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For My Mother’s Birthday an Ode to My Father
By Linda Campanella
Today I brought two yellow roses to my father. Two days from now, my
late
mother would
be turning
80
.
Yellow
roses were “their” roses ever since their romance
began
in 1956. Mom lived just long enough to celebrate their
52
nd
anniversary before succumbing to cancer in the fall of 2009, one year and a day from her terminal diagnosis.
The flower shop is less than a mile away from my dad’s house. While driving the short
distance, en route to one of
my more or less weekly “lunch and laundry” dates with him, I realized I
had started to
cry. It still surprises me that
the tears can come so quickly when I indulge memories of my mother and find myself yearning for her to not
be
gone.
I don’t often ask my father how much he yearns for her to be with him again. I’m reticent
largely
because I don’t
want him to be sad. My mother’s dying wish
her instruction to him, I suppose
w
as
“Don’t be sad.”
When I handed him the roses,
he
didn’t say “thank you”
; instead he said, “I know.”
“What do you know?” I
asked, without needing to
. “I know
,” he said again. “I
t’s coming up.”
He has bought yellow flowers himself
in the past.
I
remember being deeply moved when I
discovered a big
bo
uquet of yellow roses on his kitchen counter while visiting a few days after February 14, 2010. They were roses
for Mom on her first Valentine’s Day without him.
My parents’ love for each other was never more in evidence than during their love story’s f
inal chapter.
I’m often
asked how my dad is doing, especially by people who’ve read my
memoir
of
Mom’s
final
year and
therefore
experienced
vicariously
Dad’s
wrenching
heartache and
anticipato
ry grief. When asked, my response
is
and the
truth is
that
he is doing really great.
I desperately hope
that wherever and in whatever form she is now, my
mother bears
witness to her sweetie pie’
s strength and resilience.
He’s become a much more social creature, which would surprise her. Soon after her death,
eight or so of their cul
-
de
-
sac neighbors started a monthly get
-
together, with hosting duties rotating among them month to month. To
my surprise, he accepted the invitation to attend the inaugural gathering.
Maybe he said yes because he knew
how much my mo
ther would have loved this kind of thing. (And it’s quite possible he would have sent her
off
without him
if they’d been invited as a couple
!)
I went to visit him that afternoon and prepared an appetize
r for
him to bring. As he was leaving
, he told me I mi
ght as well stay
put in his house
, because he’d only stay a half hour
or so
at the party
and we could play another round of rummy upon his return. An hour and a half later, he called
to tell me I might as well go home
; he was having a good time
though hi
s actual and understated report had
been “It’s not bad.”
F
ive years later he’s still going
and host
s
when it’s his turn. My offers of assistance were
declined ages ago.
Though long past retirement age, he’s still
working
on average three days a week
a
s a radiologist
. In April, I took
care of his dog for five days so he could take a
course
at Harvard
and earn continuing ed credits
. Last month, he
renewed his medical license for another two years. He is much in demand by the
radiology
department he chair
ed
in his younger days, highly esteemed by his physician colleagues and the young residents whom he teaches, and
genuinely loved by the technicians who work with
and o
ccasionally flirt with him.
He’s always been a real
charmer.
 
 
He arrives well before 6AM
to get a jump on reading films
left
from the prior day. Two weeks ago, he turned 83 o
n
what happened to be a scheduled work day for him. Since I thought it was a big deal to be turning 83, I called the
radiology department
mid
-
morning
, just to give folks a
heads
-
up in the hope they might w
is
h Dad a happy
birthday.
I hated to imagine no one would acknowledge his special day.
"Honey, we are way ahead of you!" was the
surprising
response. Apparently he was welcomed that morning with
balloons, posters, pastry,
and
a string of
requests
from female colleagues wanting
to be photographed
with him
.
The tech on the phone told me
that each time he accommodat
ed a request to pose for a photo, he said to the
woman ne
xt to him, "Be careful;
Nan is watching!"
"Nan is so
happy you have all of us to love you!" was the
rejoinder
.
How perfect
and perfectly true!
My siblings
and I also are so happy about this. We believe work has given
our dad
a reason
and the courage
to keep living.
And we know the sense of being needed
and also loved has been balm for a heart broken when the person who
needed and loved him most left him alone.
I m
arvel at many things about him,
including his stamina and legendary work ethic,
but most of all I marvel at
my
father’
s mind. While my own gi
ves hints of g
rowing dimmer as I grow older
, his mind
seems sharper than
ever.
English is his second language, yet I venture to guess that his vocabulary is
exponentially larger
and his grammar
far better than 99
.5
% of Americans’.
Don’t challenge him to
S
crabble
,
Boggle
, or any other word game and expect
to win!
With a steel trap for a memory, h
e has an especially uncanny ability to remember details of history, and he
can
correctly identify
just about any piece of classical music after hearing only the fir
st few measures played
; t
h
en
he’ll
recite
the life story of the composer and provide a brief lesson in the history of the period or place in which
he lived.
Last month I took a three
-
hour trip with Dad to visit my sister in New Jersey, and because he has never been a
conversationalist, I decided to break the silence and pass some time by playing an old car game; “Let’s pick a
letter and name all the places tha
t start with it,” I suggested.
He jumped at the challenge, of course expecting to
destroy me.
We started with “A.”
As we progressed through the alphabet,
I managed to keep up with him pretty
well, but I failed miserably when he digress
ed
occasionally
to
a
sk me a question related to
a
place one of us had
just named.
We spent a lot of time on the letter “D
,
I recall.
“What do you mean you don’t know what happened in the
Dardanelles?” he asked in disbelief
. (I had already confessed to not even knowing wher
e the hell the Dardanelles
are located
on a map
!)
A
n urgent
geography lesson evolved quickly into a
riveting
history lesson about the
Ottoman Empire
, the
Gallipoli campaign and World War I
.
And although I earned
a point for naming Dunkirk while
we were
thinking of places beginning with
“D,” I didn’t remember
as much
as I should have about the
famous
battle
there
, and another lesson replete with astounding detail ensued. By the time we got to “G” I was feeling
both much smarter and totally humi
liated by my
relative ignorance.
He
, always a great teacher,
was in his
element.
I felt like one of the luckiest girls alive on that father
-
daughter trip to the Jersey Shore.
How lucky I am that
my dad
is still in my life and that his life is still so full. What a
relief that his broken heart
has
mended
, that his mind is still so brilliant, and that his body remains so sound
. He is a little more stooped over
,
his
hair is a little thinner
,
and he eats too many frozen meals and not enough fruit; but other than that,
he is doing
just fine.
Five years a widower, he is healthy and he is happy; he is needed and he is loved.
What better present could we possibly
give my mother for her
80
th
birthday
than that?
© 2014 Linda Campanella
 
 
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