“Dad, why don’t you use a clean mug, you have plenty of them in the cupboard,” I said.
“No, I like this one. It’s mine.”
I should have just kept quiet about the whole mug thing. Arthur was not one to flaunt his opulence, if you want to call a cupboard full of mugs opulent. He would think more than one mug was one too many.
“Dad, how come you and Mom never go on a vacation?” I asked him several years ago when they were both young enough to travel and in good health. “Where the hell would we go?” he replied. “And besides,” he said, “I have my own paradise right in my back yard with miles of garden to look after.”
He left the kitchen and headed toward the back door. This was his smoking time; right after a meal or, as he often said, when his nerves were rattled. “I’m just going out to calm my nerves,” he would say to whoever was listening. He made his way back into the kitchen and put his dirty mug back in the dishwasher, then went to sit in the living room where, as he would say, you could really live it up! A joke or a cynical remark would always be made about the current topic of discussion. Arthur was a man who enjoyed a good joke, a prank or a fascinating story.
He picked up his book. He always had a book on the go. Being a self-educated man, reading was his favorite pastime. Perhaps this is where my love of reading began. One summer afternoon, when I was twelve or thirteen, I was so bored I didn’t know what to do with myself. Dad came into my room and handed me a book. “Here, read this,” he said. “When you’re finished reading it, I want you tell me about it – if you liked it and if you thought it was a good story.”
Wow, I thought to myself at the time, Dad wants me to tell him about this book and not the other way around? This was a momentous time for me; my dad was actually asking for my opinion. The book was Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny. That summer was the summer my reading habits went wild. I read and read until suddenly I wasn’t bored anymore. When I finished reading The Caine Mutiny, he gave me a book by Ernest Hemingway called For Whom the Bell Tolls. I loved both of those books and still have them in my library today. They’re precious to me, as they not only represent the beginning of a beautiful relationship with books, but also the beginning of what I considered to be a somewhat grown up dialogue with my father.
He sat down in his favorite chair, the one with the tall back and the arm rests. He picked up the latest Larry McMurtry book off the side table, pulled out his glasses from his shirt pocket and started to read. He could read through anything – wars, famine or feasts. That was my dad. Several years ago, he told me about a dream he’d had. In it, there was an earthquake. The house shook, he told me, and it seemed like the end of the world. He shot out of bed and ran out the door, until he realized he had a family back in the house that he was supposed to protect. So he ended up going back into the house as it started to crumble away, and then he woke up. I said to him, “You mean you didn’t save us?” “No,” he told me. “I guess it’s every man for himself around here.”
“Dad,” I said to him as he sat in his favorite chair.
“Hmmm,” he replied.
“Dad, I think I’ll be going soon. Is there anything I can do for you while I’m here?”
“Well, you could be quiet while I’m trying to read.”
“Ok, point taken. Love you too,” I said to him. ‘Hmmm’ was his reply.
The word ‘love’, ‘I love you’ or any of those things were never mentioned to Arthur. They made him nervous, I think. He only once told me he loved me. It was after a very painful event in my life, and even then it was from the confines of his room, not up close and personal and not with a hug or even a handshake.
Before my father died, I did get a chance to sit with him and talk about life and our life together as a family. We made quite the pair: he, the ever-stoic father and I, the blubbering daughter. He told me he had no regrets. He was a firm believer in heaven and expected to get there; one free pass through the pearly gates. He also made it clear that he didn’t want any crying or carrying on over his death. Arthur made it known that he would be in charge even on his deathbed.
I called out goodbye as I left the house through the garage.
“Bye,” he said.
He would spend some quiet moments alone in the living room, living it up with his favorite book before getting up to make dinner. When it was time to have his tea after supper my father would no doubt go back to the dirty mug and use it one more time.
Photos courtesy of Martha Farley – all rights reserved