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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The End Cap of My Life - Part V (Final)

This is the fifth and final installment in a series.

The balance of my Dad’s visit could not have been more delightful. As I write this last  segment nearly nine months after the fact, its imprint still remains.
Our week continued with excursions to local attractions and many scenic explorations.  We had rented a wheelchair in anticipation of Dad’s visit, in part so that we could take him on a lovely boardwalk hike nearby.  Fortunately, we never had to use it.  The Elfin Forest, as it’s called, is a series of boarded paths atop a large marshy area adjacent to Morro Bay. Its name comes from the small Oak trees that populate the area. (Like the Cave Landing hike, we’ve taken many a family photo at this particular spot.) The end of the path deposits visitors on platform overlooking an inlet filled with water fowl and other sea life.

Another day while I was at work, my husband took Dad and our kids to investigate the quaint downtown area of San Luis Obispo. Our 5-year old daughter was overjoyed when he purchased her, not one, but two star pendant necklaces that she’d been longing for from one of the shops. For our son, he bought a batting tee which served to further energize his interest in baseball. And, to my surprise, he bought a beautiful vase carved out of Mango wood as a gift for me.  (He did always have good taste in gifts!)

One of the highlights of the visit was the evening the entire family sat down and watched videos of my Dad’s inventions.  The four videos – filmed by one of my sisters – featured Dad demonstrating each of four creations. Our 8-year old son, who is predisposed to all things math and engineering, was both intrigued and impressed by what we saw. I could tell my Dad had just gone up a few notches in his estimation.  

On the day before he was to leave, I took the day off of work and the two of us spent time walking the pier at Avila Beach. My Dad has always been an avid fisherman, so he asked the locals lots of questions about the bait they were using and what kinds of fish they were catching. Ironically, that very pier is my “go to” location for calling my Dad for our periodic talks. There’s something about the ocean breeze and the view that makes it such a peaceful place.
I saved perhaps the single most scenic drive in the area for the ride home that day. It starts out as See Canyon Road near Avila Beach, and 13 miles later it empties onto Prefumo Canyon Road back in SLO.  The winding road starts in a country-like environment with lots of trees and small fruit farms. As the elevation slowly increases, it opens to broader vistas of hills and grazing cows, and it’s not uncommon to see deer running about. Each segment of the drive is more beautiful than the last until suddenly, and unexpectedly, you find yourself at the top of the summit where the grandeur and scope of the mountains is like gazing down from heaven itself. In every direction, you peer down into gentle, undulating valleys of grass and across to mountain ranges hundreds of miles away.  As we took in the splendor, I heard him utter, “Thank you, Lord” under his breath. Another unforgettable day.

On the evening his flight was to depart, we settled into another long conversation in the living room. It was during this last talk that I learned the most about my father. He talked about his love for his own father, and how, when he was young, his father saw some of my Dad’s sketches and praised them, encouraging him to pursue his artistic passions. That meant so much to my Dad.
He told me that he’d only ever had one argument with his dad, and that he later apologized and they easily made amends. He said that, while he loved his mother, his father was more emotionally expressive and would give him big hugs after my Dad’s return from business trips. 

We talked for a good two hours before finally heading out the door. As we drove to the airport that night, he said to me, very quietly and introspectively, “Meg, this trip was really the end cap to my life.  I’ve always longed to see the things I saw on this trip—the ocean, the mountains.” 

That hit me hard – with his failing health, this was very likely his last grand adventure on this earth. While deeply saddening, it also brought me comfort and joy – to know that we had experienced it together. That it had been me who brought him here, to this place.

In the airport, I had the overwhelming feeling of being his “little girl” again. I sat right next to him, with my head on his shoulder, feeling the love and comfort and protection of “my daddy.”  I couldn’t help but cry gently. He told me how much he enjoyed his visit, how much he admired my husband and our kids, and that he was happy that I was happy.  The little girl inside me basked in this validation, and yet I still had to ask, timidly, “Do you think I’m a good mom?”  He turned to me, very suddenly, and looked at me and said, “Of course!” His delivery of those words had a certain emphatic, almost angry, tone, and at first I was taken aback, but then I quickly realized that his defiant tone was because he couldn’t believe I didn’t already know this deeply for myself, that it was self-evident.
We hugged and expressed our love one last time before he entered the security area. I couldn’t hold back the flood of tears as I walked to my car. I opened the door and proceeded to wail uncontrollably for the next 15 minutes. So many feelings rose to the surface: why had I waited so long to spend quality time with him; why hadn’t I known his love for me until now; would this be the last time I ever saw him.

I suddenly had to see him one last time; I had to tell him one last time that I loved him.  I ran to the fence surrounding the airstrip and waited for him to appear on the tarmac. Though he was only 150 yards away, the sound of the airplane engines drowned out my calls to him.  “Dad! Dad!  Dad!” I yelled repeatedly.  But he didn’t turn my way, he couldn’t hear me.
Though the desperate part of me needed for him to see me, to hear my calls, the deeper part of me knew that it was okay.  We had said what needed to be said, we had expressed our farewells.

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