Friday, October 14, 2016

Happy Birthday, Daddoooooo

An earlier version was published on 10/14/12, three weeks after we hosted Little Cuter & SIR's wedding.
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It was always very confusing - was his birthday the 12th or the 14th of October?  One of them was Columbus Day and the other was Herb's Day and to this moment I still have to stop and think.... and it's gotten harder since the bureaucrats moved Chris's Day to the generic.

But he was around me in spirit at the wedding he missed by a decade or so, and he's not having an easy time returning to his life on the other side.

Yes, I am much happier blaming him for intruding than wondering why I am conversing with dead people. In my defense, we're not so much conversing as he is hovering and I am feeling nudged.


For example, I misplaced the green metal hiking pole I've been using to keep me balanced and symmetrical.  I could have used the metal one with the "I Love Tucson" sticker crookedly affixed just below the grip, but it looks too much like rehab and not enough like life. 

Then, I found myself with Daddooooo in the potting shed, leaning on the wall above the bucket of handmade walking sticks he'd crafted from fallen branches of the pin oak in his backyard, personal walking sticks measured for each and every member of the family.

I have been using  G'ma's all day.  Herb's been chattering in my ear the whole time.

That was his way.  Deaf-as-a-door-nail, hearing aid batteries constantly squealing or dying or resting comfortably in the breast pocket of his plaid wash-and-wear shirt, he monopolized conversations so that he would know what was going on. That works well until your audience hits second grade or so; after that, it becomes a full fledged "Herb Attack."

I know this because I have been guilty of them, myself.

His tales were fascinating.  If the facts weren't really facts, well, they should have been.  He went to City College with Richard Feynman.  He lived down the block from Jonas Salk. He knew every cobblestone, every cornerstone, every brick and street sign in Manhattan.  Serving as tour guide in The Big Apple made him about as happy as anything else I can imagine... and I've been sitting here thinking about it for a while.

Surrounded by his grandchildren-of-a-certain-age, those who were sentient but not yet sarcastic, he was the tour guide of his own life.  He could sit for hours, regaling them with stories about the chickens they raised in the backyard on Hessler Avenue, about the boat he and his brothers built one summer... the boat that almost floated, about the time it rained frogs, and about all the times he got into trouble at school, because he just wouldn't stay still.

He probably deserved a diagnosis or medication; for those born in 1916 those options were nowhere on the horizon.  He was "just being Herbert." He continued being just himself, sui generis as I called him in the obituary I wrote for the New York Times, until the very end.

He died at home, between the first and second commercial of the 10 o'clock episode of Law and Order on the Saturday night before Thanksgiving.  There's some confusion about the date, since the hospice nurse didn't get there to sign the death certificate until early Sunday morning.  Like his birthday, I need cues to keep the date straight.  Like most things Daddooooo related, this is not now nor has it ever been easy.

The funeral home attendants gave her a moment in the hallway before they wheeled him out the front door.  G'ma leaned over, kissed him, and then admonished him, one last time: "Behave yourself, Herbert!  Don't give them any trouble."  The paramedics were bemused.  My mother looked right back at them.  "If you'd known him, you'd understand."

Happy Birthday, Herb, you strange and singular father of mine.  Happy Birthday to YOU!

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