From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Humor Me

The thought of our past years in me doth breed a perpetual benediction.

William Wordsworth

“Hey, let’s go to the beach before we leave,” Dad said out of the blue.

Even though I had been raised in Florida, I never really liked the beach—too much sun and sand. “Why?” I asked warily.

“I just want to see the ocean one last time,” Dad said wistfully. I couldn’t think of a good reason to say no, so I decided to humor him.

The sun’s rays beat down on the roof of the car. Intermittently, we were either at a dead stop or a slow crawl. I had forgotten how hot March could be in Florida. I had also forgotten it was spring break. A long line of cars filled with nubile young bodies stretched ahead of us as far as the eye could see.

Dad interrupted my thoughts. “Try the AC again.”

“Donna said it doesn’t work. Frank was going to get it fixed, before . . . “ My voice trailed off. To humor Dad, I flipped the dial. Hot air blasted us in the face.

We had come “home” to Florida to attend the funeral of my father’s youngest brother. Ever since Frank’s death, Dad was convinced he was going to leave this world next. On the flight to Florida, he again regaled me with all the little details he thought I needed to know—where his will was filed, who held life insurance policies, and other important information.

“Dad, we’ve been over this a thousand times,” I reminded him. “I know where it all is. We’ve taken care of everything. I don’t know what you’re so worried about, anyway. You’re as healthy as a horse. We walk every morning—you even do your exercises. I can’t even touch my toes the way you can. I wish you would get this silly thought of dying out of your head.”

“Both my father and his father died young,” my dad reminded me.

“Yeah,” I said, “and you were sure you were going to die at fifty-nine, remember? In case you haven’t noticed, you’re seventy-one!”

“Will you just humor me?” Dad finally countered. “This is probably my last trip home to Florida, and I want to enjoy it.”

After Frank’s funeral, Dad had taken the time to visit with each of his remaining cousins for the “last time.” His father had been one of twelve children, so the task was daunting.

The whoops and whistles of the teens in the car ahead brought me back to the present. If my memory served me correctly, the bridge to the beach island was still a couple of miles ahead. I was tempted to turn around, but I knew this would be our last chance to make the pilgrimage before our return flight home.

We were moving slowly now, and after an eternity we crossed the bridge to the beach road. “Take a left here,” Dad suggested. I turned onto the main stretch that ran the length of the island. We drove back and forth on that road several times looking for a public parking spot. I spied an opening in the back of a lot and made my way to the space. It was marked, “Police Parking Only.”

“I guess we don’t have to stay,” Dad grumbled.

“We came all this way, broiled waiting to cross the bridge and braved the spring break crowds. We are going to see the ocean!” I vowed.

It was then I saw a store right across from the beach. “Maybe if we buy something, they’ll let us park in their lot for a few minutes.”

“It’s a tourist trap,” Dad protested.

“Do you want to see the ocean or not?”

Dad’s reluctance quickly melted away.

Inside, the store brimmed with shell dolls, starfish creations and dolphin candles. I bought a hair clip and explained our situation to the proprietor. “We’ll only stay a few minutes,” I assured him. “Dad wants to see the beach one last time.”

He eyed us up and down carefully, and then a broad smile transformed his face. I realized then what a sight we were, Dad and I. He was dressed in his regulation khakis and a short-sleeved shirt. His required white T-shirt, a last vestige from his Air Force days, peeked out at the collar. Lace-up shoes and brown socks completed the outfit. My ensemble was no less amusing—dark jeans, a long-sleeved cotton shirt, socks and tennis shoes. “Go ahead and go.” The storeowner gave his permission. I think he knew we wouldn’t be staying long. We’d die of heatstroke, dressed as we were.

We crossed the street and descended the stairs. It wasn’t the beach of Dad’s childhood. The coastline had been ravaged by progress. It wasn’t even the beach of my childhood. No, every square inch of sand seemed to be covered by towels, umbrellas and near-naked bodies. But the sand, the surf and the horizon were the same, timeless.

“Scoop up some of that sand,” Dad suggested, pointing to the snow-white crystals on the beach below. He handed me a paper cup he must have carried from the car. I didn’t want to walk across the sand. I was wearing sneakers—once sand gets in, it never gets out! But I decided to humor him. I filled the cup and handed it back to Dad. He poured a bit of it into his hand and let the silky granules slip between his twisted fingers. Then his eyes went to the coastline once more. “See those shells over there? The kids would like them. Grab a few, please.” I went over and selected several pretty ones. Dad nestled them into the sand in his cup, and then turned to me. “We can go now,” he said contentedly.

We headed to the car and made our way off the island and back to my aunt’s house.

Not long after we returned home to Colorado, Dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer—the same monster that had killed his brother. He died six months later.

We were constant companions until the end.

The sand and shells we collected sit in a jar on my mantle. Sometimes, I take the jar down and let the sand trickle through my fingers as I remember Dad’s last trip to the beach. I’m glad I humored him.

Lynn Dean

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