My special guest for this post is Barbara Briggs Ward. As has often been the case of late, I first met Barbara through a writer's forum at LinkedIn. When I visited her blog and looked at some of the work she is involved with I thought she would be a great choice for a guest post at Wrote By Rote. The delightful piece that Barbara presents here confirms my supposition. Enjoy her peek at the past and then be sure to visit her blog The Reindeer Keeper and say hello. Barbara's author web page is http://barbarabriggsward.intuitwebsites.com/ . The web page for her book is at http://www.thereindeerkeeper.com/ .
When I was young we lived out in the country surrounded by my mother’s side of the family. With four houses in a row all full of relatives, we were constantly sharing meals and holidays together. But many times at those gatherings, my father wasn’t there. Being a funeral director, he was at work, comforting families in their time of sorrow. My father was very good at what he did. He also provided my cousins and me with a little fun.
Ever so often in the summertime, he’d drive a big, black transport-of-coffins type van home at lunchtime. It resembled vehicles depicted as getaway cars for gangsters in a Godfather type film. We didn’t care. It made the vehicle all the more intriguing. So while my father was eating lunch, my cousins and I would take the van for a marvelous joy ride out amongst the clover and hay. We told him we’d be careful. We told him we’d be right back but once we made it over the plank bridge spanning the creek and then up the hill it was a straight shot to the backfields and we went for it! I can’t remember how old we were. I don’t think that old because my mother had a fit.
Once we were on the straightaway, the fun began. Down came the windows as I stepped on the gas. Our hair would be flying in the breeze as we flew over one bump and then another--turning in circles, dodging trees and shrubs and little creatures that may have been curious. We never wore seat belts but no one did back then. Our heads would hit the top of the van and we never felt a thing. We were free spirits. Nothing else mattered until screeching around that raceway we saw my father in the distance flagging us in. Lunchtime was over. So was our joy ride in the backfields--until the next time.
Summertime also meant staying up and watching late night movies. I’d curl up on the floor. My father would curl up in his chair and fall sound asleep. He tried staying awake. Sometimes he’d almost make it to the end. This was when it was a favorite movie--meaning one that starred Henry Fonda or Gene Kelly or Rita Hayworth to name a few. My mother never understood why we’d stay up so late. Looking back, I’m glad we did.
When graduating from high school, there was a series of events before getting to the ceremony itself. One such event was Class Night. It was an evening of dressing up and mingling with friends. In my case, that included my father. I can’t remember how it happened but there I was in this establishment with my father by my side. But he didn’t stay by my side for long. He became the hit of the evening. You see, many of my friends really liked my father. If able, he’d take the time to talk to them and to listen. It was obvious he cared about what they had to say. Chaperoning was not the reason for his presence. He was there to celebrate the moment with young people he’d come to respect.
In his day, my father had been a singing waiter. Pennies from Heaven was his song. It was that night too. A friend of mine’s mother once told her what a heartthrob my Dad had been. He’d been nicknamed Nookie by girls in the area. Whenever he was working at a certain restaurant girls would fill the place, including my friend’s mom. So this night when the party got rolling, this friend of mine got up and announced to the senior class that they were about to be entertained by Nookie, one hip crooner. The place went crazy. Although the Beatle-like band didn’t know that song it didn’t matter. My father didn’t need music. Once he started everyone got behind him. He had to sing his song more than once! When my father passed away many who’d attended Class Night stopped to pay their respects. In the course of conversations, that night of long ago was remembered fondly over and over again.
My father was fortunate as were the families who sought his services. With an ability to listen and a genuine compassion for people, he’d found his calling early in life. Those attributes were spilled over to his role as a father, offering the four of us fortunate to call him Dad little bits of wisdom now and then. At the time much of what he’d say didn’t make much sense. Youth has a way of doing that. But now I realize he was right about so many things. I try not to waste good energy on tomorrow. All that really matters is that you have your health. And yes Dad. Funerals are for the living as I realized during your wake in your funeral home.
Looking out into the audience that muggy June graduation evening of long ago, I saw my father crying. I understood from knowing him his tears were tears of joy. Graduation, as he’d say, is one of those markers in life just like funerals. For me, Pennies from Heaven has taken on a whole new meaning since his passing.
Barbara Briggs Ward is the author of the award-winning Christmas story, “The Reindeer Keeper”, chosen as Yahoo’s Christmas Book Club Group’s 2012 December Book Selection. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Books titled, “Christmas Magic” and “Family Caregivers”, McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Highlights for Children.
Find out more and follow Barbara’s blog at www.thereindeerkeeper.com. Barbara’s Author Page is at www.barbarabriggsward.com.