Tuesday, September 07, 2004

LA Stories (Part II)

There are times in life — and they don’t happen very often — that make me sit up and really take notice; moments of clarity that surprise me; thoughts that mark time, and usually make me feel stupid for not being aware of them sooner. The fifteen dollar word for such an occurance is epiphany, but there’s another term I like better. I can’t remember which teacher it was, but one of my high school instructors had a name for the phenomenon. He called it an “Ah-HA! Moment.” I think you know what I’m talking about. When something you hadn’t previously realized becomes suddenly apparent? When that little image of a light bulb appears over your head and clicks on? Yeah, one of those.

I had an ah-HA! moment early in my recent vacation to California. And as with most others, my ah-HA! was quickly followed by a well, DUH! moment, because of the obviousness of it all.

So just what was it that suddenly enlightened me?

Reality sets in
After arriving at LAX on Tuesday evening, I decided to stay in a motel (a decision for which I would be roundly chastised by a number of people throughout the week) in the Long Beach area. I would then head out to my Dad’s place in Hemet, CA (a desert community near Palm Springs) on Wednesday morning. I had procured tickets for me and Pop for the Anaheim Angels baseball game that night. So the plan was that we would go to the game, come back, I would spend the night and the better part of Thursday out there, and then return to the Long Beach area to spend the night with my friends Randy and Linda, Thursday night. In hindsight I realize now that perhaps I forced a bit too much activity into an already non-stop busy week. Taking nothing away from how great it was to see Randy and Linda, the time with my Dad and his new wife, Helen was simply too short.

I suppose my epiphany was borne of my writing about him and the amount of thinking I’ve done about him over the past few months. As I mentioned previously, I delivered hard copies of several of my blog stories to him in a notebook that he read over the course of those two days. The more he read, the more he expressed to me how thrilled he was with what I’d done. We spent the bulk of our time talking about the years surrounding our lives in Indiana and my Mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Through the course of those conversations I really became aware of just how much time has marched on, and how much water has flowed under the bridges of both our lives.


It finally sunk into my thick skull that my Dad, at age 81, is getting older, and that the time has come for me to stop taking him for granted. It finally dawned on me that I should no longer assume that he would always be there whenever I decided to take the time to travel to California to visit him, and that I had better savor every bit of him that I can while he’s still with me. That’s when I decided that I would no longer wait for a reason to come up to go see him — because that may not be an option for too much longer. I resolved to begin making regular, frequent trips to see him, rather than waiting for him to come see me, or for years to pass in between. Previous to this summer, I hadn’t seen my Dad in three years, and that is simply too long a lapse at this stage of his precious life for me ever to allow to happen again.

Dad and Helen

This is not to indicate that Dad’s days are imminently numbered. Aside from a little trouble he’s been having with his knee, he’s in excellent health. Following his heart bypass surgery in 2002, he’s trimmed down and is as svelte as anytime I can remember seeing him. He’s vivacious, alert, and can still talk the leg off of a chair. He’s the same person he has always been, which, I suppose, is the reason it has always been so easy for me to take his age for granted. Apart from the mild heart attack, which precipitated the bypass surgery, Dad has always been the picture of health. There have never been any “warning signs” that he was fading, or that he was in any way coming to the end of his long and wonderfully eventful life.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame
In what has become somewhat of a tradition (well okay, we’ve only done it twice, but ya gotta start somewhere), that evening, Wednesday night, I took my Dad to see our favorite MLB team, the Anaheim Angels. While we were there a football game broke out! No, guys weren’t tackling each other, but there was definitely some hurtin’ goin’ on. The Angels put up a football-like score on the Kansas City Royals, 21-6 (the Royals missed the extra point…)! It was a great game for the home crowd. And we had awesome seats too, courtesy of my friend Cindy, who I’ll talk more about in the next entry. We arrived an hour and a half early to the game and just enjoyed the ambiance of the beautifully re-conditioned Angels Field of Anaheim. It’s a gorgeous ballpark and this was the first time I’d been there since before the refurbishment. The game was obviously a romp, but was memorable for more than just the score. Jeff DaVannon, who is essentially a utility outfielder for the Angels hit for “The Cycle,” which means he had a single, double, triple, and homerun in a single game. This is one of baseball’s rarest offensive feats, with only an average of two or three of them accomplished per year. In fact, since Major League Baseball’s inception in 1869, the Cycle has been neck-and-neck with the “No-Hitter” as one of the game’s most outstanding rarities. In the last 50 years it has actually been slightly even more rare than the no-hit, no-run game. So needless to say, DaVannon’s Cycle was a treat that was special, and one we will never forget. But in all honesty, the guy could have struck out 5 times and it wouldn’t have diminished the specialness of just being at a ballgame with my Dad.

When we returned from the game, I was happy to see my brother TK napping on the couch waiting up for us. He went to a lot of trouble and drove several hours from a business meeting to come out to see me, if but only for a little while. I wish we’d had longer; it was the first time I’d seen him in over four years. The three of us sat up drinking coffee and talked about TK’s kids, business and presidential politics until the wee hours of the morning before he had to get back home to Pasadena, another nearly two-hour’s drive away. His current business venture would have him in meetings early in the morning.

…and an order of nostalgia on the side
Thursday morning Dad and I went out to breakfast at one of his favorite local coffee shops, and we talked some more over bacon, eggs and flapjacks. He told me that in light of what I’d done with my blog, that he might want to take some time in the near future to write out some of his own memories, to tell his own story.

A few years ago my Stepsister had given Dad an outline she downloaded off of a genealogy web site. It asks questions about a person’s life and memories, and provides a corresponding space to answer and elaborate. He pulled out the manila folder he brought along to show me the worksheets. The pages were still vacant, waiting to be filled with memories. “This always seemed like it would be a good idea, but I’ve just never gotten around to it,” he said. I enthusiastically encouraged him to take the time, and told him that I would love to see what he could come up with. He seemed genuinely excited about it. Hopefully he’ll follow through.

He suggested that I could use his notes to combine with mine to possibly include in a complete family history at some point. So I guess I’ve now been anointed the keeper of the family chronicle, which is in itself a mind-blower to me. My new stepmother was also extremely complimentary of the blog stories, and stopped just short of insisting that I write a book about the family someday. She told me, “I’m not even a part of this family (she and Dad were married in December 2001), and I’d buy it! Your stories are that interesting!” That obviously made me feel pretty good.

Speaking of Helen, in addition to the wonderful quality time I got to spend with my Pop for the two days I was there, it was also extremely nice to get to know her a little bit too. This was only the second time I had met her (officially, anyway — I had actually met her briefly as just a friend of my Dad when I was out for Maxine’s funeral in 2000). I had spoken to her a little on the telephone, but the only other face-to-face encounter was a few months earlier in May of this year when Michelle and I were on our second honeymoon trip and spent a day with them on our way up to Santa Barbara. Helen is a wonderful companion for my Dad, and I’m so glad he has her. She lost her husband of 57 years to cancer several years ago. She essentially keeps to her self when it comes to the lives of my Father’s boys, but my brother, TK, has grown quite close to her, and now I feel as though she and I have bonded as well. However I told her that I really couldn’t call her “Mom” as TK does, but she completely understood, saying that she could never call her own stepfather “Dad” even when she was growing up and still living at home.

We spent the afternoon looking at old photo albums, and boxes of old, loose photographs of Dad and my Mother, Annie, dating from the 1930s to the 1960s. I was genuinely surprised when he told me to take whichever ones I wanted. He said that he preferred that I get them now, as opposed to taking the chance that something might happen to them after he was gone. I felt so honored. Among the photos were a few of a young, beautiful Annie, one of which I knew — her high school graduation photo — but a few that I’d never seen before. Dad also gave me several portrait photos of him that I hadn’t seen in many, many years, but most of which I recognized from childhood.

As the afternoon wore on, I realized that I needed to get going to keep my dinner arrangement in Huntington Beach with my Thursday night host, Randy, my good friend and former business partner. But I didn’t want to go. Finally at around 3:30, I began saying my good-byes and collecting my things. I had a 2-hour drive ahead into the teeth of Orange County rush hour traffic.

The time with my Dad went fast, as it always seems to do, but it was among the richest stretches of time I can ever remember spending with him. It caused me to realize how much richer I am as a man in his presence. It reminded me just how very valuable those riches are. It convinced me that I need to get as much of him as I can, while I still can.

Well, DUH!

* * * * * * * * *

Note: I had more than just the intention of getting Dad's reaction to my blog stories when I gave them to him to read. I also wanted to have him check them for accuracy. A lot of what I had to go on in writing my family recollections were only childhood memories, and while I did do a lot of research to verify dates and places, I also ended up getting some details incorrect, which he called to my attention on his first reading. I have made some of those corrections to the individual stories already, and will make more immediately following this series. I will then detail all of my faux pas and make the proper retractions for the record in a postscript blog entry.

Next: Friends
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