By Lisa Huddleston
Indiana was beautiful, but I am so glad to be heading home. Home. It is a real place now and it is in Tennessee with my sweet husband, my pets, my children nearby, my mom and Chuck’s parents, our church, old friends, and peace. I do have a home.
But I am leaving a part of me behind with my father. It was a tough visit. Just as he and Hazel were stunned to see pictures of grandsons, Nick and Alec—no longer little boys, but young men. The year also brought about huge changes in my father. We visited last July, and he is a little less present now.
However, he hears everything we say. He has thoughts and memories, and he misses what is gone. We couldn’t quite understand it all in a short visit, but we know he is still here. He cares where we eat for dinner. He wants to know how tall the tree we planted near the front door will grow. He tries to break up the clumps of dirt Chuck’s shovel lays at his feet. We can’t write him off yet.
I had a few moments of visceral memory. While Chuck was planting, I started to sing and Dad joined with me. I sang, “I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee.” And he sang along, “My true love for to see.” Surprised, I asked him if he sings much anymore, and he said, “No.” I told him I remembered some songs he taught me and started, “Once I went in swimmin’ where there were no women down by the deep blue sea.” He joined, “Seein’ there was no one there I hung my underwear upon a willow tree.” We finished the bawdy song and laughed together.
Then I said, “Do you remember the song I really loved?” He didn’t until I started it, but he again joined me. “He made the night a little brighter, wherever he would go, the old lamplighter of long, long ago. His snowy hair was so much whiter beneath the candle glow, the old lamplighter of long, long ago. You’d hear the patter of his feet as he went walking down the street. His smile would hide a lonely heart, you see. If there were sweethearts in the park, he’d pass the lamp and leave it dark—“
“Ha, ha, do you remember what you used to say there, Dad?”
“You’d say, ‘He’d pass the lamp and leave a fart!’”
And he laughed until he cried and started to choke, and I laughed and cried, too. A moment.
Later that evening, as we prepared to go to dinner, I asked Chuck to take some pictures of me with my dad. He had on clean clothes, but his hair was all rumpled. I said, “Wait while I fix his hair.” I began to run my fingers through his still auburn hair and notice how clean and soft it was. Then I said, “There.” I sat in a chair besides his and leaned close for the picture. He pulled me tight to his shoulder, leaned his head on mine, and whispered, “I love you, Lee.” I could tell he didn’t want to let me go. I felt the moment and time stilled.
Later that night we said good-bye and headed back to our hotel. We will not be back for some time. I hope he will remember our moments. I will. And I hope we will have time to make some more.