At some point life boils what’s in your crucible down to the salt of you. It did to me. June 28, 2008. My husband died.
It has been a long and incredible journey of grief and healing, of learning things I didn’t want to learn, of giving up things I didn’t want to give up, of building a whole new life. As hard as it was to fathom that I had to build anew, it was a given. It happened by default. The old life existed no more. As much as I tried to gather in all the residuals of that old life, I could not.
My journey of loss, grief, and rebuilding is presented in a memoir published in 2013: Remember the Dragonflies. It’s all there: the loss, the raw pain, the sheer agony, how I dealt with the pain, how I dealt with the “why” of it, and walking up that road of rebuilding. It’s a long, hard journey.
Now, I can say that I am well, I have coped, I am content with my life, I am happy. Yes, I miss him.
Seven is the number of completeness … and rest. And so I leave it with that. I am complete, at rest, at peace.
Ray Hardy was my father. Or should I say “is” my father? Can you ever use past tense on a father?
Yes, I guess you can. There are a couple of others I have been associated with, who came into my life, wore the label for a time, then left, and have no lasting meaning to me. Dad is the only father to ever have meaning.
Dad lived an honorable life. He was faithful and dependable and took care of his family. I sometimes wonder how he did it. A boy growing up on a poor Kemper County, Mississippi, cotton farm in the Depression … a young man surrounded by the enemy at Bastogne one cold Christmas facing an almost certain death … a man five years later celebrating Christmas in a warm, new house with a new baby girl. His past formed him and gave him something to pass on to his children. Something lasting, something I have to this day. Something that lets me be proud of who I am and proud to call Ray Hardy my father.
I wrote the following story in a creative nonfiction workshop about five years ago. My father died in 2006 at the age of 84.
The Last Pump
“I’ll do it,” he says, and scrambles out of the car before I can object.
Even though I am three decades out of my father’s care, when I go home for a visit, he considers it his place to ride with me to the service station at the corner of Highway 8 and Bishop Road, pump my gasoline, and pay for it. The car is his domain. The car, his car, my mother’s car, my car. He makes it his business to check everybody’s oil level and to make sure their tires are properly inflated and their tags not expired. He’s reached eighty, been doing this a long time, isn’t likely to change.
His hands shake as he removes the nozzle from the gas pump and inserts it. The metals rattle against each other as he tries his best to hold it steady with both hands. The shaking has gotten so bad he can barely carry a cup of coffee from the pot to the table.
His hair is white as the clouds gathering around us, white as the cotton on stalks across Bishop Road, but his eyes still have the blue of his youth, the same blue as the jeans he wears. The pointy-toed cowboy boots he bought at Williams Brothers Store aim toward the pump, and we stand there together watching the numbers roll, adding up the count, as a breeze blows across the flat fields and brushes our faces.
I look down at his trembling hands, marbled with black spots from blood thinner and brown ones they call “liver spots,” though I don’t know why. His liver is fine. It’s just everything else.
As a child I stood in those hands, my feet flat on his palms, and he’d lift me high in the air and I’d balance, like a cheerleader with a beaming smile and pompoms. Those hands held scissors close to my eyes and cut a straight line of bangs, they filled out my offering envelope for Sunday School, they dealt a dollar allowance every Saturday night.
His father’s hands shook, too, and he once told me how his grandfather had palsy so bad he had to suck his coffee out of a cup with a piece of hollowed-out sugar cane, like a straw. Hand tremors cut right down the Hardy line.
The wind rocks the front section of his hair to the right of the part. His hair is always perfect, sprayed in place with Consort For Men, Extra Hold. He fusses over it and tells us to be sure and get it right when the day comes that he is in his casket, dressed for the viewing—“You only have to fix the right side,” he says. “It’s all that shows.”
He holds the pump firmly to the car until gasoline flows over and out and down the side of my Subaru, down the tire well, like a waterfall with the sound of a trickling flow, onto the concrete, already stained with oil and cigarette butts and chewed-up gum.
“Tha’s enough, tha’s enough.” I grab the nozzle to shut it off.
“How’d that happen? I better clean it up.”
“No, it’s okay. You go pay. I’ll take care of it.”
My own hands shake as I put the nozzle back and wipe up the mess, then toss the soiled paper towel in the garbage. The pungent odor of it stings my nose and makes my eyes water. I can smell it on my hands.