Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sailing-A Postscript

No less than four years after the conversation I recounted with my dad above, he was dead from lung cancer, at the age 52.

Because he was an ornery German, and because he possessed a durable constitution hardened by finishing concrete and laying brick his entire adult life, he was able to fight the disease off for the better part of three years. The doctors said that his ability to withstand the ravages of cancer was something of a miracle.

During the pendancy of his cancer, the old man sort of got used to my being a "college boy." I was putting myself through college out of necessity, only slightly less so from pride. There was no way I would have let him pay any money to help, even if he had money to help, so he was on the sidelines of the game whether he liked it or not. Once he figured out that I wasn't going to be a freshman dropout (something he had done once he "knocked up" my mother with what turned out to be my oldest sister), and once he got over my joining the Marine Corps, we actually became fairly close in his waning days.

On a cold day in December I took a greyhound bus home from college to visit him at the hospital. It was the consensus of the family clan that this stint at the hospital might be his last. Upon seeing him when I walked in, hair fallen out and a mere shadow of the former shadow he had become, it looked like the family was right. After small talk and mostly awkward silences, I was able to tell my father that I had been accepted into one of the top law schools in the country. He was speechless, a combination of exhaustion and, I think, surprise.

It became time to leave. We shook hands. His hands still had the same familiar callouses, callouses from a life of hard work, a life of hard work with one's hands. We hugged. As I was walking out of his room, I heard over my shoulder his pet name for me in a raspy, urgent voice. I turned to see my father smiling at me, thumb pointed upward and toward me in the gesture of "good work, boy." It was a long greyhound ride back to college.

Fittingly, perhaps, what I have described is the final image I have of my father. His funeral was a few days later.