Three years and nine days ago, my Father called me on the phone for the last time.
“Daddy, what’s up?” Even at 40, I still called him Daddy.
His affable, Southern drawl was slurred and jumbled, “Baby, I need your hep. I need you to take care of my bidness. I went to mergency room at the ha-pital. The doctor said I was real sick, but I dunno. I lef there. Come down heuh, please.”
“I’m getting in the car now.” I drove from Atlanta to Savannah at a speed which we call in the South ‘flying low’. That term is typically reserved for NASCAR speeds or when one is late to the Wednesday night fellowship supper at the Baptist Church. My mind raced, “What on earth does he mean ‘I lef there’?” My mind flitted around to different topics as I drove. Husband, kids, what to do; finally, it alit on the chaos of the Baker clan.
We Baker’s were a boisterous bunch. Southern dysfunction is in a category all on its own. Picture Archie Bunker’s family, but with Southern accents, a bunch of hounds under the porch, and a ton of gossipy cousins for extra flavor. My Mother and Father were married for twenty-five years before they called it quits. She stayed in Arkansas and remarried; he moved to Georgia and didn’t remarry. Since my brother lives in Arkansas, he got custody of Mom. Since I live in Georgia, I got custody of Dad. I continued to ruminate about our broken family until the Island Expressway sign broke my reverie. I watched the sun go down as I drove toward the island. A few more minutes and I would be at Dad’s bachelor pad. When I arrived at his apartment, my father was on the couch groaning in pain. His grey pallor, sweaty forehead, and distended gut told me volumes. “Pops, I’m here.”
“Baby, I’m so glad yo heuh. That doctah in that mergency room told me I had Leukemia, but I don believe him only children get that” he gasped then followed up with his favorite doctor joke. “you know why they call doctor’s offices practices? Cuz they always practicin’. Baby, promise to keep them cutthroats away from me with the knives. I wanna go see my doctor heuh on the island.”
“Daddy, we can wait til tomorrow, but you gotta go see the doctor.” The night stretched into an eternity as he cried out in pain. Finally, morning came, and we sped to the doctor.
“Mr. Percy, what did they tell you at the hospital?”
“They told me I have Leukemia or something, but I wanted a second opinion.”
“Well, I have your results. They are not wrong, Mr. Percy. You are a very sick man. Go back to the hospital to get treated or you will most certainly die.” The doctor peered over the top of his glasses. Under the doctor’s intense gaze, a lump formed in my throat.
The next three weeks were a haze. Almost every night, I slept on a cot in his room, watching over him. In those long, lonely hours, I tried to work out ‘what if scenarios’, but confusion hovered around me like a heavy fog. The unwelcome miasma slowed me down and allowed me to stay in the moment and just ‘be’ with him. Each day, Daddy would wake up enough to give me a task to do—do the will, find the cheapest way to ‘plant him’, go to the bank.
My mother chided me over the phone, “Don’t you think he’ll make it? You don’t really need to make funeral arrangements do you?”
“Mamma, I believe in my whole heart that he’ll walk out of that hospital. But…for the first time in my life, I just want to be obedient and do what he’s asking me to do.”
A few days later, the Arkansas contingent arrived. We gathered by his bedside with the nurse that was going to administer the first round of chemo. He sat up and introduced us to her, “This is my son Daniel, my daughter Annie, and my beautiful wife Jean.” My mother nodded her head in agreement. Twenty- five years of brokenness melted away. You could hear the beating wings of ministering angels God had sent to us. Abba enveloped us in His healing feathers of forgiveness and reconciliation. We four Bakers were a family again.
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