Sunday, February 14, 2016
A Letter to My Dad About Some Important Things
Remember the day of Mom’s funeral? It was glorious, mid-August, and if you wanted a word to describe the space between the sunrise and the sunset as a noun, I would say exultation. Butterflies and hawks, all things light and bright and airborne, accompanied us, the yang to the yin of your day…
How many times did you say it doesn’t snow like it used to? Well, you got a beautiful, magical nor’easter that shut down the town. I walked around the block in the morning before the funeral Mass, the first to make tracks along Main Street in the kind of snow that whispers and sparkles.
As we drove to the cemetery, we were the only ones on the road, save for your distinguished guides lining either side of the street—those elegant old East Hampton trees, heavy and proud with snow like kindly wizards.
Three members of the Honor Guard were waiting for us at the cemetery, standing at attention in their dress blues, snow on their eyelashes. I can see now the white gloves that folded your flag with such love and care…I bet you know, of course, it takes 2 officers and 12 different folds, ending in a triangle of white stars on a blue ground, a sliver of starlit sky to guide you on your way.
And their faces, so full of reverence for a member of their Navy family. I saw in their eyes what your service meant to you—and I’m sorry, and kind of embarrassed, I didn’t understand sooner. My feelings about the military were colored more by what I had seen about Vietnam, but everyone says, and you should know, how special the WWII veterans are. My friend Kathy told me that her father, who would have been 91, enlisted in the Navy when he was just 17. “You probably didn’t get it back then," she said, “because these veterans didn’t talk or boast about their service at all.” I am making you a promise that I will submit your name and a photo to the online World War II National Registry.
I can see you nod and smile… I think that means I have the go-ahead : )
After the flag was presented to George, a bugler played Taps. I also think you told me, though I mustn’t have been listening, how beautiful and perfect that song is. The notes shimmered through the snow like golden leaves becoming, swelling, not wanting to leave quite yet, the first notes ever played of the last song in the world.
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
And the snow, it kept coming, swirling and whirling like we were inside that most beautiful mystery with you. It fell on the white roses that we left for you, blossoming in the middle of winter in your enchanted forest. Each snowflake a koan, and each petal an answer..
Is being the same as to be?
Or is becoming bigger than being?
Was the first song heard by the listener or the musician?
Did you hear the roses bloom in the snowfall?
One easy answer: What we decided to sing to you in closing after Father said the prayers. We sang loudly. We sang strongly. I sang it like I always sing this song, like you’re right there next to me and singing it with me…
Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if we never get back.
For it’s root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game!
So you know, we were also joined at the cemetery by a couple who was wandering by the church and attended your Mass. Afterward they came up and hugged me and said that even though they didn’t know you before, they felt like they did now (Confession: During Mass, several of us kind of talked a whole lot about you and shared some of your best stories.)
Leave it to you to make new friends at your funeral. : )
All my love,
I love this song, and especially this version. A honky-tonk cellblock “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” kinda.