Snowed hard again the other day. Mostly melted by the next day. Can you believe we’ve had two blizzards in late April ? Yeeeesh. I know how you like your Minnesota weather updates.
Work is good. Clients are clients. Traveling less these days, which is great.
I’m going to New York in a few days. No, really, dad. I’m going to stay for a month. I’m working on the third book in a series and it takes place in New York. I’m going to live there during May, in the neighborhood of Chelsea. Should be fun. I’m terrified.
I’d like to talk to you about it.
I’m not sure what I’d expect you to say. You’d grunt. Awkwardly assemble some encouraging phrase. You would remind me of times I succeeded in the past and say something like, “You’re good at this sort of thing.”
I could always tell two things about your affirmations. First, they were always hard and angular for you to say aloud. Over the years I definitely got the impression that when you were a kid, nobody made much effort to tell you that you were wonderful. As a parent you sometimes stumbled finding the words, words you never grew up hearing. Mom used to tell you that you were wonderful, but I don’t think anyone encouraged you much as a child.
The second thing I could always tell was how much you meant it, even if the words were angular and unsure. You meant it. You tried hard to show us all your love. It was you, in your fifties, who originated the big hugs, more than pat-on-the-back hugs, squeezing us hard to show us all you loved us that much.
I miss you, Pops.
We all do.
We talk about you all the time. Whenever the five of us eat a meal together, we toast you with milk or cocktails, whatever is available. I don’t know when you talked to Matt last, but he’s dating someone. We all like her a lot. She is funny and smart and they are sweet together. Eileen moved into her new place. She decorated it beautifully. Andrea went to Israel and brought us all water from the Dead Sea. That was cool.
On the phone, Mom and I will often laugh over something ridiculous you said. Not long ago, we remembered the night you smoked three dozen cigarettes *at once* as a prelude to quitting smoking. You couldn’t bring yourself to throw them away because cigarettes were so expensive. Mom recalled the long-ago Sunday you broke the church’s new crucifix moments before it was to be blessed by a visiting bishop. The bishop entered the sacristy to find you holding Jesus’ broken body in both hands.
Legend has it he looked at you, shook his head, and said, “Oh, Joe.”
Good one, Pops.
Then, mom and I get quiet and talk about the things we miss. Your voice. Your absurd expressions, especially feigned innocence. Your quiet.
Sometimes I call home when I think mom won’t be around so I can hear you on voicemail. We persuaded mom not to change the outgoing message so we can all hear your voice from time to time. Your wrist watch alarm still goes off at 1:00 p.m. every single day. The watch alarm you never discovered how to disarm is now important to us. Whoever is in the house when it starts beeping yells out, “Hi Dad!”
Mom considers it your daily check in.
Mom’s doing good.
She keeps herself busy with church work, volunteering and many house projects. She still works in the yard and washes the kitchen floor on her hands and knees. She hosted Easter brunch for all the families a few weeks ago. She made the egg dishes, ham, salads, and the yummy apricot coffee cake dribbled with frosting and carefully-placed jelly beans. Everyone brought the usual dishes and they loved it.
Your church friends miss you. They tell stories about you after mass each morning. Mom recently told me how, years ago in front of your morning mass group, Father Garrity said, “Joe, tomorrow it’s your patron saint’s day today, St. Joseph the Worker.” In your dry voice you said, “He’s not my patron saint. I follow St. Joseph the Idler.” Aunt Barbara and mom recently remembered that line together and shared a good laugh at the conversation that followed.
I know Clarice and Ed miss you. They plan things for mom to do – trips, dinners, prayer groups. They keep her busy.
I remember the last time you were in the hospital, two months before your death. I walked in Sunday morning and you were laughing heartily, your face shining. I was a little shocked and, for a second, I believed you might get better. I could hear other laughter as I came into the room and soon saw Ed and Clarice, yours and mom’s two best friends. They were chortling.
I kissed you on the head and said, “You look good. You must have had a energizing visit from great friends.”
You beamed and said, “I did. But they left. Then Clarice and Ed showed up.”
Ed howled with laughter.
I say shit like that sometimes.
Pops, I think I may have inherited your obnoxiousness.
Hey, want to hear a weird coincidence?
I have had it in the back of my head for weeks now to send mom a huge bouquet of flowers on May 1st. It’s May Day and mom used to make May Day baskets with flowers for grandma and all her friends. Do you remember? Little construction-paper baskets with fragile Spring violets and lilies of the valley pulled from our yard. Home baked treats. Love notes to grandma’s octogenarian friends, reminding them we were happy they were part of our family.
May 1st is also the first day I’m going to be in New York City. It’s a big day.
I thought of sending flowers to her for Easter but something in me said, “No, wait until May Day.”
The flowers would be my way of reassuring mom while I am in New York. She’s nervous about my upcoming trip. The flowers would say, “Don’t worry about me. I’m going someplace new but you will see me again. In the meantime, I’m having an adventure.”
Yesterday I called mom to update her on the April blizzard (she likes the Minnesota weather updates too) and on the phone, she reminded me that May Day, May 1st, will be the two year anniversary of your death. You died two years ago.
I don’t know if I blocked the offending day from consciousness or perhaps I genuinely forgot. I have too many thoughts in my head; some dates are bound to slip. I dunno. When I realized I forgot you died on May 1st, I immediately got sad, wondering how I could possibly forget the miserable day you left us.
But then I was comforted by the thought that maybe I didn’t exactly forget. Maybe the strong, insistent notion to send mom flowers on May Day was actually a subtle communication from you.
Maybe you wanted to send a message to mom, saying, “Don’t worry about me. I’m someplace new but you will see me again. In the meantime, I’m having an adventure.”
I signed the florist card, ‘From all of us who love you.’
The wording is a little awkward, I know. But it’s sincere.
I learned from the best.