An early dusk settled in last night as I traveled back down the mountain to Wheatland. I like to recount this story each place I visit.
I remembered back to that last time my life slowed down for a few moments on the front porch. It was early June, I sat with my newly graduated senior as we walked through the memories of our journey together.
The air was warmer then and plans were filled with aspirations and excitement with his last summer at home there before us. You could smell the ripe of the lilacs and taste the tart of the lemonade as it went down slow and easy. Tears formed in my eyes when he hugged me and told me he loved me and assured me that he would never be too far away.
Things were changing on that old porch as they always had and as they always will.
Almost the end of March now and a harsh northwest wind had enough of a bite that it left a chill on the inside, and a loneliness knowing that life was passing more quickly with the blur of colors still flying from the trees and dancing around my feet. It reminded me that life, indeed, is just a vapor.
My dad left us in autumn. An October gale came in without warning and the family tree had lost its vibrant color. And suddenly, for the first time in my life, there was an empty chair on our front porch.
When I was young, I felt a security in my dad coming home each night after work and when he wasn’t too tired, we’d go out and play catch before mom would call us in for supper. After dishes were done, he’d dig into his newspaper and a cup of Maxwell House before giving way to “a snooze,” halfway through the second section.
My dad was a blue-collar worker employed at A.O. Smith Company, best known for Harvestore silos. He then was promoted to a managerial position and became the production control supervisor for Wrought Washer Company in Milwaukee.
A quiet man, he was from the generation of postwar fathers who really didn’t share their emotions. There is an entire generation of men who didn’t learn how to open up. Not so much because they didn’t care, but they simply did not know how.
But my dad. He had a soft side. A precious side. He knew that my brother and I were scared of the dark. We had bunk beds. We also had monsters under those beds and dark, silent strangers who lived in our closet. So, yeah… it was pretty intimidating at night.
Dad would come in without fail. Every night. And he would tuck us in and lay down with us and we would sing songs until we were tired and eventually would fall asleep. He would sing goofy songs such as, “Barney Google” and “Eating Goober Peas” and a few old hymns, although I’m pretty sure, “On a hill far away stood an old Chevrolet” didn’t qualify. I can remember I liked motorcycles and he made up a song just for me about Mark’s motorcycle. It was, “The motorcycle song” and I can still sing it for you today.
A few years back I remember the phone call that came when the wild roses of May were beginning to bloom. It was my mom and she had been crying. “Dad’s got stage-four bone cancer,” she said. It took wind out of all of our sails and our sailing craft began to drift on a calm sea before the storm. We knew that by the time, the splendiferous colors of Fall would scatter the front porch, he’d be gone.
I immediately went to work. I went into the recording studio where I was recording some songs on a CD I was working on. I began to record some of those old songs that dad used to sing to me as a kid. And then I wrote him a song for the encore. It’s called “Daddy’s Songs.”
As I was in production, a package came in the mail. Mom sent me a little reel-to-reel tape that she found as she was cleaning out dad’s drawers. Obviously, nobody had reel-to-reel capabilities at the time, so I had my producer dig out an old TEAC unit. To my surprise, it was me and my dad singing when I was about 3 years old. My mom had recorded it.
Being the profound and inspirational producer he was, Greg Brayton managed to mix a bit of that old recording into the new song. It was brilliant. The song came out better than I had imagined.
And so, I created this “mix tape” for my dad, and wasn’t it wonderful how life had come full circle. The same songs that were sung to me as a child, which took away my fears and allowed me to drift into slumber were now on his little CD player and once again, I got to sing with my daddy each night.
The songs he sowed into me as a child, were now tucking him in at his bedside and taking his fears away as he was about to drift into his final days. You never know what that time spent with those you love will yield. He harvested a peace through the greatest storm of his life.
And he passed. He didn’t lose his battle with cancer, he beat it. No more pain. No more sorrow. No more silence. Singing the songs of the ages for all time, and no doubt, every once in a while, as the night wind comes blowing gently past the front porch, I can hear the words… “Once there was a motorcycle down at the store… Mark went to buy that motorcycle.” Goodnight dad.
The song, “Daddy’s Songs” can be heard online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuEa1CHbVKI