A Story of Dad

We did our tour of the yard, as we always do. It’s the first thing he says to me usually, after our hello hugs. “Let’s take a garden tour!” And we do. I picked lemons, because that lemon tree has the finest lemons on it anywhere. Meyer lemons, of course. The tree is only a few years younger than I am.

Dad likes to sit in this chair in his garden. But when I asked him to, he wouldn't, lol.
Dad likes to sit in this chair in his garden. But when I asked him to, he wouldn’t, lol. Tomatoes on the far left and far right. Pole beans and sunflowers behind them.

We usually take our time, go from one corner of the small yard to the other, talking about what was growing, what he’d gotten rid of, what he wished he’d planted.

But this time he wears out fast. Pneumonia, he says. On meds. I’m fine, he says. I eye him. He’s thinner than the last time I saw him. Worn. So we retreat to the cool of the house and sit on the couch he and my mother had picked out years ago now. I’ve never liked that couch but I suppose it will live on long after I am gone. Some pieces of furniture are like that.

We sit there, holding hands. The skin on the back of his hand is so soft, loose. His fingers are gnarled by arthritis, and yet he still manages to type on a keyboard. We talk. He mentions a short story he wrote, a companion piece to the one he wrote about his dad, my grandpa. Grandpa sold off the family farm and equipment and livestock for pennies, so he could take his family out of Nebraska, escape the dust bowl of the late 1930s. That was dad’s original short story, about the sale. The new short story is about the journey to Oregon.

You remember it, don’t you? Living on the farm in Nebraska? I stroke his hand. So soft.

Not really, he answers. Just bizarre things, like Dad pouring kerosene down a cow’s throat because she was bloated. The kerosene helped the cow vomit up the bloat. Oh, and one time the neighbors gathered to castrate some of the piglets. Lots of screaming that day. Piglets are noisy.

And Mom, he says. When the time came to thresh the wheat, all the farm families would pitch in and hire the thresher, and everyone would go to a farm and get ‘er done. When our turn came, Mom would be cooking all day and she’d lay out a lunch on a huge table outside under the trees. Chickens and ham and steak, beans and whatever we’d grown in the house garden. Everyone would sit around and eat. Then the next day, they’d go to another farm and thresh their wheat.

But I didn’t do too much, he said. I was too little.

And then he pulls out of the past. I’m going to the Western Writers Association conference on Tuesday, he says. In Las Vegas. Jo will go with me, make sure I’m taking my pills.

I frown at him, but I know he won’t back down.

Chet Cunningham's office.
Chet Cunningham’s office.

I’ve got nine projects to pitch, he says. Twelve or thirteen on the shelf that no one wants. But nine to pitch. I’ll sign up for as many pitch appointments as I can, he says.

Conferences can be really tiring, I say. Make sure you rest.

Oh, I’m on a panel, he says. But I won’t go to many workshops. Want to talk to people mostly.

We fall into a comfortable silence, our hands still holding on. I remember the last time I saw my mother, the day I put my head in her lap and cried because she looked so confused about life. A week later, she had died from an infection that got into her bloodstream.

Dad has pneumonia, and he’s going to a writer’s conference. It is so like him. I hold his hand gently, and engrave this memory, this time, this conversation with him, deep into my heart.

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35 Responses to A Story of Dad

  1. janieemaus says:

    OMG! I love all those books.

  2. Kady Winter says:

    Absolutely lovely, Christine. What an inspiration he is, and how beautifully you captured the moment with him.

  3. You’re right to worry…my dad died of pneumonia at 79. I still remember tracing all the blue-green veins in his hands, like following lines on a map to a destination I couldn’t fully appreciate until the journey was over and the map long gone. But your dad wants to go to the writers conference. He’s making plans and seeing people. He’s on a panel. He’s living his life. Something tells me the pneumonia is simply going to have to back the hell off for a while ’til Mr. Cunningham get’s his shit done.

    • Christine says:

      Yep. The thing is, he’s never done, lol! Jo has a lot of practical nursing experience and she keeps him in line. Plus he’s been looking forward to this for months.

  4. lynettemburrows says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your dad. What a wonderful man. He’s living and loving his life. And obviously loving his daughter who loves him right back. Thanks for sharing, Christine.

  5. MonaKarel says:

    You are so fortunate in your father. But I bet you knew that

    • Christine says:

      I do know that. I just wish we lived closer. Ah well. It’s only 174 miles between our houses.

  6. Thanks, Christine! What a loving tribute to your Dad! He’s an awesome inspiration- with such tenacious spirit, and commitment to living life LARGE and to the fullest!!

  7. Once again you’ve made me cry. But in a good way. These pieces are wonderful. Please do a follow up on his conference adventures, okay?

  8. Laura c. says:

    It’s very hard to watch our parents age. My dad is 89. He still skis… But he’s slowing down. I love the picture of your dad’s office – it looks just like I remember! I’m glad that both of our dads have someone in their lives to look after them. It helps us long-distance daughters alot.

    • Christine says:

      I HATE being a long-distance daughter, Laurie. The house – much of it is the same, but a lot of it has changed. Jo is good for him, and Lord knows he’s good to her and her family. I just wish, when the opportunity had been there, that Tom and I had bought the house next door. When I first mentioned it oh, 20 years ago, he looked at me, horrified, and said something to the effect of, why would you want to do that? Terrible idea! And now, of course, it’s far too late. Hugs honey!

  9. What a beautiful post, Christine. It’s so wonderful to see people living life to the fullest, no matter their age. And to have a parent who truly understands your business? As they say in the commercial: priceless!

    • Christine says:

      You’re right, Alina! The only thing he pushed me to do was to join RWA. And even that took a couple of years, lol!

  10. robena grant says:

    What a lovely memory you’ve just made for yourself. That moment will stay with you forever. And good for your dad! He’s living his life, he has goals and dreams, and he’s enjoying the game of seeing if they will come to fruition. So many of the older generation sit around letting life flow by them. I love his attitude.

    • Christine says:

      He’s stubborn, that’s for sure, Roben! And yeah, I’m just like him, lol. Hugs!

  11. Maria Powers says:

    My seestor lives down the street from mom who is still active and moving forward with her life. Still, it makes me feel better that my seestor is there, close by. I wish I were closer.

    Your dad really is a warrior. He keeps doing what he loves and shows all of us how to move forward in our lives no matter what happens. Blessings to you and to him.

    • For a long time, my brother lived fairly close. Now he’s up in Tehachapi but my nephew and family are still in the area, so that’s good. Blessings back atcha, Maria!

  12. Extremely touching, Christine. It felt like I was there in the room with you and your dad. It’s wonderful you’re so close with your dad and making memories to last.

  13. Christine–that was a post with LOADS of heart. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  14. Your story with your father Christine is so heart-warming. Truly, when our parents age, it takes a lot of love and a tremendous amount of patience as they continue to hold on to the little bit of independence they have left. And with Pneumonia, no less. Your father’s amazing! And cute! He’s got nine pitches? This is what’s keeping him young! Look what a drive he has. And he’s so excited about it. Oh Christine, you must be so torn between pride and worry. I know you cherish every moment you have with him. 🙂

  15. gretchenwing says:

    Christine, this is beautiful, and so beautifully written. Spare. It is such a gift to read a post that reads like, well–a book. A story. Real writing. Your dad must be as proud of you as you are of him.

  16. This is a beautiful, moving piece that conveys a real sense of your dad and your relationship with him. Also inspirational to see this old man, sick and clearly getting frail, still writing, pitching–dreaming. I love seeing that, especially since my mother’s chronic ill health means it’s an accomplishment for her to get to the grocery store, the pharmacy and the hairdresser in the same week. Sending a little bit of energy your dad’s way–conferences are exhausting even if you’re not recovering from pneumonia.

  17. Christine! Absolutely loved this post well done. Your father’s indomitable spirit really came through. Gave me some reason to get up off my keester and get back to work! Thanks!

    • Christine says:

      Jason, thinking of my dad’s work ethic often propels me back to my works in progress. Cheers hon!

  18. Loved the post, Christine. Very sweet and tender. I, too, was blessed with wonderful parents and it’s a joy to see how much you obviously appreciate every moment with your dad.

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