Mom and I have been working on compiling memories of Dad for a personal history. My deepest regret is that I didn't get to ask him my list of questions and record his responses into something meaningful. I sat down with him one day in June (before his back injury), and he spent 45 minutes sharing a timeline of his life, along with a few stories he wanted to share. His voice was very weak, and his speech was often slurred. I had to repeat what he said into the microphone, so it could be understood. He had agreed to my plan that we would work in the yard until noon during the summer, and then he'd come inside and we'd interview during the hot part of the day, but that was as far as we ever got!
For the past week, we've been sifting through his boxes of papers and old photos, and have interviewed the siblings on their memories of Dad when they were growing up. I've been on a determined hunt to find recordings of his voice to add to the history. I wanted his voice before Parkinson's weakened his vocal chords, and slowed his quick response and mental sharpness. My children and even Josh never REALLY knew the man that I knew growing up, and when Dad passed away that was my greatest cause of mourning - that they'd have to wait SO long to really KNOW him. Sadly, the most I've been able to come up with was a recording of a talk he gave at his mother's funeral, and a few Christmas Eve story readings. I guessed that was all there was, and that would have to do.
This being our first Christmas without Dad, I've been searching for ways I can help make it special for Mom. She has such great faith and optimism, but I still wanted to help her somehow feel Dad's love for her, too. To let her know that he is still mindful of her. Yesterday I read this wonderful article called CARDINALS, which tells a story of a red cardinal's visit to a grieving daughter after the passing of her beloved father. The cardinal came and inspected a newly-installed front door, and she remembered her grandmother saying,
"Cardinals appear when angels are near."
Mom had recently been planning to decorate the tree in a gingerbread theme, but today when I went in to visit, she said, "I think I've changed my mind about the tree. I want it all white, with lots of white lights, and I want to make it a FAMILY TREE with photos of you children and of our family members who have passed away. It's funny how when you lose someone, your perspective changes from Gingerbread trees to Family Trees." I decided it was the perfect time to share that article about the cardinal. "Oh, Cardinals were always his favorite bird to spot in Virginia!" She thought she remembered having a tiny, glass Cardinal ornament, and quickly found it. We decided to create that white tree she's envisioning, and have the one, red cardinal there to remind us that Dad is near.
We went to the back room to sort through some more boxes, and I came across a bag of cassette tapes. One of them was labeled in Dad's unmistakable print, "Christmas 1983". Mom said she'd seen it, but was so worried about the player ruining the tape that she'd never listened to it. We guessed that it must have been something he did for his parents, who were serving an 18-month mission to Cocoa Beach, Florida that year. "Oh, we're listening to THIS," I said. I grabbed the CD player, popped in the cassette and pressed PLAY.
What was on that tape was nothing short of a miracle. The tape began with my Dad greeting his parents and wishing them a Merry Christmas, but as we listened, it was as if his words could be applied to both his present and OUR present simultaneously. His voice was clear and strong and young and energetic. He had inflections and personality in his voice! He said, "This being your first Christmas away from home, and you are likely experiencing your first taste of homesickness, so we thought we would share some news with you, and some music and poetry so that we might not feel so far away." To my mom, that tape was a Christmas gift to on the FIRST day of Christmas from her true love. Like "It's a Wonderful Life", it was George Bailey's glimpse into his WONDERFUL life, only this one was a reality, brought back from long ago for her to remember!
So we might not feel so far away.
Each child (Jon, Andrew, me, James and Tim) each took a turn at the tape recorder, telling some news and then singing a song or reading a poem. It was quite possibly the most adorable thing I've ever heard, and I have NO memory of it! Dad told how he had recently been called as Cub Scout Committee Chair (this was in addition to ward choir accompanist and High Priest teacher). The ward choir was performing the Hallelujah Chorus (which he LOVED), but that it was the most difficult piece of music he'd ever learned! He recited Dickens and read some Christmas stories, and told all the news of the family, from the weather down to his plans to put up the Christmas lights that day! He shared his testimony and his love of the Savior and of the "important work" he knew they are doing on their mission.
To say Mom and I were amazed is an understatement. Mom cried through the whole thing the happiest tears I've ever seen. "This is a gift from Dad!" Our Cardinal had come to visit, and had planted a Christmas gift in a box for us to open on December 1st with his VOICE and words of testimony, love and encouragement! It was truly one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen. To think of all the years that that tape was sitting in that storage box, patiently waiting for the very moment we would need it most. Well, I don't think it's a coincidence.
Tomorrow is December 2nd. Our church has a Christmas initiative this month to LIGHT the WORLD each day, and tomorrow's theme just happens to be "JESUS HONORED HIS PARENTS AND SO CAN YOU"
So today, I honor you, Dad. Thank you for your love towards your family both then and now. Angels are among us both here on earth and beyond. They are mindful of me, they are mindful of you - be they the shape of Cardinals or Cassette tapes. Thank you for being an example of a loving, faithful, giving father.
Thank you, Dad, for lighting our world!