Our big Virginia trip, part three– My Dad’s memorial…

Friday was an emotional day.  We buried my dad’s ashes on the hillside overlooking the house he grew up in.  Jason Grimes, the minister from High Bridge Presbyterian Church came and had a little service for us.  I was heartened to hear that he’s from South Carolina, which has a special place in my heart.  Go Gamecocks!


My dad grew up going to this church and became a member when he was ten years old.  It’s still the “family church”, as it were.

My Uncle Brownlee made the box for my dad’s ashes…  I thought the VMI ball cap was a nice touch.

A few hours later, we had a celebration of his life at the church itself.  Since I was asked to sing, I was a little nervous.  My dad and I have always had a complicated history.  Our musical history together is no less complicated than anything else about our relationship ever was.  My dad was a singer and used to do a lot of solos in church.  When I was very young, I’d plug my ears with my fingers when he’d get up to sing.  I usually got in trouble later for doing that.  As time went on, I became more tolerant, though I can’t say I was ever a great fan of his singing.  I feel comfortable in saying this openly because it’s common knowledge, most of all to my dad.  Anyway, I had visions of him sitting up in Heaven with his fingers in his ears.

I sang “Softly and Tenderly”, which is a hymn I discovered while heavily into karaoke.  Indeed, I used a karaoke track to accompany myself, since it was the easiest thing to do from thousands of miles away.  The version I used is on the soundtrack for the movie, The Apostle, although curiously enough, on the soundtrack it’s an instrumental.  A vocal version by Rebecca Lynn Howard is also on the soundtrack, but it’s different than the one I did.  No matter, though, since I actually prefer the instrumental version.  If you’re curious…

I recorded this a few days after my dad died in July.

So anyway, because I was singing, we had to get to the church early.  It was bitterly cold outside, but otherwise a clear, sunny day.  I had changed from more weather appropriate attire to a dress and a bright blue piano shawl we bought in Spain last January.  Actually, only my feet got really cold.  I had strappy, sparkly sandals with no hose.  But they looked prettier and were more comfortable than the black pumps I have, which make me walk like an old lady.

We had rehearsed the song two days prior and got the sound system all set up.  I was able to sing it from memory then and it sounded good, though one never knows how things will turn out when there are people in attendance.  Of course, as we left the church, a big wad of snow fell off the church roof and I got the feeling it was my dad throwing a snowball at me.  That’s the kind of thing he would have done.  I kind of knew it was going to be alright after that.  Sure enough, it was.  I stepped up to the mic, my nerves alive and buzzing.  At first, my voice came out a bit tremulous because I was nervous and emotional, but then I relaxed a bit and it turned out very nicely.  I think my dad was probably pleased.

My cousin, Karen, also performed.  She sang “Psalm 23”, accompanying herself on her guitar.  I wish I could play guitar, especially as well as she does.  There was also supposed to be a rendition of “Amazing Grace”, but apparently none of the musicians in the house got the message.  The pastor joked “The Lord wills otherwise.” when no one answered the call to perform that standard during the service.

My hilarious Uncle Carl introduced sort of an “open mic” for anyone and everyone who wanted to talk about my dad.  Carl was followed by my Uncle Ed, who needed no mic to tell us a hilarious story about growing up with my dad.  Several other people came up to speak, including Zeke Finney, a fellow VMI grad and choir member at the church I grew up in.  His wife used to occupy me during church services because my mom was always playing the organ and my dad was always in the choir.  My sisters were, by then, mostly out of the house.  Two of my sisters spoke.  One recited a poem she wrote.  Another simply stole the show with heartfelt and funny comments about our dad.  I got to see Sue, my lone cousin on my mom’s side.  She lives nearby.  Last time I saw her was at my wedding in November 2002.  She looked good– and tiny, like my sister Becky.

After the service, there was a reception and I got to meet more of my dad’s friends.  Another sister presented a very moving video about my dad’s life.  There were a lot of photos in the movie that I’d never seen before and a few that I contributed.  I would have added a few more, but all my pictures are in storage in Texas.

At the end of the video, we got our rendition of “Amazing Grace”… it came from my dad himself.  My sister found a recording of him performing it.  It had been years since I had last heard his singing voice.  I resisted the urge to put my fingers in my ears and am a better person for it.  Some things never change.  In all seriousness, it was very fitting that we had a recording of him singing.  Music was one of my dad’s true passions.  I think he passed that passion on to me.

Bill takes in the view from the hillside where my dad is now at rest.

My Georgia cousins…

The whole family… minus about 20 or so.

A rare shot with my sisters.  They look great… I probably need to lay off the German beer.  But at least I have a pretty smile on my face!


A month on a train in Europe… coming home

I had a quick flight from Paris to Amsterdam, then got a flight to Dulles on Northwest Airlines.  I sat next to a quiet Dutch woman and watched reruns of Friends as the plane carried me back to the United States after over two years away.  When we landed and I got through customs, I saw my dad standing there.  I was surprised to see him and was actually kind of upset that he was there, since I had told my parents that I needed to go to Becky’s apartment to get the stuff I shipped and give her back her key.

Also waiting for me was my friend Chris, whom I met in college when we were both 18.  He had come just to welcome me back and I had been planning to get a bus to my sister’s place.  I told my dad I wasn’t expecting him and he said, “Well, I’m here and you can either come with me now or get a bus.”  He was being kind of mean, especially for not having seen me for two years.  And it was pretty embarrassing, since Chris was there, but Chris knew about my dad…

So anyway, we got in the car.  I was pretty annoyed.  He drove me to Becky’s place and I got my stuff. Then my dad gave her key to her neighbor, who had just moved in.  I felt dread, since I had a feeling Becky would go nuts because we’d had this sudden change of plans.

Dad started driving and it was actually pretty scary, since he was speeding and being kind of reckless.  But then he told me that the next day, he planned to go into inpatient rehab for his alcoholism.  That was a huge load off my mind, actually, because I knew I would have to live with my parents for awhile and my dad and I don’t get along very well.  The drive home was awkward and I was feeling like I had just been plunged into a big crisis.

My mom had fixed a nice meal for me… comfort food, really.  There was chicken, mashed potatoes, and vegetables.  She poured some wine, hesitating before giving any to my dad.  My dad said, “How would you feel if you knew that after tomorrow, you couldn’t have another drink for the rest of your life?”

Mom gave him the wine.  Of course, it turned out that rehab was not a barrier to his future drinking.  He still drinks today.  The difference is, now he has dementia and my mom doles it out to him in very small amounts.  She gives him non-alcoholic beer and he doesn’t seem to know the difference.

Anyway, Mom later told me what had led up to this crisis that kind of ruined my homecoming.  A few weeks before I came home, my dad had gotten very drunk on vodka.  He then decided he wanted to take a bath.  My parents had a jacuzzi tub installed when they renovated their house.  Dad was filling it and had sat down on the toilet.  He was naked, save for his glasses, which were knocked askew when he passed out.

My mom noticed the water was running when she went to bed, but apparently thought nothing of it.  When she woke up later and still heard it running, she went to investigate and discovered my dad, passed out naked, wearing his glasses askew, sitting on the toilet.  The tub was overflowing and the water had seeped through the floor and into the ceiling over the laundry room.  The water caused the ceiling to bow a bit.

Mom then told my dad that he had to go to rehab or else he had to leave.  So he arranged to go to rehab through the Veteran’s Administration in Portsmouth, Virginia.  He was supposed to be there for four weeks, but ended up staying for six.  I want to say it was because they were backed up with cases.  I was happy he wasn’t home.

Mom later told me that my dad had been doing things like mistaking the small wooden chest by the toilet for the commode.  He’d pee in the chest and my mom would have to clean it up.  She said it would be one thing if he had cancer or something, but his issues were caused by drinking himself into mental oblivion.

While I was overseas, my dad had gone through my very extensive  CD collection and got them all out of order and lost a couple of my classical discs.  Then when I mentioned it, he got all pissed at me and accused me of being selfish.

Apparently, rehab was like a fun camp for him.  He was a white, middle class guy amid a lot of young fellows who had hit skid row or were using street drugs.  I think he thought he was above them.  But the rehab didn’t stick and he ended up going through it again on an outpatient basis.  That one didn’t work, either.  My mom obviously loves my dad.  She’s been married to him for 55 years and has put up with a lot.  God bless her.  I don’t think I could do it myself.  It was bad enough being his daughter sometimes.

Under the circumstances, I probably shouldn’t drink.  But when I drink, I don’t turn into a flaming asshole like my dad does… at least not most of the time.  I do love my dad, but I often don’t like him very much.  Yesterday was his 80th birthday.  He seems to have inherited his mother’s iron constitution.  She died in 2007 at six weeks shy of 101.  I don’t think my dad will last that long, but he’s obviously got a very strong body, even if his mind is pickled.

I had a good time in Europe and for the next ten years, I pined to go back there.  It was amazing to go back again in 2007 to live…  Perhaps my next post will be about that, rather than my depressing family of origin.