I woke up this morning before dawn knowing that today isn’t your average Tequila Friday. Today is May the 7th. Two days after Cinco de Mayo. It’s a day that has been sneaking up on me hour by hour, minute by minute until, while I was sleeping, May the 6th turned into May 7th.
And now, after waking early, I’m ticking the clock down to 10:45 a.m., the time, six years ago, that my dad, our dad, stopped.
And so, today, at 10:45 a.m., I will stop, pause, and let him wash over me.
Like you who have lost someone who means so much to you, to your life, to who you were, are and will continue to become…who you are in this day, and who you were a half-century ago, we remember them.
My folks were present my life, shepherding me with gentle nudges that I didn’t realize, and, sometimes, with the blunt force of a baseball bat – figuratively, not literally. No one had more influence on me than my parents.
I’ve written quite a few posts and poems and stories about my dad over the years, while he was alive and after he wasn’t. Today, I’ll honor his life, not with a story, but with a riffing, stream-of-consciousness nod to his ever optimistic view of the day, from its dawning to its setting, and what he will or did accomplish in the time allotted by the clock. For the day belonged to him. That clock felt by many as handcuffs, as some form of constriction, as it mercilessly ticked forward, tightening the deadlines, putting them further behind in whatever their pursuit.
Dad never looked at it that way. He was one of those people who owned the clock and he used it to his every advantage to DO. DO something. By the way, if you’re going to “do” something, DO something important.
What made something important in his view?: it was something needed, necessary, both remarkable and unremarkable. It might be something of importance to only one person, or to a crowd, or to his home, wife, child, sister, mother, family, company, community, county, state…or country.
When he did it, he did it full bore, like his smile, his handshake, his greeting…”Hi, Homer Riley. Top of the morning!” He said it with a thrill of what’s ahead, of what could be made of the time. What could be planned. Built. Engineered.
Dad was a mover, shaker and instigator. His language was filled with various ways of saying, “Let’s go.”
Although he’s been gone for six years, he stays present in my day in tiny little ways. Starting with taking my pills in the morning. I hear him say, “press the top of your tongue to the roof of your mouth to swallow a pill without choking.” This advice from someone who, in he’s later years, had to swallow a horse pill or two.
When I’m walking, I hear him nudge me to “walk with a purpose. Know where you going to get there.”
Or, one of his quirky suggestive remarks, “Don’t be stupid.” Like when he and his good buddy, Mack Hales, painted themselves into the deep end of the pool and couldn’t get out…at least for a short while. “Don’t be stupid.” Granddaddy’s rule for playing golf as well, shared frequently with his children and grandchildren while they learned the everlasting lessons of the game. Golf is a game of getting into trouble and getting out of trouble.
I mean, “Don’t be stupid” works for almost any act on the consideration table. It was a rule of thumb that could save a teenager from embarrassment, or a business person from ruin.
I constantly hear him whispering in my ear, “What’s next?” instead of “Let’s go.” That’s what Dad began saying in the last months of his life, when he was fighting off an infection that would ultimately be the beginning of that cascading of events that ended his life. It was a time when I really saw his character, his faith in so many things revealed as he shed, piece by piece, his ability to lean in on his own, because he had lost the ability to get up and go…do, on his own.
“What’s the plan, son?” was the first thing that he said to me in the morning when I entered his hospital room, right after, “Good morning, sport!” In deference to his plight at the time, while he was trying to get well, he knew he was in the hands of others and he wanted reassurance that there was a plan for the day…a goal in mind for what he, we, were going to accomplish. Knowing there was a deliberate plan gave him faith that the day would be well spent, not wasted. Even when he didn’t have the strength to walk, he had the desire to make today important.
You know that I can go on and on like this all day. Part of that comes from him. As deliberate as he was about doing, he loved remembering things done, by him, by us, by those he admired, and, by those he didn’t. He loved to remember those jewels of moments, and tell about them, like a banker enjoys counting his money. He had his classics that became part of our family’s legend and lore. But, as long as he was getting up and doing, he was making more memories.
As much as he celebrated the beginning of the day, he memorialized its ending, recognizing what he or those he was with, got done that day.
You could say that Dad was a closer because he put a period on things at the end of every day. Unlike his children who seemed to try and milk an extra minute out of the clock, he went after it until he was done. Then, he pronounced it over and closed it out. I think that came from the Marines, the War, and seeing the ephemeral nature of life and how quickly it can be snuffed. He maintained the general wonder of the world and of life as a counterpoint to the death and suffering that he was forced to witness from inside of a fox hole.
So, he enjoyed the day, what he accomplished, even if that accomplishment was solving an issue that got in the way of the overall goal. Working through challenges was part of the purpose of the doing. Things that complicated the plan, that often frustrated others, just added a new, perhaps unforeseen, dimension of the goal for him. And it was how he and others turned negatives into positives that were his favorite stories to tell. It was his perspective that allowed him to own the narrative, both of the individual stories and the sum total of his life.
Anyway, it’s time to put a period on this. Thanks for spending a few moments of your day with my thoughts, remembering Homer Lindell Riley, Sr.
Hey Dad, what’s next? Let me take my pills first! (tongue to roof of mouth)
What’s the plan?
Don’t be stupid.
Let’s go do something!
Love ya man. I miss you at the start and the end of every day.