I lost my father Saturday. Many of you have been there and know what I'm feeling--the sadness, the loss, and the sense that we've moved into another phase of life. One of my siblings said his death was the end of an era, and she was right in every respect.
My father, Daniel Weary, was eighty-five years old and had suffered the ravages of advanced Parkinson's Disease for many years. He fought back valiantly, never believing until perhaps the last few days that he wouldn't get better, that he wouldn't beat the disease. That attitude was typical. He often said he was the luckiest man in the world, and I wouldn't argue. He was an eternal optimist and a force to be reckoned with. His final illness was the first opponent he didn't manage to bend to his will.
I've been thinking a lot the past few days, searching for my favorite memories of my dad and savoring each one. When he was a young father, before his law career consumed so much of his time and energy, he used to make up bedtime stories for my sister and me (before siblings #3 and #4 arrived on the scene). I still remember the long-running serial about a little girl name Iva Marie, her nurse Nettie Jane, and Tony the taxi driver. They got into and out of outlandish scrapes night after night. I loved it. As I think back, those stories must have had their origin in the radio serials he listened to as a boy in Junction City, Kansas in the 'thirties.
My father also loved to sing and did so often and with great gusto. He was famous (in the family, at least) for his ability to calm a crying baby by dancing while singing the Darktown Strutter's Ball. If you've never heard of it, look it up. He also used to regularly burst into his own renditions of Bess, You Is My Woman Now from the musical Porgy and Bess, the old spiritual Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, and Old Man River from Showboat. I'll never forget the sound of him trying to force his natural tenor to mimic Paul Robeson's deep bass.
When we were growing up, he and my mother used to load the four children into the family station wagon and drive across the endless prairies of Kansas to vacation at the YMCA camp in Estes Park, Colorado. My father drove with single-minded concentration on the road and always required a navigator. On one trip home, I was amazed when he blasted past a huge billboard announcing the home of the Kansas State Highway Patrol at ninety miles an hour. In true poetic irony, a motorcycle trooper had set up a speed trap behind the sign and pulled us over immediately. Later, Dad claimed he had never seen the sign. It was only about thirty feet tall!
He used to barbecue every Sunday evening in the summer, grilling wonderful hamburgers and steaks. It was a real treat because he often worked late so we rarely got to eat dinner together during the week. He was also a big fan of ice cream, especially chocolate and butter brickle. After my husband, daughter, and I moved to Minnesota, Dad found a favorite old-fashioned ice cream shop in our new town and made sure to stop in on every visit. He once asked the proprietor if they could ship to Kansas City.
He was also an intrepid world traveler. He and my mother visited places I shudder to think of and had a long list of incredible adventures. My favorite Christmas card depicts them at ages 78 and 80 flanked by a pair of headhunters in the jungles of Borneo. After age slowed them down a bit, I gave them a world map with colored pins to show every place they'd visited. The end result was quite impressive.
My dad lived life to the fullest, and I will cherish my memories of him for the rest of my days. Goodbye, Pops.