|My father, George— from baby, to young man, to old geezer. [drawings, his own]|
From my In Memoriam booklet, 1998, for George Menard, my eulogy written to my mother, pictured above.
It was 1997 and mid-February in Coos Bay—Oregon to George. To me it was just plain butt-nippy. Classic stuff, eh? He wanted the sliding glass door off the deck open so that Buddy could come and go as he pleased. Apparently the dog was unacquainted with ordinary doggy oppressions, such as having to scratch at the door— but I did not want it open. You probably remember the look on my face, Mother, my frowning and cross-eyed disbelief, my complaint. But George couldn’t be budged—Buddy was sick, old and tender in the joints; he would be accommodated according to the Book of George, where dogs come before humans. And No, the heat could not be turned on: “Cold air is healthful.”
And so, Mother, I was reminded of George’s hierarchy of values after you: Airedales, other dogs, trees, the Cream of American Youth (American soldiers, USC football players), Republicans, red meat, his chair and the remote… it was Coos Bay, 1997—& life, all flawed and wonderful. But did I see the humor of it? Did I relax and think of all the positives? Nope. Instead, the whiny little voice of my so-called inner child prevailed once again: A dog is more important that I am!
Then, blamelessly and happily following his nose, Buddy got lost. I guess George expected him to wander some, but he started to worry when the dog failed to come home by evening and through dinner. The rest of us finally went to bed, but George waited. He would wait all night if necessary. But he wouldn’t wait patiently. He would go outside my window every two hours while I tried to sleep, and BELLOW into that silent, forested night, “Here Buddy-y-y...here Buddy-y. He-er-r-r-e Buddy-y-y!” I was sure all of Coos Bay was cursing him and wrapping their pillows around their heads, as was I, and wishing Buddy would come home soon so we could get some sleep.
After the third night of such bellowing and carrying on, and after much labored consideration of my options, I decided to leave. When I told George I was leaving, he sat there looking bewildered, made a futile attempt to talk me out of it, then slipped $200 into my hand for airfare and said, “I love you, Baby.” I left feeling all wrong but helpless to stop myself.
Mother, I asked you this before—where was my heart? I will always regret this failure. When I had that last chance to rise above my role, to be loving and strong, I chose to run away. Imagine the difference had I looked at George with understanding for a change. Why would a man be so passionately devoted to a dog? How lonesome for acceptance must he have been? Might I have wondered about this? And not knowing for sure, might I not have gotten out of bed to join George on the porch, the two of us in the porch light, shivering, and might we not have shared stories about pets? Imagine it—I could have said, “Don’t worry, George, tomorrow we’ll go looking. We’ll find him.” But no, it never occurred to me.
So, wasn’t it a good thing, Mother, when George began writing epic letters, as he would characterize them, letters I sometimes scanned, missing the essential message, but letters I responded to, sometimes in an equally lengthy way. Wasn’t it a healing thing? I did eventually realize George wanted to feel visible and known, & remembered— simple, essential things: validation, to be understood and accepted. So that in friendship George and I finally grew close and, therefore, in esteem, both for the self and the other.
Still, it wasn’t until a week before he died, when you called me at work to say he was in the hospital, that I suddenly knew without qualification how much I loved him. Finally I could write a letter to him expressing this, and more, thanking him and remembering his good qualities.
I had planned to write again, Mother, to say more, but he couldn’t wait. So I can only hope he can hear me now:
George, you were fully human and complete, as only an original character can be. You remain my one true father, the only father who was there, and responsible, and who did the best he could to be a man of courage and integrity.
Though I tried your patience as a child, you never once hit me nor hurt me physically. You taught me how to put live bait on a hook, how to throw a ball not like “a waddly-butt girl,” but leading with the hips and following through with the whole body. You fulfilled my childhood dream, giving me Salute when I was ten years old. Then you patiently, quietly supported that beautiful horse until I married at twenty-four.
So long, Soldier Boy.
I love you.
I miss you.
So long, Soldier Boy.
I love you.
I miss you.
From one of his letters to me toward the end of his life:
"I am that old ex-GI, just trying to get along. And thank God that we are different, for if we were the same we couldn't have this lovely controversy of ours!
I would like to continue this to greater length, but, y'know I'm pooped out to a frazzle, my head is nodding, and rather than continue tomorrow, I'll get this off today early. It is now 5:00 a.m. on this March morning, and I must crawl into a warm bed with a beautiful woman that I know."
|Granddaughter Gwendolyn and her amazing drawing.|