I’ve had a crash course in what matters the past couple of weeks. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my niece brought me and my great nieces a piece of news. Her mother-in-law had died overnight. This was the second death in a short time for that part of the family. Her father-in-law had passed away suddenly a few months before.
Sunday we traveled home, only to find out Monday that my father had died Sunday night. I washed the clothes in my bag and put them back in the suitcase for another trip to Kansas.
Oddly enough we had arrived in Kansas the week before just in time for family dinner the day before my father left for Missouri to visit my younger brother. If it had been me driving, we would not have gotten there in time for dinner. My husband likes to leave at the crack of dawn when we’re making a long drive. I do not.
In fact we went back and forth about whether we should even go, finally deciding that we have been around this part of the family enough during the current health crisis and Kansas — Sedgwick County anyway — currently has tougher restrictions than Iowa so it would be safe to go.
Back to Kansas I go.
By the way, the five-and-a-half-hour trip to Wichita turns into a six-hour-or-more trip if you miss Highway 2 and drive through the back roads of Missouri before realizing, “Hey, this doesn’t look familiar,” and turn on your GPS to find your way to Maryville. Just thought you’d like to know.
Along the way, (perhaps this is how I missed the highway) I was counting all of the times in my life that I’ve seen my father. Up until the past few years, I can count the times I remember seeing him on my fingers — maybe I’d need one more hand.
But each of those times, it seems like there was always something I would latch onto to remember it. One year around Christmas we were visiting and I stole some orange slice candies from a glass jar without asking. I still think of that Christmas when I eat orange slices. In fact, I bought some on the way south.
Another time it was oatmeal creme pies. We stopped in a gas station somewhere in Missouri or Kansas and he bought some. Then later we stopped along the side of the road so he could sleep. — He had an El Camino with that pick-up like bed that we were all crammed in the front of. — And I got to eat one (store bought cookies were an unheard of treat for us at that time.) I vividly remember sitting on my mother’s lap and I can almost taste that cookie.
I don’t like oatmeal. I can’t stand the texture of it — especially in cookies. But sometimes I just want an oatmeal creme pie.
When I was in junior high on a rare visit where he actually came to see us rather than us making the trip, he brought me a soapstone beaver he got in Canada while driving a truck. I carried that thing around with me for a year until its tail broke off. I probably still have it somewhere.
Little memories were all I had growing up, but they mattered.
In the past few years, a lot of the memories seem to be gambling related. He loved to gamble and spent quite a bit of time at casinos and playing poker with friends. (He tended to win money too, not like me. I might as well throw my money in a hole rather than a slot machine.)
He took me to the casino for my birthday a few years ago and I actually won $100. Of course, it wasn’t my money to start with so... And then earlier this year we went over to Conway to play Texas Hold ‘Em. So when we were cleaning out his house, and my brother kept asking if I wanted X or Y, the one thing I picked up was a poker chip.
Short intermission here. I thought about calling this column “Throw away your crap so your children don’t have to,” but then I decided it was a bit too soon. Seriously folks, though, you do not need to keep every pen that has ever entered your house or all of the butter and sour cream containers you’ve ever emptied or the tools that you replaced because they were broken.
The most important memory I have of him doesn’t have a memento attached to it. A few years ago when our family was going through a very difficult time, he stepped up. In a way I’d never had him do for me before, he stepped up and was silently there for me. He was there when I couldn’t be and there when I just needed to see a familiar face.
I don’t need a “thing” to remember that feeling.
Make memories. Even if you have to make them on Zoom or Facetime for now. Make small memories and big ones. Keep mementos that spark the feelings surrounding the time spent together and take pictures. I can’t think of any pictures with my father since I was less than three years old — although there may be one from my wedding.
Make memories. You don’t know when it will be your last chance — whether something tragic happens or you just grow apart or that sweet child you love to cuddle grows up into a sullen teenager or that sullen teenager grows up and moves halfway across the country.
Make memories. It matters.
Let me know what matters to you at email@example.com, 641-782-2141 ext. 6433, or c/o Creston News Advertiser, 503 W. Adams St., Creston, Iowa 50801.