Four years ago today, my Daddy went home to Heaven. It has been a bittersweet week on almost every count. Therapy has gone well, I’m healing well (actually, it has been surprising to my therapists and myself!) and we’ve worked on our family’s calendar which necessitates lots of family togetherness, lots of going through pictures and of course the ensuing memories.
Today was my third physical therapy session. Yesterday, I had a “late in the day” appointment, and they were gentle, even though they were thorough. My Sweet Mama drove me and waited in the winter afternoon until I was done, and then we came home to the warmth and cheerfulness of the old farmhouse at Shady Acres. We worked on the family calendar until fairly late, and I was feeling pretty good, so I actually cleaned up the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher.
This morning, I lay in my bed and realized that I was going to pay. I did some stretching exercises, and thought about the hours until today’s session. I tried to arrange the pain meds to maximize their presence in my system. Friend Ruby was coming to clean, and Middle Daughter had big plans for today. Certain Man was going to come home early so he could take me to PT, and I came downstairs and curled up in my chair and hoped that I might miraculously be able to stretch the rest of the way out before therapy. And talked to my Sweet Mama. She was going to Dover with Sister Sarah, and I thought that was a delightful diversion. It sometimes seem that all those who grieve can’t help but follow some sort of unwritten code, and we mark the anniversaries in our hearts and we remember . . .
And then I had a call from Physical Therapy asking if I could come in at 9:30 this morning. I had stated that I preferred a female therapist and there were none available when I scheduled — however, there had been a cancelation, and so they wanted me to come in at 9:30. I did some quick calculations, remembered that I needed to go out anyhow to get some lab work done and decided that I would take the earlier appointment.
I was feeling pretty brave, so I actually drove myself. Pulled into the parking lot, parked and went in. It was a tough, tough session. Maybe there wasn’t enough time between the two days, maybe it was the impending snow storm, but it wasn’t easy at all today. My therapist is a Christian gal, and we chatted and enjoyed our conversation very much. She spoke of her father, and how they weren’t close. He had opposed her initial commitment to the Lord Jesus, and she spoke of her love for him, her prayers for him, and the tears stood in her beautiful eyes. I was going to tell her about my precious Daddy going home to Heaven four years ago today, but it felt like my treasure of a Daddy should not be flaunted in the face of such a painful deficit. Her hands were ice cold, but gentle, and she finished the pulling and bending part of the therapy and my knee felt like it was on fire.
“Okay, girlie,” she said kindly. “Let’s get you on the bike.”
The bike. My favorite part of therapy. They’ve been astounded at my ability to actually get the pedals in a full circle, but it has actually been easier than I expected and the ten minutes of slow and easy pedaling is comforting to me. I walked across the room to where it was standing and got myself arranged on it.
Ouch!! It didn’t go as easy today. I held my offending leg and eased it around the circle a few times until it was loosened up a bit, and then I began the slow and easy pedaling. The noise and the colors of the therapy room faded as I closed my eyes and imagined myself as a little girl on a hot summer afternoon.
It’s late in the afternoon, and I see our family’s black Bel-Aire Chevrolet rounding Closser’s corner as my Daddy makes his way home from town. I watch as it comes down the road and it seems like the back trunk is up a little. I race through the pantry and into the garage and he parks the car and gets out. I walk with him to the back of the car where a large flat cardboard box is protruding from under the tied down lid.
“What is it, Daddy?” I ask. My daddy always provided for our needs, and he brought clothes and shoes and food and such, but he was never one to bring unexpected gifts.
“What do you think it is?” His smiley crinkles are chasing themselves around his brown eyes.
“I have no idea! Let’s open it up!” He has no objections, so we get the box out of the back of the car and open it. It is the most gorgeous blue girls’ bike that I have ever seen. I cannot believe my eyes. “For me?” I squeal.
“Who else?” He says.
My Daddy always loved bikes — he taught us all how to ride when we were little shavers, he bought old bikes and fixed them up for my brothers, and he knew that I loved riding bike. But he didn’t like his little girl riding the boys’ bikes. He was a fanatic about modesty, and it didn’t seem right to him when he saw little girls straddling the high bar on a boys’ bike. I suspect he tried to find a used one, but finally decided to get me a new one.
I was ecstatic. I wore that bike out. I would spend many an afternoon, making the same circle. Starting in the garage, I would pull out before thousands of imaginary, adoring spectators, making sure that my speed was even, my form perfect. I would ride to the end of the driveway, make a short dash on the chip and tar road to the other driveway and then ride full speed ahead for the barn, make the wide circle, head back for the garage, go in the side door, and sidle up to the big garage door, ready to make my grand entrance again where the fans never tired of my monotonous routine, and no one ever competed for my space on the marquee.
And I shut my eyes on the exercise bike, and I imagine that I am nine years old and flying around that old homeplace circle. My pigtails are flying out behind me, my bare feet are pumping the pedals, my legs are strong and my Daddy is watching and smiling . . .
And then the tears begin to fall. I take deep breaths and try to not think about it. I realize, too late, that this kind of imagining today is not a help to me. I am suddenly not able to imagine myself in that long ago memory. I am old and tired and my knee hurts like crazy and I suddenly miss my daddy with a sharp, unrelenting sorrow. I try to keep the tears from sliding down, and when they do, I try to be unobtrusive about wiping them away. The time is suddenly run out on the timer, and the assistant PT tech comes to get me off.
Immediately concerned, she says, “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” I manage. “Really! I am!”
“The pain’s that bad?” she asks solicitously.
I can’t answer. I get off the bike and follow the kind assistant across the room. I still have the ice and stim part of my therapy to do, and they are fixing me up with royal treatment today. The room is suddenly quiet and the several clients kindly avert their eyes. The Physical Therapist comes over, alarmed at the tears, and tries to assess what has gone so wrong.
“No, no,” I manage to get out between sobs. “It’s not the pain, though it is pretty bad today. It’s that bike!” Now they are really looking at me funny. Finally I manage to say, “My Daddy died four years ago today. He almost never bought us gifts just for the anyhow of it, but one time he bought me a bike, and every time I get on that bike it brings back all the memories. Especially today . . . I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cry . . .It really doesn’t hurt that bad!” (Sob, sob, sob.)
And then kind hands were arranging the knee and putting a bolster under it. Someone else was putting the ice into a pillow case and setting up the stim and arranging the knee just so. And the assistant was murmuring comforting words about how blessed I am to have had that sort of a daddy, and that my Mama was a wonderful Mama and I still had her and that she knew I had wonderful parents because she had met my Mama, and with a Mama like that, I had to have had a wonderful childhood. I listened to her gentle mammy-like crooning and felt the tears settle back into their place again. Kind hands brought me a tissue, and the same kind hands brought a cup of cold water, and gradually the crisis of the morning was resolved. I sat on my comfortable perch and dried my tears. Eventually I was cheerful enough to ask for the Ladies Home Journal that was across the room, and I finished my session by reading an article on a “Seven Day plan for a more positive outlook” and realized again that life was really pretty good.
And now I am home in my chair. There is a winter storm warning about and Certain Man is battening down the hatches in preparation for the expected onslaught. The house is clean, and there are candles burning. Middle Daughter is sleeping because she has to work tonight. Somewhere out there, Youngest Daughter is on her way to visit friends in New York and then she will be home on Monday, Lord willing. A friend from church just called and they are bringing supper for our family in just a little bit, and that is cheery. It has really been a wonderful day.
So blessed, so blessed are we!
(Now if I can just get my Christmas letter finished, I will really feel better!)