87. Dad and the Grand Canyon

87. Dad and the Grand Canyon

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Dad and the Grand Canyon

The desert tells a different story every time one ventures on it.

~Robert Edison Fulton, Jr.

“Dad is there anything on your bucket list that you missed? Anything that you wish you could do before you leave us?” I asked sadly as I watched Dad struggle for his next breath.

Dad’s eyes brimmed with tears. He whispered, “I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon six times. My favorite number is seven. It’s my favorite spot on earth.”

“Well, Dad, how about we ditch this place and enjoy our last road trip together?”

His eyes sparkled, his face took on a new life, even his breathing seem to improve.

“What about your work, Barb? Can you afford it? How am I going to get out of this dark, dingy, stinky hospital?” he asked apprehensively.

“I can’t afford not to go Dad. I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to grant your dying wish,” I answered.

“Then why are you still standing here? Go find that doctor!” His voice got stronger and more excited by the minute.

I hunted down Dr. Pierce and told him about our plan. Shaking his head, he asked, “Are you prepared to bring your father home in a box?”

“Dad, do you mind coming home in a box?” I laughingly asked. “Throw me down the canyon and I will be in heaven there,” he answered, laughing back.

“I don’t advise it,” Dr. Pierce stated emphatically. “I will not discharge him. You will have to take him without my permission. Please think this through, I’m begging you. Your father is one sick man.”

I packed Dad’s few things and we escaped that drab hospital room, ambling out into the cold December air. Dad’s colour came back into his cheeks. He said that the fresh air was healing him. I think it was just the cold air burning his face, but he insisted that he hadn’t felt this good in a long time. I never saw his smile broader or his shoulders squarer. There was a spring in his shuffling steps. Dad was not the weak, tired, sick man we had brought in a week ago with an enlarged heart.

On December 2nd, bright and early at 6 a.m., I packed the car, said a prayer to St. Joseph for a safe and enjoyable trip, and we hit the road. The Grand Canyon was not just Dad’s favorite place but mine too!

We drove for two hours and stopped in Kalamazoo, Michigan for breakfast. Dad ordered bacon and eggs. He’d had enough of that soggy toast and watered-down orange juice. “A healthy man eats meat and potatoes,” Dad stated.

Besides inhaling his breakfast, Dad also interviewed people at the surrounding tables to see who would make a suitable husband for me. “She’s all alone and way too much for an old man like me to handle,” Dad said, chuckling.

“Smiling Archie” was Dad’s nickname. Always a tease, he outdid himself that morning. His body might have been compromised, but his sense of humour was still as devious as ever.

Once back in the car, we both sang along with our favorite country songs. The day before, Dad had been fighting for his every breath. Today he belted out songs as if he were performing on stage.

Further on our drive, Dad insisted we stop at the Meramec Caverns. Our eyes burned with tears of amazement and we held our breath as we witnessed God’s majestic handiwork above and below the ground. The beauty of the multicoloured stalactites and stalagmites was awe-inspiring.

Dad’s water pills and my tiny bladder made it impossible to pass any rest stops. We both got restless and loved to stretch our legs. Dad couldn’t wait to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers. “Where you all from? Can’t believe the traffic, eh?” Smiling Archie made friends with everyone.

In Oklahoma, Dad insisted that we look for a Western shop. He wanted to buy a suit and a red shirt with tassels to be buried in. Dad loved the colour red. He got his wish.

Northern Texas presented us with large ranches, but New Mexico was our favorite with a multicolored, wondrous surprise at each twist and turn. But the roads were treacherous. We were lucky to be alive when we pulled into the Best Western in Albuquerque. The snow was so thick that it was impossible to drive and the roads ahead were impassable for three days. Dad became fidgety.

He mapped out a new route, and the next morning we headed south to Tucson. He loved the cactus in the desert and needed to say goodbye to them too, especially the saguaros, his favorite.

That night Dad was sore and decided to soak in the bathtub. I ordered in dinner. When dinner arrived I knocked at the bathroom door.

“Dad, the pizza is here,” I announced.

“Help, help, potlicker!” Potlicker was his favorite word when he got stressed or annoyed. He sounded desperate.

“Dad, are you okay. Do you need help?” I was suddenly scared. “I’m stuck, and I can’t get out!” He sounded frightened.

I banged open the door and found Dad wedged in, his shoulders stuck under the lip of the tiny bathtub, his knees bent and his feet under the faucet. I tried soaping his shoulders. I tried pulling his arms. I rubbed him and the tub with baby oil to grease him out.

“Gosh darn it, Dad, wiggle yourself out or we’ll have to call the firemen.”

“If you do, I’ll kill you,” he snapped.

I panicked and ran to call the front desk. But he finally squirmed himself loose. “I’m out, now put down that blasted phone!”

Once I saw that he was all right, I laughed. I still can’t control myself when I think back to Dad’s bathtub imprisonment.

The next day, Dad’s dream came true. If I could put a face on happiness, it would have been Dad’s that day on the south rim of his beloved Grand Canyon. It was an emotional, spiritual experience for both of us. I took a dozen pictures of him glowing with joy and appreciation. Two minutes later, as I snapped pictures, Dad slouched down to the ground. His breathing was labored, his face chalky and he was soaked with perspiration. His pulse was weak and he couldn’t speak.

“Oh my God, Dad, can you hear me?” I screamed.

People came running. Someone called 911. We helped Dad to the car and crossed the road to the nearest hotel. Dad refused the ambulance. We stayed at that hotel for the next three days. Enough of his strength finally came back that we could drive home. He insisted on one last look at his heaven.

The drive home was quieter. No boisterous singing, no embarrassing me, not much conversation. But by the third day, Dad picked up again. His silliness returned, his voice was teasing and strong, his whole manner was light and bright. “We are stopping at Gene and Louise’s home in Arkansas,” he announced.

“We’re doing what? Are you kidding me?” I asked.

“You heard me. I always stop there on my way back from the Canyon,” Dad declared.

Gene and Louise were his first cousins. Dad and Gene hung around together as children and were great friends. Louise, a talented, beautiful, funny lady, was a joy to know and love. We spent two glorious days with them and their family listening to music, reminiscing and playing cards. Dad was back in all his glory.

On the way home, just before Cincinnati, Dad bellowed: “Pull over! You heard me. If I have to spend one more day in this car with you behind the wheel, I’m going to wish that I was dead!”

He drove the rest of the way home. He had a new lease on life.

We got to enjoy him for an additional nine months.

I still remember Dad’s last words to my sister Cathy, my brother Gerry, and myself: “I love you! And you! And you!” He looked at each one of us with pride in his heart, love in his eyes, and contentment and peace in his soul.

With his bucket list complete, Dad went into God’s welcoming arms in his new handsome Western suit and his red tasseled shirt.

Every five years, we children make a pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon to honour and visit our adventurous, loving Dad’s spirit.

~Barbara Bondy-Pare

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