I grieve for each passing year that Daddy is not here to fervently hope that Clemson can beat Alabama for the NCAA football Championship. I grieve that he missed by 11 months seeing his great-grandson Lincoln’s endlessly fascinating face. I regret that Daddy will never know Lincoln’s baby sister Penelope who is due to arrive in just over a month.
I miss his dear Daddy-ness: his eccentricities, his incessant and irritating stirring of his coffee, how still he held his head when I cut his hair, how he advised that I should get home before dark. Most of all, I miss his enduring loving presence that reminded me of his unconditional and profound love for me. He didn’t seek to renovate me into a better version of myself because he thought I was perfect just as I am.
I am not perfect, but his love and acceptance of me has been a refuge for me from the rough patches of life and a solace from the people who make me feel I will never be enough, never be good enough, never be like them enough. Tired. They make me tired.
And Daddy was tired, I think, in the final years of his life. Frequently he mentioned his wretchedly abusive childhood as a motherless child living in poverty and neglect. And his body let him down more often than not as he aged. But he had a zest for life and a smile and a passion for those he loved and the things that interested him: sports, movies, the UT Lady Vols basketball team, the New York Yankees, the Detroit Lions, and his favorite music. Even in his final days, he knew who we were and his love was undiminished by senility and Alzheimer’s–if that is indeed what he had.
On December 2, 2016, a few weeks after surgery for a broken hip, Daddy died with a heart attack as he was peddling on an exercise bike at a rehabilitation center. He did not have to linger any longer in pain and fear his death—because he did not know it was coming—and thankfully Mama was with him when he died.
In life we said goodbye to each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, but he did not like to be touched repeatedly or overmuch. I learned this when I was lovingly patting him on his arm as he was eating dinner at his senior living facility, and he asked me to stop because it made him nervous.
After Daddy died I got a call from my son who broke the news to me, and I raced to the rehab center where Daddy was laid out on the bed of his room. Thankfully his body was still warm. I sat down beside him and rubbed his shoulder as much as I liked and it did not bother him at all.
We had a beautiful service for him a few days later and sung his favorite hymns. During the prayer before I was to read his eulogy, I was shaking a bit, afraid I would botch it or break down. I had to take myself in hand and remember that moment was not about me, but was about telling Daddy’s story. It was important for his life to be held up and acknowledged and celebrated. His was a small life in the vast expanse of human history, but it was a huge life for me and for those who loved him. I did not break down when I read the eulogy, my voice rang out. I was proud to tell Daddy’s story and bring him to life for those who did not know him well.
He was no longer in pain. He was safe from the dreadfully inadequate so-called care he received at his senior living facility. At times he was attended by teenagers who admitted they had received next-to-no training, and he was served mostly inedible food that he could not eat. Daddy no longer had to worry about the ruptured eardrum he suffered when his father neglected to have his tonsils removed when he was child. No longer did he have to endure from the broken hip he suffered the month before his death. He was safe from the vicissitudes of our country’s “health care” system and the well-meaning, but inadequate–and ultimately devastating–decisions made on his behalf. I was more-than-willing to give him up to save him from that fate.
Yet he lives vividly in my imagination and when things go awry in life that are beyond my power, I pray to him, as well as my Mamaw (Mama’s mother) who died in 1991, and Daddy’s mother Darcus who died in 1935 when Daddy was 4 months old. They are my triumvirate of guardian angels who at the very least are alive in me because they had such an impact on my life. At most they keep me company in the darkest moments of this the beginning of the third year of the misbegotten Trumpian dynasty.
I grieve for my Daddy, and I grieve for my country that wanders in the wilderness, lost to itself in an oblivion of injustice, strife, prejudice, and ignorance of its history and purpose.
For the last hundred or so years many oppressed people sought in our country a safe harbor. Even as we turned away ships filled with Jews fleeing the Nazis at the first part of World War II, the United States was seen as a beacon, a lighthouse of democracy.
When I was in high school chorus, we sang the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem that is not only lyrics to a song, but written on the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Silly me to take seriously the notion that the democratic virtues our country has espoused around the world were not really meant to be practiced in our own land. We are no democracy if the winner of the minority of the votes in our presidential election serves as President which has happened twice in the last 20 years. Daddy would have said, “That’s highway robbery.” Because our country is the last remaining superpower, countries around the world and our planet are in jeopardy and hang in the balance. Yet our country continues to use an archaic system to decide our nation’s governance. The Electoral College originated as a salve for the slave states of the nation who worried about their future domination among non-slave states. It is obvious to me that our country’s Civil War did not solve our nation’s strife.
My grandson’s name is Lincoln not because my son and daughter-in-law wanted to celebrate our 16th President Abraham Lincoln, but because Daddy loved his Lincoln Continental automobile and was absolutely obsessed with Matthew McConaughey’s 2011 movie “The Lincoln Lawyer”.
Abraham Lincoln was a fantastically adept politician, as well as a commanding orator, visionary leader, and the man who found a way to keep the United States operating as one country. But I believe President Lincoln did a great disservice to the country when he decided that war was the best response when the Southern slave states sought to leave the Union. I can only imagine that the South even if it had been a country apart from the North, would have eventually been forced to give up the horrible system of slavery. Self-determination would have been a better driver in this regard than having federal troops in the South for a decade followed by a history of lynching and oppression for the former slaves in this country. At some point the country might have come together again as one Union. There are very few wars–World War II being the most outstanding exmple in the fight against Nazi tyranny–where war is the best answer to solve intransigent problems.
The devastating poison and hatred of the war split our nation in two, and it has never fully recovered even to this day–153 years after the war ended. Our national government limps along in chaos and disharmony. The Union appears broken and the factions that govern our public life can agree on next to nothing about how our country should operate.
Over the past year alone, our federal government has shut down three times because its representatives cannot agree that it should pay our country’s bills. And of course, that is true of our government right now as well, as swaths of the federal government are shut down, unfunded, and federal workers go unpaid.
I am glad my Daddy doesn’t have to see how the reality TV star who got 3 million less votes than his competitor “runs” our country. A few weeks before he died, Daddy told me he voted “for the woman because she’s the smarter one”. Amen to that. Even in his final days, Daddy discerned the real from the artificial, the right from the just plain wrong.
Today on New Year’s Eve 2018, I remember Daddy and all he has meant to me and still does. I wish his life had been easier and that I could travel back in time and hold him when he was a motherless child being raised by a stern, rather terrifying-looking grandmother named Lucinda.
We have only one baby picture of Daddy with the grandmother who raised him until she died when he was 5 years old. In the picture, Daddy sits on her lap looking uncertain and a bit troubled with a little sailor cap resting beside him. He wears the first walking shoes of a toddler and is wearing what looks like a dress–as young children regardless of their age did at that time.
His family was desperately poor and Daddy told us many bleak stories about his childhood. He is safe from all such problems now. No more violent alcoholic uncle in his home, no more being threatened with a hot poker, no more sneaking downstairs to get clean clothes to wear to school, no more hearing difficulties from not having his tonsils removed when they were diseased, no more living on cabbage, no more not getting to play his beloved sport of basketball because his father feared he would get hurt, no more getting thrown out of his home as a teenager and living at the Downtown YMCA after his second stepmother threw him out.
Daddy is free now from all the earthly fears and tensions that tied him down. He is alive in my imagination and memory and in that of all his family that loved him dearly.
The wind blows outside our house on this 70-degree, winter day in East Tennessee. The ribbon on our backdoor Christmas wreath flaps in the breeze. Not surprisingly I have a cold from this whiplash back-and-forth of winter, then spring-like, weather. Climate change is not only the future of our planet, but we experience it now.
However, Daddy is safe and as long as I live I will aspire to do as he taught me: to be myself. I will foment and inspire the same in my grandson Lincoln who is close to my heart and was named for the things that excited Daddy’s imagination. Daddy had a passion for life and, on his behalf as well as my own, I will encourage this calling in our much-adored grandbabe. I plan to continue teaching Lincoln the joy and eternal mystery of being himself.
As my favorite poet Mary Oliver writes, I will ask Lincoln to:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I will ask him to join me in this lifelong adventure of passion, laughter, and music:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
And I will remind him that his great-grandfather taught us to really live:
Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
And I thank Daddy for his gift to us his loved ones who are aware and have our eyes fully open to see.
The Uses Of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”
On this New Year’s Eve, I remember my loving Daddy, Roy Rotha Allen, lately of this world, always alive in mine.
~ Anna – 12/31/2018