My father, 30 years older than me, still works circles around me.
My parents divorced when I was in high school. Like most teenage girls growing up, I was off in another world, and somehow I missed that he was the one who enjoyed cooking, baking in particular. Trying new recipes, canning, and of course, growing a garden every year. He told me today that he's particularly enjoying the recipe I recently sent him for amish pancakes. Said he'd been cooking them up and eating them almost every day lately. I love that at 88 years old, my Daddy makes himself pancakes every morning. With bacon. At 88 I think you should include bacon.
I just looked at my high school graduation photo and what struck me was not how young I look, but how young he was. All of 47. About half of what he is now. I wish I could go back forty years and ask him what it felt like to shoulder the responsibility of raising six kids, keep us fed, make some of us stay in school and all of us headed the right direction. Make ends meet. What did it feel like to have a marriage fail after all those kids; to have a wife leave when you wanted her to stay?
But I can't go back. Nobody can.
One of the blessings of getting older myself is that I see how fleeting time is. How it was just a minute ago my grown children were small, bickering in the back seat of the minivan as we drove across the country. How it was just yesterday I held my first grandson, all of five weeks old, and now he's creeping close to a teenager. How it wasn't long ago that my Daddy was 60 and 70 and 80.
So I ask more questions. I call more often, and I mostly listen. There's a strong sense of storing up for someday when I can't call anymore. I let him talk about whatever he wants to talk about, for however long. Our conversation rambles and winds and criss-crosses back and forth. We cover everything from canning tomatoes, to politics, to my siblings, to the goings on where he lives, and now and then he asks questions to keep up with my kids and theirs. He's got a lot of grandchildren and great-grandchildren - too many to keep good track of. I doubt I'll do as well when I'm his age.
I soak up the sound of his voice, how he pronounces words, and especially how he laughs when he gets tickled over something. A thousand miles away I can see his eyes crinkle up, and how he holds his mouth just so, and rubs the top of his head, then finally wipes away the tears that came from laughing so much. How thankful I am for God's gift to me, that at 88 most of his tears are from laughing too hard.
When we talk I jot down things he says, like:
'that makes about as much sense as pouring water down a crawdad hole.'
'it was bitter enough to make a pig squeal.'
'I'd be as happy as a clam if I could sit on the porch for awhile, with a pot of peas to shell.'
Today we talked about his 55th birthday, when he was younger than I am now. He said back then he thought he was old, so he retired. That if he'd known he'd live so long he would have kept working. I told him I'd hand-deliver his birthday next month when I come for a visit (a fruitcake and some pickled something - he'll love it!). He told me that when you're his age, birthdays don't matter, they're just another day, but it will be just great to see us, and he is so looking forward to our visit.
Me too Daddy. Me too.
I asked what he planned to do with the rest of his day, and he said, 'nothing! I'm going to sit here and do nothing til after Wheel of Fortune, then I might bake a few of those amish cakes. The people in my building really appreciate them, and I don't want to disappoint.'
Happy Birthday to my sweet Daddy. Here's praying God will give him as many more as he can still manage to work in that garden, bake cakes, and keep up with the laundry.