Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)
TITLE: Useful Odds And Ends
By Holly Westefeld
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I did not hold in my hand some priceless memento of family, employment, hobbies, or volunteerism, but a perfectly ordinary pencil stub, with both point and eraser ready for use. Yes, that was Daddy, finding intrinsic value in what most would have thrown away without a second thought. Rolling the pencil back and forth between thumb and fingers, I marveled at the paradox of how long and short the six weeks since I had first flown in to see him had been.
As Janet and I walked down the hall, the pungent scents of disinfectant, and that which awaited its use, mingled in my nostrils. Daddy was awake, and delighted that we had stopped on the way back from the airport. A cautious embrace had to suffice for the bear hugs of our hearts, since the radiation and chemotherapy had left little more than skin on his skeleton, and I didn't want to disturb the feeding apparatus to his stomach, bypassing the web-like tumor obscuring his esophagus.
Fishing from my carry-on a special album my family had put together, I scooted onto the bed next to him to share its contents--recent photos of my family, a poem each from two of my three children, and a selection of my poems, ranging from absurd to contemplative, some dating as far back as junior high. After perusing the pictures, he asked me to set it on his table, wanting to visit then, and read later. I slipped it under the framed poem I had sent for Christmas, a month ago. Though written a year-and-a-half before, its message was intended for both of us, I believe, for that time.
*** My Father's Hand ***
My dad seemed tall when I was small, with little hands and feet;
His strong and loving hand held mine, to cross a busy street.
He wisely judged the dangers of the traffic far and near,
To guide across to safety, one so trusting and so dear.
May I have faith in Christ my Lord, and all that He has planned,
Such that no danger brings me fear, but trusting, hold His hand.
We did not linger long that evening, as dinner and unpacking awaited.
Over the next few days, I read the poems with him, and played two memorable games--one of chess, which he had taught me about thirty-five years before, that I won, and one of Rummy Cube, which he had taught me a year before, that he won.
Our venue shifted from nursing home to hospital when Daddy's ankle gave way, causing him to fall. Tests revealed a distant tendril of the web, which was pursued with further treatment. In between tests and treatments, I held his hand and chattered of my childhood and my children's childhoods, and of parenthood, both what I had learned from him, and what I had only been able to understand after having children of my own. I stopped asking if he remembered, but he soaked up the trip down memory lane, even though it proved to be a one-way street. Gentle back rubs, and telephone calls with his son-in-law and grandchildren were welcome distractions for him.
Taking one last picture together, saying what I knew would be our final goodbyes not involving a telephone, and getting on that plane to head home, half a continent away, was excruciating, and I wouldn't have done it if I had known the call would come in a scant ten days.
So I was back again, holding a small, yet useful pencil on my palm. I tucked it away in my purse, and got back to whatever Janet needed me to do.
It was another ten months before Janet was ready, and I was able to return and sort through Daddy's things. I brought back some precious mementos, but can't keep them with me all the time. What I do keep with me, though, from that drawer of useful odds and ends, is that small pencil stub which reminds me of how much Daddy found worth in everyone--in me.
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