But with all these giants taking up air and space and needing food in our house, I haven't had much time to myself in the last several days. I'm way behind posting here. So you'll have to bear with me while I back up a couple of days. See, two days ago was my Dad's birthday, and several months ago, when I was conscientiously purging my books from bookcases, I ran into the three photo albums my Aunt gave me several years ago from my dad's babyhood. I decided then that I'd scan and post a few pictures on his birthday. They're such representative pictures not only of his life, but of the world of the 30s. The car, the way of living, dressing, camping, etc. So when I finally had a few moments to myself this morning, I uploaded them, and will allow them to tell you a picture story. Dad was born and spent the first nine years of his life in Colorado, and in the summers went up to the mountains to their 'camp', where they had a cabin but lived in large part outside--cooking, washing up, etc. My dad actually started his life doing what he always, always loved--being in the out-of-doors, in the mountains, cooking on open fires, and washing up in metal pans. Amazing to think of!
|Look how pleased this little boy who would grow up to be my dad looks at the wood he's gathered for the fire?|
|Pay attention here to my Dad's hair. That's all I have to say.|
|This is Dad's Eagle Scout portrait. Again, notice his hair, combed exactly the same way, except to the other side.|
|This is the portrait taken of Dad when he retired for Scouting, two years before he died. Again, notice his hair. His whole life, he only had one hair style. Come hell and high water, no matter what, Dad combed his hair the same way.|
I take a blue, heavy-toothed comb
To hold over my father's steely gray hair,
Brushed straight back, a caricature
of the side-parted and gently-flipped
He's worn as long as he'd had hair to comb.
I take the comb from the out-stretched hand
of an undertaker,
Who has rouged my father's always pale, milk-white face
a bad sunburn on a man who'd never been that rosy.
I take the comb to minister,
As my grandmother had, 55 years earlier,
Dressing her grandmother on the worn,
round kitchen table, where meals and laughter
and wine and bread had been served,
Now a mother's body also sacramentally laid out, offered up.
My mother, eleven years old, wide-eyed, face-to-face
with death, watched steadily,
A Kansas prairie reality, a daughter serving,
preparing this final loving ministry.
My grandmother washing, brushing, setting, setting,
Sending the child from the room, because
the brutal, loving act of breaking a rigid leg
had to be done, to fit a body to a box.
Two generations later, I take the comb,
thinking of Kansas death and Grandma Mac,
In this sterile, plush, flower-filled funeral home,
wishing for my family table, and well-worn life
to lay my father out naturally.
Instead I take the comb,
The ministry I can do, touching his full hair,
soft and smooth, like my newborn son's,
Restoring the familiar shape to my Daddy's head,
A sacrament in this empty room
This is his body, despite the artificially-colored face
and coldness of skin.
I spray some water,
my sisters crowding in to critique and direct.
One presses her hand to the wayward strands
to hold them firmly
The other takes the comb to fix what I've begun.
We climb over each other to make him look
himself in this box he's too still in,
Participating in his holy space.
Then we step back,
And tears come.
With the hair right,
The stranger in the box has become
Our Daddy, our beloved Daddy.
And there's nothing left to do for him.
But we are glad, grateful
to have taken him back,
In satin-lined coffin, to a kitchen table,
A laying out and offering up.
This was ours to do, this small thing,
a combing of hair,
a daughter's ministry
As it was 55 years ago, on that Kansas prairie.