That’s my dad’s high school graduation picture. I love it, because he looks like the banty rooster he was. He played basketball and football in high school, and was without a doubt the toughest 5’4″ 140 lb. player the Rio Hondo Bobcats ever fielded. Lloyd played baseball, too, with a bunch of roughnecks old enough to drink beer and smoke. Lloyd’s parents were concerned enough about this poor company that they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: if he’d quit the baseball team, they’d spring for flying lessons. Lloyd soloed the day he turned 16. Banty rooster, indeed.
He was still flying planes and sharing ownership of them when he met my mom; he’d dated a few women before, and gotten serious enough to propose to two of them. One of them bent his heart; the other broke it, badly. He didn’t mess around when he met Sis; well, not in the courting department. But he did play a few tricks, like the time he told this Beaumont girl that that green thing she was holding was a pickle. Turned out it was a jalapeñ0.
Then there was the time Lloyd asked her if she wanted to go for a ride in his plane. She thought he was kidding, maybe finding a new place to go parking. Until she saw the little airplane parked at the other end of the field. Her favorite ride was when he would head east to South Padre Island and fly down the coast, chasing dolphins and sea gulls.
Dad loved her, that was clear. All the way to the end.
But along the way there was a farm to work, and work it he did. I grew up underfoot, watching him build things in the wood shop, fix things in the metal shop, weld things that were broken — or that hadn’t existed a few minutes ago. He was a wizard with a torch.
I loved riding in his arms, on his tractor fender, on his back, in his truck. He smelled of Kent cigarettes (until he quit, after 2 packs a day for 40 years), Old Spice, and dirt. He dressed in khaki work clothes and wore a straw cowboy hat every day, until blue jeans and gimme caps came along. He was smooth in the morning, frying bacon while Mom got dressed, and whiskery-cheeked in the afternoon when he came in from work.
Some of my favorite times were when he’d stop by the house in the late afternoon, and — finding me home alone — take me riding with him. We’d check on the water if he was irrigating, take cottonseed cubes to the cows if it was time for that. He showed me how to hold a cube out on my palm for the bolder calves to take; their leathery-wet tongues gave me the willies, especially when the littlest ones would take your finger for a faucet and try like the dickens to get some milk out of it. The only cost for those perfect afternoons was a willingness to practice my multiplication tables as we rode down the road.
Dad taught me to drive, first in the pastures and then on the farm roads, my right thigh aching with the unfamiliar strain of how to run the accelerator and brake. He practiced basketball with me, threw a football with me, rode motorcycles with me, and — when he took up golf, and became obsessed with it — tried to teach me to play that, too. It was the most fun thing I was bad at … I would do anything to have those four hours alone with him, even chase a little white ball.
So many memories. The times I disappointed him hurt like hell. The times he disappointed me … well, those hurt, too, in a different way. But when it came down to the end, one of the things I am most proud of in my life is that he trusted me with what was left to do. He believed I would take care of things.
And on the last day, it was my honor and my privilege and my sad-but-happy blessing to be at his side, to hold that rough hand once more, smooth the calluses and rub the fingers, and ask the nurses to take away this and pull away that, and please, yes, give him the morphine so he can rest a little easier. When his breathing slowed, and that mighty heart along with it, well, there was this moment. He’d been laying with his eyes closed, his mouth open and working hard, running this last race. And then, his eyes slowly opened … and I could swear he was looking at something … looking somewhere … as he gazed over my shoulder. And then his eyelids came down, and the last breath … and then the very last breath. And he was gone.
And yet … not. I could feel his presence in the room, closer now even than before, as though his spirit had been loosed from the failing body and he was free to be as close as the whisper of the wind in the pines he had planted in our yard. I continued to feel him nearby, over the next few days, as I helped his wife, my mother, make the arrangements and decisions that were needed.
Over time, I felt him less often. But there have been times … like when Mom was dying. I had the distinct sense of his presence with us in that room. And then … when she was gone, he was too. Like he had finally taken his love home.
I do hope that’s how it is for them. I believe it is. And I also believe that he and his memories and his life are all bound up in an infinite Memory, tendrils of which reach out to hold me sometimes, when I miss this one soul.