Daddy was a simple man. I don’t mean that he wasn’t smart. Quite the opposite. He was valedictorian of his high school graduating class, and he was great at helping me with my homework. He could figure out how to fix or build anything. When he worked for the Post Office, he could quote the manual verbatim and knew where every Texas town was located, no matter how small. But his needs and wants were simple, and he sometimes didn’t understand the complexities of the modern world. He didn’t leave behind a collection of awards and trophies or a big estate, but he left behind a legacy of peace and love that will live for a long time.
Daddy was hard to buy for because he didn’t need much to be happy. If he had a pair of shoes for work and another for Sunday, he didn’t see the need of another pair for his birthday. He didn’t understand why Givenchy for Men was better than Aqua Velva or Old Spice, and the stylish shirts and sweaters he received for Christmas or Father’s Day hung in the back of his closet while he wore his favorite button-up plaid shirts. He played golf with a set of used clubs, and he docked his used fishing boat at a dock he built with his own hands. The most excited I ever saw him about a gift was Christmas of 1957. We had a brand new Plymouth, maybe the first new car he ever owned. In those days, outside rear-view mirrors were an accessory, and one on each side was a real luxury. That year Jim and I pooled our money and bought Daddy a matching pair of chrome rear-view mirrors. He opened the present with a half-smile that said, Oh, goody, another pair of shoes, but when he saw the glitter of chrome, he broke into a real smile. When he saw the second mirror, he absolutely beamed.
The working world was almost as confusing to him as the world of fashion. Oh, he understood the work inside out. He knew what he was expected to do, and he did it flawlessly, on time, and without complaint. What he didn’t understand was the political gamesmanship and the good ole boys network that often meant the difference between getting the promotion and getting passed over. He progressed steadily in his career, but the big managerial positions eluded him for years. Finally, as he neared retirement, he was appointed postmaster of a small post office in Trinidad, Texas. It was not a prestigious appointment, but it was a nice little town near his home on Cedar Creek Lake, and there was no doubt that he was happy. The local newspaper printed a story of his appointment, and the accompanying picture showed that, once again, he was beaming.
Daddy passed away on May 13, 2011 at the age of 89. His physical legacy didn’t amount to much. He left a 1997 Buick Skylark with low mileage and a pretty good set of tires. He left an old .22 rifle and a beat up old shot gun, and he left a small box of old toys, report cards, letters and assorted memories. He left several boxes of tools and an odd assortment of nails, screws and other hardware he had collected, just in case. He left a wardrobe that fit in a couple of boxes and large trash bags when it was taken to Good Will and a couple of inexpensive watches. He left a retirement annuity and a small savings account that will take care of Mother, but there will be nothing left to pass on to his heirs when she’s gone. And he left a plain gold wedding band.
When Mom and Dad married in 1940, they didn’t have enough money for fancy jewelry. Mom had a set of rings that were so thin they wore completely through after 20 years or so. On their 25th anniversary, Dad presented his bride with a white gold band set with two rows of diamonds, and she presented him with a plain yellow gold band. I never saw him take it off. That band represented the defining reality of his life – his love for Mom. He loved her as Paul told the Ephesians to love their wives and would have given up his life for her. He told her every day how beautiful she was and how much he loved her, and he never tired of kissing her or holding her hand.
On May 7, the assisted living facility where he and Mom lived gave a tea in honor of Mother’s Day. Families were invited to come, and my brother Jim and his wife Jo Lynn were there. Mom and Dad enjoyed the food and the company, but they didn’t have much to say.
“Dad,” Jim said when they finished eating, “did you do anything exciting today?”
Dad thought a minute and then smiled. “I kissed your Mother.”
That was the last intelligible thing either of us heard him say. He suffered a major stroke later that night.
His last few days were spent under hospice care in the room he shared with Mom. Their double bed was moved out to make room for a hospital bed for him and a twin bed for her. Her bed went unused as she climbed into bed with him each night. He slept most of the time, but when he occasionally woke up, he indicated with nods or shakes of his head that he was comfortable and was not in any pain. The day before he died, he spent most of the day on his side with his face toward the wall. I encouraged Mom to move up beside his bed so he could see her. He opened his eyes and his face lit up with the love that always shined in his eyes when he looked at her.
“Hi,” she said, patting his face and smiling back at him.
“Hi,” he mouthed back, even though no sound came out.
The love that began in the cotton fields of West Texas over seven decades before was still strong. It was stronger than the years, stronger than the physical infirmities, stronger than the dementia.
The next morning we were getting ready for our daily visit when we got a call. “You need to come right now.” Daddy had passed away quietly that morning. With an aide holding his hand, he had simply stopped breathing.
No matter how expected it is, the final good-bye is always hard. We cried as we sat on the twin bed looking at the empty shell that had been our Dad.
“Grandmother Robinson has her whole family with her in Heaven now,” I said.
Dad was the next to the youngest in a family of nine children, and he was the last to go home. He was a man of strong faith who believed in Jesus as his savior and died with the peace of knowing where he was going.
There is a paragraph in Director’s Cut by Alton Gansky that says “I keep seeing him lying on that table looking like my son but with no life in him.” Daddy didn’t look all that different after he died. Most of the life had already drained out of him, but it went peacefully with no signs of struggle. His mouth was open as if he was snoring, but there was no movement, no blinking, no breathing. This was my first experience with death up close, but Jim is a retired minister.
“I’ve attended many deathbeds, but this one is as peaceful as I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Later we met with the social worker who would be overseeing Mom’s financial and living situation. After what we thought was a routine meeting, she closed her file, folded her hands on top of it, and took a deep breath.
“I want to thank you. I’ve been through a lot of situations like this, but rarely do I see this much peace. All of you are obviously at peace with each other, at peace with the situation, and at peace with your God. That makes my job so much easier.”
Along with his legacy of love, Dad had left us with a legacy of peace. We had learned to love each other and to live at peace with each other and with our circumstances. We were able to release him with no regrets, knowing that nothing was left unsaid or undone. We said good-bye for now, knowing that when our time comes, he’ll be there waiting to show us the way.