At 2:00am I called out, "Good night, guys. I love you!"
I received a unison mumble of, "G'nite. Love you, too."
Am I the only mom who enjoys this late night thing? I seriously don't mind that my sons are at the age when friends are their first priority, and hanging with Mom is pretty much a last resort. I remember that stage. It lasted more than a decade for me. Maybe two decades, even. But during that time when I was never home, I do remember many late Friday nights when Dad and I came in around the same time. He didn't talk much to me back then, but on those special occasions, when he turned on the stove to make some eggs and toast, or fry up some bologna and slap it between two pieces of bread with mayo, (always leaving the pans and dishes for my mom to clean up in the morning. God Bless my mother!), I remember sitting with him in the living room for the rare opportunity to chat. Chat about anything. I'd sling question after question at him, reveling in the moment of alone time with my dad. He was talkative when he drank, and on Friday nights, he drank. I know people had a problem with that, and it was probably selfish of me to NOT have a problem with that, but I didn't. Those were the times I learned about his tennis championship, and when Grandma sent him down to the tavern to get money from Grandpa, and when he walked in, Grandpa had a stack of newspapers that he passed out to his drinking buddies. "That's my son in there. He's the Oak Park tennis champ." Dad confided that that was a memory he'd hold on to forever because he knew then that his father was proud of him. I wanted to ask him if he was proud of me, but that would have made him uncomfortable and would have stopped the discussion. Instead I threw another question at him, like what it was like for Whitey on the St. Mel's basketball team. I'd watch his eyes light up as he'd retell the story of playing against Johnny Lattner from Fenwick. "He wasn't just talented at football, Geralyn. (Lattner received the Heisman Trophy in 1953) That kid was just an athlete through and through." The egg yolk or mayo always ended up on his cheeks, and it didn't bother me a bit. And when he'd had enough to eat and enough stories to share, he'd get up and walk out of the room. No kiss or pat on the back. No more words. He was done. But I learned a long time ago, that just because my dad didn't know how to be affectionate, didn't mean I didn't know how to be affectionate. So, I'd wait for him to open the bathroom door and before he could take the three steps into his bedroom, I'd say, "Good night, Dad. I love you." The response never changed. "Mmhm." And I smiled. He didn't need to say it. I knew he loved me, too.
I get reflective about my dad at Thanksgiving time, so it's no wonder that at 2am as I was heating up left over fettucini alfredo for one son and some pizza for the other (I had already done the 1am cookie baking the night before), I thought about their papa. I asked my guys about their nights, asked about their friends in from college, asked about the game plan for the next day when I had to drive them back to Loyola. I felt so blessed to have them here with me over Thanksgiving break. Two years ago, I had a totally different Thanksgiving.
Dad died June 12, 2017, four days after my parents' 60th wedding anniversary. (There's a whole other story about my being at peace with my father's death, but I'll save that for another time.) All I'll say at this point is that I felt strong. I felt blessed to be on that altar and give the opening words at his funeral. I felt strong and blessed for a while, actually, and before I knew it, life got in the way of mourning. When Thanksgiving came around, and my mom was going to Kansas to see my sister, and my boys were going with their father, I told my brothers that I would not be joining them for the family dinner. They were concerned about me, about this choice to be alone on Thanksgiving. I explained to Bobby that I wanted this day to simply mourn. I wanted to grab a coffee, drive around places that reminded me of Dad, visit the cemetery, and cry. I wanted to cry. And cry and cry. I didn't just WANT to cry. I NEEDED to cry, to finally mourn my dad. Bobby was as understanding as always. He told me he loved me and he'd respect my wishes. Come Thanksgiving day, I did exactly as I planned. I grabbed a coffee, drove past the family house, St. Celestine and through Elmwood Park. Along that route I had flashbacks to our 8th grade basketball team breakfasts. Every year, Dad, the coach, had the whole team go to Mass and then come back to our house for a pancake breakfast (of course, cooked and hosted by my mom... God Bless my mother!). I drove to Westchester and past Dad's old work place L.K. Comstock. There I remembered how Dad took me with him on weekends to help vacuum the offices because he was the weekend custodian in addition to a purchasing agent M-F. On the way home, we'd stop in the Circle for silver dollar pancakes (I see a pancake connection). Then I headed to the cemetery. There'd been some tears up to this point, but nothing in comparison to the next hour or so. When I pulled up to the gravesite, I noticed something on my dad's stone. I walked closer and realized it was a box of tissues. On the box was a note: GERALYN, THESE ARE FOR YOU! LOVE YOU! I knew Bobby's writing and texted him immediately. He responded that he knew I would need them, and that this particular box of tissues was the box from Dad's hospital room. The same room where Dad passed with Bobby and me at his side. That's Bobby. (I've got other brother stories, too, but their special memories will come another time.) Bobby, my compassionate brother who got up early on Thanksgiving morning to drive out to the cemetery and drop off the tissues before I got there. And that's when the sobbing started, and the sobbing didn't end until I found myself driving through White Castle in Dad's honor. Seriously. I forced down a White Castle for Dad, onions and all, as my Thanksgiving dinner. I spent the evening looking through old pictures and writing down a list of memories I might want to write about down the road. The last thing I did was go out to my car, which was actually Dad's 2005 Civic. I pulled out from the glove compartment his Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Christopher medals, the medals he said came with the car. I held them tightly in my hands. I said a prayer to grandmother and my dad, and then I whispered my favorite lines, "Good night, Dad. I love you."