The second letter was from the Fall of1967.
Carmen had already graduated from National, accepted her first teaching position in Waukegan, Il, and was well on her way establishing herself as an excellent Primary School Teacher (I may be a little prejudiced, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better teacher for the little ones).
My Dad had had his lung cancer operation during the summer and seemed to be on his way to a full recovery. My Mom, I thought, was breathing a sigh of relief that my Dad was doing so well.
I was in my senior year at National College of Education, the president of the Drama Club, and instrumental in starting a new drama fraternity at the college. I was getting A’s and B’s in my classes, and I found 2 part time jobs on campus – no more running to the bus or El, or hitching a ride to get to work. My parents agreed that if Carmen and I separated for a year, and still wanted to get married, they would give their full blessings. Carmen agreed as well. All seemed to be good. The present, although not perfect, looked like everything was falling into place.
Over my Dad’s objections I bought a 51 canary yellow Studebaker from a friend who was going to complete his missionary obligation for his church, and needed the cash. Can you imagine buying a car for $50.00?
It was as foolish a thing to do as my Dad thought. I had no money for insurance or maintaince, but I was young and pretty much took advantage of that excuse in doing something so dumb. I could visit Carmen on weekends and finally have a bit of freedom. I was even a bit of a bigshot for a while on campus. I was a senior and one of the few kids that had a car. Eventually, I wised up and sold it for the same price I paid, luckily for me just before the water pump fell apart.
There’s nothing in the letter that’s bad other than the knowledge I disobeyed my Dad and got the car. He thanked me for helping him to do something – business related, I’m sure. Most importantly, he told me how much he loved me. It’s a beautiful letter, and one I will cherish. But it dredged up memories I wish I had left in the back file of my brain.
Christmas came and before I knew it, I returned to college thinking my Dad was okay, and everything was working out as planned.
You can imagine my shock when my Mom asked me to come home the end of January, 1968 because my Dad was dying.
At first I didn’t believe her. He was so strong when I left for school. How could he be so sick now? I was in full denial, but came to my senses and took a leave of absence from school. I got home on the 29th and he died the 30th.
Ten years later my Mom died… on the 31st.
A gnawing sense of dread has been playing around in my gut ever since Carmen came home from the hospital just before Thanksgiving. I haven’t put up a single Christmas decoration – not even a flag. I thought the house would sparkle again like it used too with a different Christmas scene in every window, and every room decorated. I was trying to figure out how I could put up Santa and his reindeer like I used to look like he was taking off. But something – I couldn’t figure out what – prevented me from decorating.
Remember when I asked about coincidence? My Mom got a hospital bed for him, so my Dad was in the living room with the TV in plain sight on the other side of the room. For her own reasons Carmen decided that the stairs, even with the chair lift, is too much for her, so she’s been sleeping in the living room on a futon bed almost in the exact position as my Dad in 68.
It didn’t occur to me until I got Dad’s letters that there is a parallel between his illness and Carmen’s – the seriousness of the operations, the timing, the close calls and the position of the beds in the living room. The major difference is the doctors say there’s no sign of cancer in Carmen’s condition. She’s strong, but still there’s an underlying weakness that prevents her from venturing outside the house.
The uncanny similarities are frightening. The year of our personal hell – 50 years after my Dad – my Dad and my Carmen. The coincidence of grave illness, the promise of hope and health, the assumptive expectation of a good ending to a horrible challenge are pretty much the same. It’s like reliving an old nightmare.
Being afraid… I guess that just comes with living. There’s always something to be afraid of – our health, protecting our loved ones, losing a job, world politics, and whether or not we’re doing the right thing. Each of us has a personal fear that can paralyze us and keep us from living the life we were meant to live.
What was…was. What will be… will be. I have no control over these things. The mistakes of the past are merely lessons if I learned from them. I can regret making them, but I can’t correct them. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I can look out the window on a bright, sunny, 50 degree day and wonder if we’ll really get the snow storm that’s predicted in the next day or 2. All I can control is what I do right now – at this moment. I won’t spoil today, because I’m concerned about tomorrow.
My Dad enjoyed John Wayne movies. One of Wayne’s better quotes is, “Courage is being afraid and saddling up anyway.”
I have no idea what the next month and a half are going to bring. But I know my Dad wouldn’t want me to worry about the future when there’s so much joy to be had in the present.
I think conquering fear depends upon recognizing it for what it is and facing it head on. It’s time I saddled up.
Thanks for the letters Dad. You’re still teaching me how to be a man!
I still have time to make the house sparkle a bit. Maybe not like I had hoped, but…
I have an idea for the large window that just might work. I can still get the house to look like Christmas. I can use that dark material I bought to… and if I can find the…. And put the large golden star … and the lights. What will I do for lights? Oh yeah! I have that set of lights for outside….
Hold and cherish your loved ones, and tell them you love them. Don’t wait. I got 2 letters to remind me that love can reach out across the decades and touch you in profound ways. But there’s nothing better than living in the present, and no better gift than letting someone look into your eyes when you say, “I love you.” And there’s nothing like looking into their’s when they reply, ” I know… I love you too.”
Merry Christmas Everyone!
PS There are a lot of people who are suffering today and will throughout the holiday season. Some are sick, or alone, or dealing with some great challenge in their lives – sickness, living in uncontrollable fear, or the death of a loved one. Please remember them in your prayers this Christmas. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
PPS. Here’s a Christmas Challenge – Wherever you go… Whatever you do… Make someone smile.