DifferentDream.com.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

The-Long-Way-Home-673x1024

  1. The mark of a gifted teacher: Upon hearing of his death 40 years after last seeing him, you spend days mourning his passing and thanking God for using one man to impact your life in profound and positive ways.
  2. The pleasure of sleeping in your own bed can not be too highly rated.
  3. Louise Penny’s latest novel, The Long Way Home, is absolutely delicious. How long can I make the reading of it last?

What are you reading these days? Leave a comment.

Ten Lessons Taught by My High School Drama Coach

Drama coachTwo days ago, a dear high school friend sent a Facebook private message. “I ran across this tonight,” the message said.

“This” was an obituary for Roger Hallum, our high school speech and drama coach. According to the obituary Mr. Hallum–who will always be Mr. Hallum and never Roger to me–died on July 1, 2009.

He’s been gone five years and we, the students he touched in profound ways, never knew. We never had a chance to say thank you. We never had a chance to tell him how he shaped and bolstered the confidence of a bunch of squirrely teens as he tapped into our talents.

So five years late, this top ten list says thank you for the lessons he taught so well more than 4 decades ago.

10.  Never judge a book by its cover. None of us believed a dumpy man who wore his sandy hair shaggy and unkempt, whose teeth that never saw braces, and who wore saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester pants could motivate high schoolers to spend months of each year rehearsing and performing in plays and speech contests.

9.  When your director says, “Jump,” you say, “How high?”

8.  Good writing isn’t enough to make a good speech. Neither is good delivery. But good writing + good delivery = magic.

7.  Never, ever start smoking. Because trying to quit is hell and requires copious amounts of Live Savers candies.

6.  Teenagers, given a vision of what they can do if they work far harder than they believe they can and tasked with far more responsibility than school administrators believe is wise, can accomplish tasks beyond what most adults think they can do.

5.  Timing is everything.

4.  An army jeep, a goat, and 30 tie-dyed bedsheets sewn into kimonos, make for an exciting, unexpected, and visually pleasing rendition of Tea House of the August Moon.

3.  Character parts are much more fun to play than romantic leads.

2.  A pregnant pause speaks louder than words.

1. One unassuming person…one dumpy, shaggy-haired man with crooked teeth, saggy plaid suit jackets and polyester trousers…who says “You can do this because you have talent,” can change the course of an insecure teenager’s life.

In memory of Mr. Roger Hallum, Feb. 8, 1939–July 1, 2009. Your former students are still jumping, higher than they ever thought they could.

Veteran’s Day 2014: Thank You

poppyThe Top Ten Tuesday list will be back next week. This week’s Tuesday post is dedicated to remembering the veterans in our family with an updated version of a piece written for Veteran’s Day, 2012.

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day, and in my world it went out with more of a whimper than a bang. However our state’s major newspaper, The Des Moines Register, in a moving salute to World War II vets, had the soldiers tell their stories in their own words.

That story, combined with the passing of my husband’s Uncle Harold, a World War 2 pilot in October of 2012, was a reminder of how little time remains for our nation to say thank you to the men and women who risked their lives in that great war. Here are the heroes in our family–some still living and some gone in the past few years–I am proud to call my uncles, and for whom I am grateful today.

Harold Walker, Hiram’s storyteller uncle, and pilot in the Pacific Theater near the end of the war. He died in October of 2012.

Marvin Conrad, my piano-playing and very musical uncle. I believe he served in the Navy in World War 2. He died in 2010, only a few months after visiting Washington, DC on one of the Freedom Flights.

Ordel Rogen, my cattle-raising uncle. He served in some branch of the armed forces in World War 2, though I’m not sure of the details. He died several years ago in December.

Leo Hess, who told harrowing tales of fighting during the Battle of the Bulge in World War 2.

Jim Hoey is my history-loving uncle. He was also a dedicated friend to my dad during his long struggle with multiple sclerosis. Jim served as a Navy medic in the Korean War. He turned 80 in June of 2012 and still loves to travel and write letters to his grandkids and great-nephews and nieces.

Dear uncles, our thanks for your service is not enough, but it’s all I have to give. Thank you for fighting for freedom.

Because of you, our shared family histories continue.
Because of your sacrifice, our family is able to reunite in the summer to reminisce about old memories and create new ones.
Because of you, little children play without fear.
Because of you, elderly men and women are cared for and safe.
Because of you, we live in peace.
Because of you, we are who we are.
Because of you, we are blessed.
Because of you.

Refined by Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace

refined by fire cover

I suspected, when asking Mary Potter Kenyon for a review copy of Refined by Fire, that it would be a hard book to put down. Once I opened the book, my suspicions proved to be absolutely true. The book was nearly impossible to put down for two riveting reasons.

Refined by Fire: Two Reasons It’s Hard to Put Down

First, the author tells a heartbreaking story of loss. In the span of a few years, Kenyon lost her mother Irma and then her husband David. Just as she discovered writing as a way to regain her emotional footing, her young grandson Jacob died of cancer.

Second, she makes the story more compelling by being transparent. She lays her journey of grief before the reader, refusing to hide her emotional pain, her tears, her anger, her loneliness, and her doubts. We see grief take its toll on her relationships and especially on her youngest daughter, Abigail, who was just 8 when her father died.

Refined by Fire: Snapshots of Grief

Though overwhelmed by grief and shedding tears every morning for years, Kenyon somehow writes her way through her grief. Throughout the book, excerpts from her blog and daily journals are featured:

Grief at Ten and a Half Weeks
The First Holiday
Grief at Twenty Weeks
Grief at Five Months

Each entry is a word picture, a snapshot of grief frozen in time. Between those entries, the reader sees grief melt and morph and reform as Kenyon questions God and hears him answer in sweet and unexpected ways. Though devastated by her losses, she begins to see God at work in her life. Her heart is still broken at the end of the book, but thanks to her determination to cling to God, she is also stronger and more capable than before.

Refined by Fire: A Grief Handbook

Kenyon’s Refined by Fire is essentially “grief handbook” for those dealing with loss, something Kenyon wished for as she grieved. It is also a useful tool and resource for pastors, grief support group leaders, hospice workers, funeral home directors, and anyone working with people dealing with grief.

Refined by Fire Give Away

I have a copy of Refined by Fire to give away. To enter the drawing, leave a comment in the box below between now and midnight on November 1, 2014. To increase your chances of winning, sign up for the Gravel Road’s RSS feed at the top, right side of this page and leave another comment saying you did so by midnight on November 1, 2014.

MPKheadshot (2)Mary Potter Kenyon graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a BA in Psychology and is the Director of the Winthrop Public Library. She wrote several of the devotions included in the NIV Hope in the Mourning Bible released by Zondervan in 2013. Mary writes a weekly couponing column for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and conducts writing and couponing workshops for women’s groups, libraries, and community colleges. Mary is also the author of Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession and Chemo­Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage.

Lessons from My Father: Grandpa Stanton

Stratton

Once again, a packed June schedule means there’s been no time to prepare a post for today. So once again, I dug into old writing files and pulled out a chapter from Lessons from My Father. That’s the book about growing up with my dad who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 29 and wheelchair bound shortly thereafter. It’s also the book that landed an agent, but has yet to be published.

Today’s story comes from early in the book and in Dad’s illness. It takes place in a short span of time when Dad’s father lived with our family and then entered a nursing home. This story caught my eye because of the reference to the Little Store. At our high school class reunion, we reminisced about that same establishment, which was a neighborhood grocery store that operated in a converted garage.

But the story is about much more than sweet memories of the Little Store. It is about one of the many losses my parents experienced in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As a child, I didn’t understand how their dreams were snatched away, one after another. Now, as an adult, I marvel at their ability to keep going during those sad years.

Grandpa Stanton
Grandchildren are the crown of old men,
And the glory of sons is their fathers.
Proverbs 17: 6

“I’m goin’ to the Little Store. I’m goin’ to the Little Store.” A surge of satisfaction welled up from deep within me as I sang to myself. My small hand fitted perfectly into Grandpa’s big one, and I reined in my high spirits. I attempted to glide beside him in a dignified, graceful manner worthy of his presence, and at the same time I quivered with anticipation of the delight that awaited only one short block away.

“What are you going to buy with your nickel, Jolene?” Grandpa looked down from his great height with a smile.

I looked up at him, comforted rather than intimidated by his stature. I liked looking up to him, an act not necessary when I walked beside my father’s rolling chair. I pondered my answer while avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. Notoriously clumsy, I didn’t want to trip and fall, ruining this delicious outing. “Whaddya think I should get, Grandpa?”

He always gave me, one of his only three grandchildren, thoughtful advice which my other grandpa with three times as many descendants to his credit never had the time to offer. “Do you like gum? You could buy a pack and share it with your family. Five sticks. You’d have just enough.”

Mentally, I flushed that idea. Grandpa had given me a whole nickel to spend on myself. No way was I going to share. “Nope, I don’t like gum.”

“Do you like candy bars?” he probed. I liked this about my grandpa. Mom didn’t have time to find out what I liked, and Dad didn’t always have the staying power. Neither of them had nickels to squander on candy from the Little Store, but Grandpa Stanton did, at least during this most fulfilling interlude, a short April to November, when he lived with us. He lavished upon his grandchildren the time, attention, and nickels they loved.

“Chocolate, lots,” I confessed.

“Do you like nuts?” He knew just the right questions, always.
“Uh-uh.” That I knew with certainty.

“Then I,” Grandpa counseled with great solemnity, “recommend a Milky Way.”

We walked into the Little Store, and I looked at the candy rack. Grandpa was right. A Milky Way was just what I wanted. I placed the candy bar and my nickel on the counter.

“This somebody special, Jolene?” Mrs. Manning asked as she rang up the sale. She recognized all the kids in the neighborhood. Most of them purchased candy and pop from the tiny shelves that lined the garage she had outfitted as a neighborhood grocery store. The Stanton kids only came for a loaf of Wonderbread or a half-gallon of milk when those staples ran out mid-week. She correctly deduced that this candy purchase was a noteworthy event. I, however, was surprised by her question and gaped at her, speechless and flustered.

“I’m her grandpa, Cyril Stanton.” Grandpa reached across the counter, shook her hand, and then gave me my candy bar.

“He lives at our house now. He gave me a nickel.” Grandpa’s rescue primed my pump, and I added the important details to Grandpa’s rather sparse introduction.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Stanton. I’m sure Harlan enjoys having you there.”

I clutched my candy bar in one hand and slipped the other back into Grandpa’s, pulling him out the door. I didn’t like sharing my time alone with Grandpa. I hung from his arm for our entire two block walk, waiting to open and eat the candy bar, an act that required two hands on my part, until I got home.

“Thanks, Grandpa.”

“You’re welcome, Jolene.” I smiled up at him, and his eyes smiled down at me beneath the black, bristly eyebrow so thick there was just one that went all the way across his face. I walked as slowly as possible, determined to eek as much pleasure as possible out of the short trip. I was convinced that heaven, at least the one described by my Sunday school teacher, couldn’t be much better than this.

Having Grandpa live with us seemed a heaven-sent solution when he first arrived. His diabetes had become more troublesome since Grandma Stanton died, but for years Grandpa continued to live and work alone in Nevada, Iowa, visiting our family often. When he went into insulin shock while driving one day, his car stalled on the railroad tracks. A swift rescue by the local police saved his life, but not his liberty or happiness. His driver’s license was revoked, and he was stranded. Living with us gave him places to go and people to see, and a way to get to both. For awhile the arrangement seemed like it would work. At age six, I thought life couldn’t get any better, but there was lots about adult life that I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that my grandpa who looked so young, with a full head of black hair barely flecked with grey, was going into diabetic shock often. My mother had to get up each night to check on him and correct the imbalance with an orange juice and sugar midnight cocktail. Even my sister knew the signs and gave him orange juice as needed during the day. I didn’t know that when school started in the fall, Mom was so tired from interrupted sleep that she could hardly drag herself to work. I didn’t know that my grandpa, who always acted so calm and caring and looked so dashing in the short sleeved sports shirts he wore unbuttoned at the neck, was losing his sense of judgement. I didn’t know that my grandpa, who gave us handpicked gifts like carved wooden wishing well banks from Canada and red felt cowboy hats with white trim as well as savings bonds for college, had kicked my misbehaving little brother one day. I didn’t know for many years that those were the reasons for my mother’s announcement one night.

“Grandpa Stanton isn’t going to live with us anymore,” Mom explained as we finished supper. “He’s going to live at an old folks’ home in Cedar Falls where there are nurses to take care of him and lots of people to talk to.” She tried to give it a good spin. “Grandpa even knows the director. He was the minister in Nevada when Grandma Stanton was still alive.”

I didn’t know that our minister had been so concerned about Grandpa’s situation that he had come to school, taken Mom out of class, and asked what he could do to assist her. I didn’t know that he had called the director of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Home and made all the arrangements. All I knew was that I didn’t want this grandpa to leave, and I couldn’t imagine that my dad could want his dad to go.

We drove Grandpa to the home the day after Thanksgiving. Earlier in the week our minister had contacted the director of the home, effectively conveying the urgency of the situation.

“We have an opening right now, and we’ll hold it for Cyril,” the director and old friend agreed.

“The only thing is, he has to be able to walk in on his own.”

Mom knew Grandpa was failing fast, so as soon as the turkey leftovers were tucked in the refrigerator, she helped him pack, and the next morning we scrambled into the car. We were a pretty somber crew on the way over, but once we got there, from my vantage point, the old folks’ home was a great place to visit. Of course, I didn’t have to live there. A big statue of a lion stood outside the imposing front door of the many storied brick building that I was sure covered at least three city blocks. As honored grandchildren, we were allowed to climb on the lion and “ride” it. I took the honor very seriously and religiously performed my duty each time we went to see Grandpa.

Once we entered the building, scores of ancient eyes fixed upon us, wrinkled lips croaked greetings. “Look, Mabel,” I heard one starved voice marvel, “children.” Fluttery, shaking hands, moths to a flame, reached out to touch me as I walked by, and I shrank away, moving close to my father’s wheelchair. Sour smells, like the inside of my dad’s urinal, swirled around me, making my nose squinch shut and my mouth wrinkle.

“Jolene, get rid of that face. You’ll hurt their feelings,” Mom whispered.

I tried to smile, but every pungent, sharp breath twisted my face into a lemon. Our shoes clicked on the shiny floors of endless tomblike hallways until we stopped at the doorway of a small room. Grandpa put his luggage on the bed and unpacked. Once he was settled in, we stayed for dinner and visited awhile, gaining fortitude for our return trip which was over three hours tacked on to the three hours plus we’d spent getting here.

Our presence in the dining room presented a political problem. “Why,” one white-haired matron asked a dining room staff person, “do all three of those perfectly darling children get to sit at the same table? It is not fair.”

I searched the dining room, which I estimated was as big as a high school gymnasium, for the three “perfectly darling children”, but couldn’t find them.

“Jolene,” Mom asked, “would you be willing to go sit at the table with that lady?” She pointed to the outspoken matron. “She doesn’t get to eat with children very often. Try and get rid of that sour face and smile,” she advised. “John, you could go sit at that table with those nice men, and Jill, you can stay right there by Grandpa.”

Us? We were the “three perfectly darling children”? I was dumbstruck but willingly trotted over to the white-haired matron who was pulling an empty chair up close beside hers, motioning me over. “Well,” I wondered, “how’m I gonna act ‘perfectly darling’?” By the end of the meal, I was still clueless, but none of my tablemates seemed to mind. They just kept patting my head, offering to cut my meat, asking me questions, treating me as if I was “perfectly darling.” I was basking in the limelight, filled to the brim with the extra desserts they had passed on to me. “Whadda place to live,” I thought. “Grandpa’s got it made.”

Grandpa didn’t have it made. He was lonely, and we visited as often as we could, but the trip took a whole day, and even though we were “perfectly darling children” the moment we stepped into the old folks’ home, we were not always so on the trip there and back. Our first few visits chased away Grandpa’s loneliness, and our entrance into the dining room delighted him to no end.

“Look, Cyril’s darling grandchildren are here again” the cry would go up, and he chuckled as he watched the diners fight over us, the victors carrying us off as spoils to their table-length fiefdoms.

When we went outside for a walk with Grandpa, he handed us dimes. Yes, dimes. “Do you hear that bell?” He and Dad grinned. Mom steered Dad’s chair toward a bench where she and Grandpa sat down.

A magical tinkle of chimes drifted towards me. “What’s that?”

“The Good Humor Man,” Grandpa explained.

I looked blank. My dad was right beside me. Who else could be the “Good Humor Man?”

“The ice cream truck,” Dad translated.

“Oh.”

“Go on,” Grandpa coached. “Wave to the man and buy a treat.”

I obeyed and ran after my sister and brother to the truck. All the way home I tasted the ice cream bar Grandpa’s dime had bought.

I anticipated similar delights as we drove in the parking lot for our next visit, but they weren’t forthcoming. When we got to Grandpa’s room, I noticed his hair was still black, but he looked lots older. When we walked in to greet him, he didn’t look at any of us, just cocked his ear in the direction of the sound. His eyes were vacant, blinded by diabetes, and he couldn’t see how perfectly darling we looked that day. During the following visit we stood beside the bed where he lay unaware of our presence. By Thanksgiving, barely a year after he went into the home, he was dead.

I was too young to grieve, more than superficially, and so was my brother. Grandpa’s loss to me was a loss of creature comforts: unexpected dimes and nickels, a lap to sit upon, a smile that made me feel very loved, a hand to hold, a friend to talk to.

For my father and mother and sister, the grief was much deeper and wrenching. They had lost the one person who had time to give them the wholehearted emotional support they needed. My father and mother lost the last person who had shared their original vision of a hopeful future. My father, without brothers or sisters to comfort him, lost the most enduring link to his childhood.

While I had lost a bearer of sweet gifts, my father had lost his bearings.

Top Ten Things About My Dad

1-Family with Cane

10.  He gave rabbit kisses. No way to describe them. You had to be there.

9.   When I was home sick from school, laying on the couch, he would park his wheelchair beside me, and we would watch Captain Kangaroo together. He laughed as hard as I did.

8.   Having Dad close by in his wheelchair made me feel safe.

7.   He picked Mom’s birthday and Christmas gifts carefully. He looked through the newspaper ads and phoned the store to quiz the clerk for a long time about whatever gift he wanted to buy. Once he made his decision, he arranged to have the gift delivered when Mom was at work.

6.   Dad loved to play cards with friends, but he didn’t play to win. He played to talk.

5.   He was never, ever a picky eater. He ate with gusto whatever was served and always complimented the cook.

4.   Dad never allowed discussions about politics to become cut throat. His most barbed political statement referred to his right arm, severely weakened by multiple sclerosis: It’s my Republican arm. Not good for much of anything.

3.  His thousand-watt smile and sense of humor.

2.   He was always happy to see people. Always.

1.  Dad rarely showed bitterness during his 38 year battle with multiple sclerosis. He was 29 when it was diagnosed, 31 when he required a wheelchair and retired, 54 when he entered a nursing home, and 67 when he died. I am so grateful for his example, his influence, and the years his life intersected mine.

Oh, Dad, I miss you!

In memory of Harlan John Stratton: May 11, 1928–March 4, 1997.