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Have you ever noticed sometimes the simplest thing can become a Defining Moment, radically altering your entire mental landscape in an instant?
Friend of mine, let’s call her “Sharee,” recently was invited to dinner by her ex-spouse for the Jewish holidays. She wished she didn’t have to go. Go! I urged; at least she has family asking her to dinner! Her grown children would be there, all the moneyed cousins, plus food to die for, literally. You know, the proverbial heart attack on a plate some ethnic cooking provides.
Anyway, as an adult-onset orphan, holidays for me can be difficult to endure. Not that my so-called family of origin ever celebrated the Jewish New Year, but still. Nu? Do I sit home waiting for the phone to ring? Hardly. Rather, for $3.99 I purchase a package of latkes in the frozen food section of the supermarket and throw myself my own Potato Pancake Party, complete with chunky applesauce, hold the death-dealing dollop of sour cream.
Before my father suddenly, and surprisingly, exited at age 84, a year after my mom passed, he spent a year or so setting his house, our house, in order. Literally. Roof, furnace, aluminum siding, you name it, he spiffed up that place until you forgot it was just a seven-room Cape Codder. I guess subconsciously I knew as long as Daddy was making home repairs, he’d still be with us awhile longer.
Never a happy camper, for more than half a century of marriage, apparently he had his darkest moods dramatized and acted out for him by my depressive mom. That was their deal: Fascist and Doormat, united until her death a year before his. But my father was a survivor. This is why his sudden, unexplained, self-induced death was so shocking to me, and remains so.
Hospitals had been his country clubs. They met his every need, and he reveled in the attention. As an octogenarian, he had recovered from open-heart surgery for a calcified valve. He actually walked home once from a hospital in the next town after undergoing another medical procedure. He had been successfully treated for diabetes, which included getting yelled at by my mom “not to make a pig” of himself. He had survived an operation for gallstones, which he then kept in a glass jar in the fridge, maybe as a joke about my mom’s cooking. Obviously he had an arcane sense of humor.
Which, at a certain point in time during his final decade of life, he must have lost. He endured the strange, unexplained, possibly accidental death of my mother a few months after her odd home accident. He had even, if barely, survived learning his only son had AIDS, which of course meant, though it was never expressed, his only son was gay.
Daddy’s decision to depart this mortal coil on his own terms came at the end of a long and productive, if conventional, life: the same marriage, the same family, the same job, the same house. Only the cars changed, and cars can carry you only so far.
Since Daddy was an older American, we certainly didn’t expect him to live forever. He had started having Senior Moments, like driving from New Jersey to Philadelphia to visit me for Thanksgiving dinner and then going to park the car and forgetting where my apartment was, so he finally showed up on my doorstep well after dessert. But, in the variegated landscape of his long life, those incidents are mere blips.
More important, who could ever forget the time he backed his car into his garage, gunning the gas instead of putting on the brakes and driving through the rear wall of the garage. Surrounded by rubble, Daddy leaped out of his car just as the kid next door had come running over to see if everything was all right.
What followed was not further disaster. Oh no, not that day. My father proclaimed to that stunned neighborhood kid: “Boy, am I glad I have a piece of the rock!”
I cherish those exultant words of his forever. Even if they really were from an insurance commercial. They remain a touchstone for me. His example has ferried me from annoyance to challenge to disaster to catastrophe, and back. Now I share his insouciance with you, just in case you’re suffering through some bothersome problem or situation. May his sentiments carry you forward to deal with the next temporary bad thing. I promise, you will triumph, in jubilance.
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