And Daddy Walked…

Daddy dreamed of sailboats.  And he walked.

His first taste of adult freedom was joining the Navy at the tail end of WWII.  He served in the Pacific.  He didn’t speak a lot about it, but when he did, you could hear a mix of pride, hard realism, and gratitude to have made it home whole.  He came home with a lifelong love of boats.  And the sea.  And he walked.

Twenty years or so into their marriage, Momma got cancer and a 6-month death sentence.  I think it jolted Daddy to the core.  It must have.  For he packed the family up–Momma, my younger brother, and me (the two older siblings were in college)–and moved us from New York to Florida.  He bought a franchise to build ferro-cement boats.  We lived on an island in the Intercoastal Waterway.  The half we lived on used to be a junk yard and the other half had an old fish camp and boat ramp on it.

And Momma healed.

Daddy’s cement boat business did not float, so he started selling power boats instead.  My little brother and I swam in that water, helped scrape barnacles off of boat hulls while alligators uttered their oddly distinct croak in the swamp on the other shore.  We also made lifelong friends of the one couple who did buy a set of sailboat plans and built their beautiful hull in front of our trailer (if steel can float, why not cement?  think about it!).

The motorboats didn’t sell too well either.  But Momma did great.  And Daddy was living his dream, or at least the version of it that he was able, within the constraints of his family, his responsibilities.

Yes, Daddy dreamed of sailboats.  And he walked.

He eventually gave up on the Florida venture, moved back North for a job in credit counseling, and continued to keep an eye on Momma, who had a relapse and some difficult treatment–the radiation burned most of one of her lungs–but she managed to pull through that time.

We lost Momma to her third bout with cancer 20 years after her first battle had been won.  As I look back on it now, I realize the huge impact Daddy had on the course of her struggle, her war, her victories, her defeat.

Daddy walked with Momma every step of the way.  Not only did he not give up, he lead them on a path few others would have chosen, let alone imagined.  A path that lead to a dream, that took one’s mind off of harsh medical realities and focused energies on new challenges, new places, new friends.

And Momma healed.  Even though the doctors had given her six months to live.  Daddy had not told her that part until much, much later, when it looked like the battle was safely won.  Yes, it turned out there was still a second, then a third battle to fight.  But she made it twenty years–not six months–twenty years!

Yes, Daddy dreamed of sailboats, and he walked.

After Momma passed, Daddy moved from Cleveland to the DC suburbs where my younger brother and I had settled.  When I got married, he bought my DC condominium that overlooked the Virginia skyline across the Potomac River.  And he walked and he walked and he walked.

One of his favorite walks was to the Southwest waterfront just two blocks away.  With its marina.  Full of sailboats.

Daddy’s memory finally deteriorated so badly that he was no longer safe living on his own.  His was probably one of the slowest descents into Alzheimer’s I’ve ever heard of.  My siblings and I had been concerned about him even when Momma was still with us, but the signs were so vague (yet nagging) that we all pushed the issue into the background as long as we could.

I think he knew, though, and that was one reason why he moved near his children after losing Momma.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years after Momma passed… Daddy was still dreaming of sailboats.  And walking.

When he left his Assisted Living Facility for a long walk down a busy neighborhood highway, the police found him a few miles up the highway and brought him back.  He was at a grocery store parking lot.  Looking at the boats.  It was real to him.  And they were so beautiful.  I can still see the happiness on his face as he described them to me.

They gave us a week to find another place for Daddy to live.  It was locked.  Daddy didn’t walk much there.  What was the point?

Daddy passed twenty years after Momma.  I hope they have found each other again, in spirit.  I hope they have a lovely view of a marina full of beautiful, elegant sailboats.  Now that illness and familial responsibilities no longer tether them to an earthen path, I hope they are sailing away in one of those boats–it would have to be a wooden hull… or cement!–relishing a delightful, salty breeze, the sun warming their faces, their love and their dreams fulfilled.

(6-15-14 in loving memory of my father, WDD)