As most daughters go, our fathers are ageless, immortal and our first love and while a young friend was watching hers slaying dragons from his hospital bed, I watched mine carry Sir Lancelot to his final rest.
There were words and laughter and memories all mingled among the tears and the food. Southern Baptists know how to cook by golly. We flew straight into Houston and after Mr Toad’s Wild Shuttle Ride through the freeways we rented a car and arrived in Alvin, Texas, early. Unsure that we were at the right hotel Dad sent me in to ask.
“Is the Best Western on Luke Road Hwy somthin’or’nother? “
She flashed a weary eye and said, “Who are you?”
I used those alien yet, magical code words to see if they still worked, “I’m Smitty Godwin’s girl”
“Your Aunt Ruth was just in here looking for him,” was all she said and went back to her paperwork.
Like a parade-- aunts and cousins and uncles and in-laws and out laws streamed from the rooms and we were hugged and squeezed then whisked away to the viewing. Promptly at 20:00,(eight pm) the undertakers lowered the temperature to the point where we shivered and watched our breath almost smoked across the room.
The next day we heard words and sang hymns, and as we left the finality of my uncle’s death sunk in. One would think they would have tissues for such an occasion. I was grateful to Cousin Jeanene for having the foresight to bring some.
At the grave site there were more words and the 66th Black Panther Division 264th offered a flinching report of a twenty-one-gun salute followed by Taps, and the presentation of the flag to my aunt. A piper played Amazing Grace as he slowly walked into the piney woods.
In spite of the clouds, the sun shined bright, as they say, and we spent the afternoon at my uncle's home. As we prepared to leave, his widow said, “He’s really gone, Riley is really gone.”
We all stopped and looked at each other and then reminded her that he was all around her. That his blood beat through many hearts here as a reminder of his corporeal presence.
In his only brother’s death, it was as if I was witnessing a dress rehearsal for my father's. I left more prepared. I could no more shield the truth behind my eyes because every time I looked at him, my father offered words of comfort.
And so the day yielded its light to the stars of the listening night and I dreamt of the awakened dragon and asked,” Can't you see all around you, the dragon's breath?”
Related scripture: Psalm 44:18-26