Saturday, June 18, 2011

Substitute Father

I took the round about way home today after a physical therapy appointment to drive past our house we lived in before the present one. The house where neither of my children grew up in. Both were away at college at the time when we decided on a change, partly because my brother Gary and his family had moved to Marietta, and enjoyed the neighborhood they’d moved into.

I have fond memories of the white two-story house with dormer windows. The porch with sunshine spilling across the painted planks, seem to say, ‘pull up a rocker and sit a spell’. A beautiful magnolia tree a friend planted in memory of my sister, Gail, and a pink dogwood in memory of my mother, still stands gracefully in the front yard. I drove slowly alongside the backside to see the beautiful Pin Oak that I planted for Gail which was big and strong, filling me with hope, like she did. The huge back porch that ran the entire length of the house, had been my favorite retreat with its Southern wicker furniture, white swing, plants with blue and white accessories. Many ideas and dreams of mine were birthed on the back porch, and many a conversation with my brother, too.

I took my time leaving, filled with many good memories and a few not so good, but today I chose to dwell on the good ones. I recall hanging thick garland on the pristine white porch railing when it was always a bright cold November day. Many Christmas parties were given there, with Gary and his family. A favorite time was when my children would come home from college, each enjoying their private haven and delight me with their tales of dorm life and of course my son’s fat laundry bag! My aging mother would come to visit in the summer and fall, and Gary and I would share her visits. She loved the back porch and would spend time on it either ironing, or having coffee with us but usually napping. What a precious time that was.

I was so excited back then to be living only three miles from my brother and his family. Never in a million years did the two of us ever dream that would happen. So I then inched my way down the street to his old house in this unusual bittersweet mood. Many afternoons I’d go over to his house after he’d get home from work, and we'd have coffee while he waited on the ‘jewel’ in his eyes to arrive home from middle school, then high school, then later college. How the years have flown by now. We had many a meal at their house and they ours, and I cherish every single one, especially when he made gumbo or carmel pie! He spoke at my writer's class at church, and I was so proud to introduce him! Later Gary moved to Montana and not long after that, I lost him to a terrible virus, but more importantly, my sweet niece lost her dad and my sister-in-law her husband and best friend. I watched my niece grow into a lovely adult woman and my sister-in-law a widow. Such hard, hard times back then.

But I had lost a dear friend and a substitute father. I loved my real father, but he was never home for long, and my brother Gary had to shoulder the responsibility of becoming the head of the house when he was way too young for such a role. But handle it, he did! He worked long, hard hours while still in high school stocking shelves and unloading trucks at A & P Grocery to help pay the bills and put food on the table. Later, he worked his way through college during some tough financial struggles for all of us. All the while, he was being the best friend, brother and substitute father that he could, offering advice when needed and instruction, though he was only six years older than me. When he became a published author, I was so proud of him and so were my siblings, but especially my mother! He wrote seven westerns under the pen name of Jess McCreede, and was Deputy Superintendent at Glacier National Park in MT, the place where he felt most at home. He had a wonderful sense of humor, always making me laugh and we had fun talking about our writing. He was extremely intelligent, a friend to all, a quiet, soft-spoken man with gentle hands, whom almost no one had an unkind word to say.

So my tribute this Father’s Day is to my brother, Gary (Jess) or known to his peers as Jerry O’Neal, who was always there for me, in my corner, in my face, in my world, my mentor, my dearest friend, always encouraging, believing in me, lifting me up when I was down, and in my life as much as he could possibly could until his death. He wasn’t my only brother but he was the best one. Jess, I miss you still…