The voice on the other end of the line was familiar…a voice I heard about every three or four weeks when I would call. The voice sounded distant, but strong in a controlled way.
“Mark, this is your Mother.”
“Hi Mom. We just got home from Walla Walla. Did you have a nice 4th?” I asked.
There was a short silence on the other end.
“I wanted to call you first since you got angry with me last time when I didn't call when Daddy got really sick. He’s gone. Daddy passed away this morning.”
I just stood there, the cream colored wall phone in my hand. No words. No movement. No…nothing. Paula stopped what she was doing and walked over to me…and looked at me as I just stood there, allowing the words to sink in.
“Mark…did you hear me?” the voice asked.
“Umm…yea, Mom. Are you doing ok? I’ll be up as soon as I can.”
“I’m going to call Debbie and your brothers. Jeff and Lynn are still in Hawaii so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get a hold of them.”
“Oh…ok. I love you Mom” and with that I hung up the phone.
Paula took my hand and asked what was wrong. All I could say was that it was Mom on the phone and that Dad had died that morning. I didn’t know what else to say. There were no tears. No real emotion. I stood there, looking out the window onto the street below...the heat radiating off the black asphalt baking under the early July sun. My mind was grinding…thinking about the man who was my father, now gone.
Memories of the past few years when he had been sick and in the nursing home flashed to my mind. I hadn’t seen him for nearly a year…our last trip to North Idaho the previous fall while he was still in the nursing home. Even then, he appeared so much weaker and smaller than I remembered him. He was unable to speak…just as Grandpa had been when he was in the nursing home so many years before. Mom had taken him home a few months ago because Dad wanted to be at home…and I think Mom must have known that he didn’t have that much time left.
I felt her arms wrap around me, just holding me. She asked if I was “OK” and I said yes. She kissed my neck and then my lips and pulled me to her. We stood there in the kitchen with her head on my shoulder. I’m sure her mind was thinking how strong I was trying to be. She adored her Mom and Dad and if anything ever happened to them, she would be devastated. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be with kids and their parents. But I wasn’t standing there trying to be strong. I was trying to figure out what I should be feeling...because it seemed no feelings were available.
Paula stepped away and told me that she would help me re-pack so I could go up and be with Mom. It’s where she would want to be…need to be, so it made sense to her that that’s where I needed to be as well. I told her I could help her finish putting things away, but she said she would take care of it. I needed to go be with Mom.
We headed to the bedroom and emptied the suitcase and then re-packed it with clean clothes. I grabbed one of my sports jackets from the closet and some slacks, dress shirt and tie. There would be a funeral to go to and I would need to have the right clothes. The suitcase was soon full once again and I carried it and my jacket down and placed it in the car. I grabbed the last of the boxes from the backseat and took them back into the house. Paula handed me a small cooler with a sandwich and Diet Pepsi and kissed me good-bye.
“Are you going to be OK to drive?” she asked. I told her “yes” and that I’d call her when I got there.” Be careful and give Mom my love and tell her how sorry I am” she said and walked me down to the car. She leaned in, giving me one last kiss and I started the car.
The drive north was uneventful…my mind still as much a blur as the reflector poles along the side of the interstate as I sped along. The sun was sliding down the western horizon as I passed through Spokane, still an hour and half from Mom and Dad’s place…Mom’s place now. The pace of the drive slowed down as the highway narrowed to two lanes as I made my way along the familiar route from Coeur d’Alene to Sandpoint…and then the six miles north to the farm.
The air was starting to cool as I pulled into the gravel driveway, the sun no longer visible behind the mountain that rose up behind the place. The familiar red pick-up was in the garage with Mom’s car beside it. The blue paint on the siding of the house was starting to fade some and the lawn was over-grown, obviously unattended for the past several weeks. As I stepped out of the car, the gravel crunched softly under my feet. I walked slowly to the door, opening it and going in without knocking. As I rounded the corner and stepped into the kitchen, Mom turned and faced me…with the ever-present cigarette poised between her fingers.