My dad warned me of his impending death as if he were gazing into a crystal ball.
Those who know me or have read some of my articles are keenly aware how much I revered my father. Like most father and son relationships, once I left my teen years and entered early adulthood, ours grew into a great friendship. In fact, my dad was my best friend.
My father’s aunt was in her mid 90’s when she finally let me in on her secret. It was a secret we had all known about, but never discussed. “You know I have a gift,” is how my Aunt LaLa first introduced me to her special world. “Yes, I know Aunt LaLa,” was my reply. She then went on to describe in detail the death of her nephew, my father’s brother, telling me when and how he died, even though he lived in Virginia and I was the first family member to inform her of the news. Dad’s aunt lived in rural Georgia and she owned a lot of farm land, a trailer park and the general store. However, her side business was one of awe and wonder to me as a boy. In the hot Georgia sun I witnessed people in line to the kitchen door of her home. “Oh, they’ll wait,” Aunt LaLa would say whenever we stopped for our out of state visits, never once explaining why these folks were in line. She played an eerily defining role in my life in many ways. Both my oldest daughter and myself share in some of this gift, although not to the extent of my great aunt.
My dad was a man’s man in so many ways, but especially when it came to sports. Whether it be hockey (his favorite), football, baseball, basketball, golf, lacrosse or bowling, he would watch it, listen to it, read it and he knew the statistics for all of them. I was mesmerized at how he remembered all of this information. Many nights, days and week-ends he would be at the coliseum, arena or football stadium to cheer on his team. When I think back on his past life experiences and the drudgery of his job, then it all becomes clear. After all, sporting events provide an outlet….an escape if you will….from the reality of everyday life.
On January 1, 1991 I relocated from Syracuse, New York to Binghamton, New York, a distance of about 80 miles. It was a tough decision to leave my family behind, yet I felt that professionally, financially and emotionally it was the right move for me at that time in my life. I spoke to my family on a daily basis and sometimes more than that. When a nationally televised sporting event would be on, my dad and I might speak a total of three times. We would talk before the game started, half time and then at the conclusion so we could do our own recap. It was a bonding time that was special between the two of us and I miss those moments dearly.
Syracuse, New York has the reputation as the snowiest metropolitan region in our country. For instance, the Tug Hill Plateau region, just north of the city, has had snowfall amounts of over 400 inches. Shoveling, snow blowing or plowing is simply a way of life in this area during the winter months. For some unknown reason it is the people in the 60 plus age group that feel the need to constantly be on guard to keep the snow knocked down. It becomes an obsession of sorts and my dad was no different at 66. Oh, we bought him a snow thrower, but “no” that was too modern. You can only tackle these type of jobs with brute force.
It was late Saturday, January 8, 1994 when I answered the phone. “Hi son, I’m so afraid I am going to die in this house and no one will find me for days,” was my father’s frantic call to me. “Oh dad, don’t be silly,” was my quick retort. “No, seriously son, you live so far away and I’m just so afraid I am going to die here and no one will find me.” Never, in my forty years had I heard my father sound so scared and panicky. He wasn’t himself. He wasn’t the poker player who always played his cards close to the vest, shielding his true hand. He was scared. I tried my best to reassure him that everything would be fine, but my words fell on deaf ears. My father “had a feeling,” a sixth sense, if you will, of what was about to happen.
Sunday, January 9th came and went and I said to myself I would call my father from the office. Monday was an exceptionally busy day at work. I couldn’t get my head above water and didn’t have a moment to spare. Then Monday evening arrived and I had forgotten an item at the grocery store. I had a house guest staying with me and on my return they informed me my dad was dead. The news was as if someone had unscrewed my Achilles heel and drained everything out of me. I was numb and limp. Sunday morning my dad went out to shovel the driveway and go the the store for his newspaper. On Monday evening the paper was under my dad’s body, in the kitchen where a neighbor had spotted him. Sadly my father had died alone in the house, wasn’t discovered for more than 24 hours and he apparently had seen his own death coming.
My telephone rang. “Hello son,” was my father’s greeting. “But, but,” I stammered, searching for the right words. “Yes son, I’m dead and you know what? It’s okay,” was dad’s response. When I awoke I was drenched in sweat. I walked into the living room with a cup of coffee, sat down and a half smile found its way to my face as a sense of peacefulness and serenity set in, realizing that my friend, my dad, had passed on.
Written by: Dennis L. Page