Dad was very unhealthy from 1973 forward, and was forced to take an early retirement from his electrician job at the Kingston Steam Plant, in
Dad lived his life in a rush. He was never satisfied to just stay in one place and enjoy his surroundings or those around him for very long. I will always remember how he pushed us on the weekends he wanted to go “down home” to get in the car and get the trip started. That was the reason I always had to relieve myself in a soda bottle (see Chapter 25), and mom and I had to grab a quick sandwich at a drive-in and eat it while he continued to head down the two-lane highway at 65 and 70 MPH, passing everything he could, and cussing those he could not.
However, as soon as it was sun-up the next morning, at Ma and Pa Mashburn’s in Five Points, Tennessee, he was urging mom to get things together so we could move on down to Lexington, Alabama for our next visit with Grandmother Williams. Then, as soon as the sun was up on Sunday he was dropping hints about getting back on the road home.
Sometimes mom would lay the law down that she was “…visiting my mother for as long as I want this trip!’
This caused him to mope around the yard or in the woods, smoking Camels, until he again got the courage to plead his case that it was time to get on the road “…or we won’t get home before dark!”
A doctor once told my mom, a few years before he died, that his internal organs were about twenty years older than his chronological age. “He’s just living his life as fast as he can,” the doctor told my mother.
Thankfully I have learned to slow down and appreciate the life around me, and I think
Corey was born in August of 1974, while I was working as the advertising manager at The Roane County NEWS, and it was about this time that dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer. If you remember, it was about this time that Hubert Humphrey was also diagnosed. Humphrey elected to have his bladder removed, but dad decided he would take the chemo treatments, because he did not want to be stuck “peeing in a bag” for the rest of his life.
Looking back, this was a bit selfish on his part, because Humphrey lived until 1978, having elected for the surgery, giving his family that much more time to love him.
During dad’s final hospitalization, I juggled work, running home at lunch to see and photograph Corey, and dropping by the hospital to shave and feed him in the afternoons. I can remember the lotion smell and greasy feel of his skin as I leaned over him running the electric shaver up and down his face and throat.
I pray to God that I never live long enough to become dependant on someone like that, or to get that hospital sponge bath, and then be lathered up with some generic lotion. Please God!
I would often talk about Corey and show dad pictures I had taken and developed. One day he looked up at me and said, “Don’t love him too much son, it would hurt too much if something happened to him.”
I was shocked! I froze, looking down at him and holding a spoon full of mashed potatoes. A fury rose in me that I tried to choke down, but I could not hold it all back.
I had always been pissed at him for not doing more with my brother. Every time I mentioned that he should take Wade hunting or fishing, he would say, “We’ll do all that when I retire.” After he became sick, before he could retire healthy, I just held it all inside, rather than start an argument.
So, at that moment I could no longer hold it inside. I shouted at him, “So, is that what you did to Wade and me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, did you not love us ‘too much’ so YOU wouldn’t be hurt if something happened to us? Is that what you did?”
Frankly, I do not remember if there was any further exchange to that conversation. I do remember storming out of the hospital and crying all the way home. It was just too much to hear that your own father held back showing his love because he did not want to miss me too much if I died!
As he got worse, as the days progressed, he became more and more irritable with everyone, but, it seemed, especially with me.
“Do you want another bite of meat? Do you want another sip of milk? Do you need another pillow?”
“Don’t ask me so many damn questions,” be finally blurted out one day through his obvious pain and frustration.
This was a common exchange that I often overlooked, but sometimes I would drop the spoon, or fork, and just walk away.
After that final explosion of frustration, I went home. Later that night I got a call from my mom telling me that he had passed away. So, the words “Don’t ask me so damn many questions,” will forever ring in my head as the last thing he ever said to me.
I have since blamed the final exchanges on the disease, but I could not help taking it to heart. I am, after all, a little boy, even at sixty-one, still trying to grow up in many ways. I longed to hear my father tell me he was proud of me, that he loved me, and that I was a man. Somehow, I find it hard to really “grow up” without having ever heard that from my dad.
I have, however, endeavored to never let my son, or my granddaughters, feel that way. I want them to know I am proud of them and that I love them more than my own life. I have never held anything back, even at the risk of hurting more than I could ever bear should something ever happen to either of them.
My response is always the same, “So why didn’t he ever just say it - just once?”
People that met my dad loved him almost immediately. He was funny and engaging and never seemed to meet a stranger. I am not that freely engaging, but I do have his sense of humor.
I am appreciative of that gift, but it would have been nice to have heard those words, just once.