My father was an enigma. I know that is a well-worn term....maybe i should say shadow, un-present presence...he was like a card board cut out sitting in the living room with his feet up. I remember the day my mother told me they were divorcing. I was 8. She said it was because he was an alcoholic. I never knew he drank. He wasn't the kind of drinker to storm in the door at 2 a.m. yelling at the family. He just didn't come home. But, as he was so vacant when he was home...I never noticed when he wasn't there. I remember in 1971 he went into the hospital for a month. We visited once. I remember the ridiculous straw hats he and my mother bought in the gift shop. My father gave me a drawing that fellow patient had drawn. It was of some flowers. Not too bad but not particularly extraordinary. Then he told me the guy drew it while wearing handcuffs. I guess I thought it was kind of extraordinary after all. It wasn't until several years later that I realized my father was not in the "hospital"...he was in rehab. I shudder to think what rehab was like in 1971. My mother said the rehab "took" for about a year. Then he went back to drinking. I remember one night when our mother woke us up in the middle of the night and we drove 30 miles to sleep at our grandparents. I don't remember any expalnation being given at the time. I now know that my father had locked himself in the bathroom with a shotgun threatening to kill himself. My mother told him if you're going to kill yourself please get out of the house. Cold, but she had probably delt with alot by then.
As I said my parents divorced when i was 8. At that time we moved out of the Iowa town of 10,000 to a farming community. For some strange reason even though my parents were divorced my father was living with us on the farm. When i speak to my mother about it she recalls that he lived there for about 18 months. At some point he went on a 3 day bender and finally showed up back home. My said that they weren't even married and she couldn't take this life anymore. She asked him to leave. What is really strange is i don't remember him leaving. He was such an absent prescence that when he was gone you didn't notice.
My father moved to a town about 15 miles away. We visited him maybe twice over the next two years. The only thing I remember about his apt was the beads he had hanging in one doorway. A real hip bachelor pad.
Shortly after that my father moved to northern Iowa. We did not see him for 5 years. Then out the blue he was at my brother's high school graduation. The first thing i noticed was that he wasn't the skinny rail of a man I had know all my life. He was thicker. He seemed really uncomfortable. He had his new wife with him. It was apparent within 5 minutes that she was a fucking flake. How my father would have gotten himself roped into marriage with this woman is beyond me. He told my brother later that he danced with her one night and the next thing he knew he was at the alter.
So basically him coming to my brothers graduation broke the 5 year ice. He still lived 3 hrs north of us but we agreed to come see him when we could. My oldest brother moved up with him after he got out of mechanic's school and actually worked at the same place he did for 5 years. We then began twice a year visits. These basically consisted of running around town with my older brother getting stoned/drunk while my father watched T.V. at home. I feel sorry for my youngest brother as he was too young for beer pounding and to sit in a silent living room with my dad watching T.V. These sporadic visits went on for around 3 years. Then we started going to see him less and less. By this time I was in my first year of college and 1st year college students barely visit the parents they are close to let alone the distant ones.
Then came the day in 1984. I'm ashamed to say I don't even know the date. I was at my then girlfriend's house and a telephone call came for me. Which was strange as no one ever called me there. My oldest brother was on the phone. He said totally dead-pan, "Well chucklin' Charles hung himself". I stood there for a second, waiting for somehthing to happen...but nothing. No punch in the stomach, no screaming "NO!", no angry diatribe. Just nothing. It had no more affect than if someone had told me we were having meatloaf for dinner. I remember going into my girlfriend's bedroom and PRETENDING to cry....I thought I had to put on some sort of show. What kind of cold bastard doesn't cry when he's told his father offed himself?
Within the next week my brothers, myself, and my uncle(my dad's half brother) drove down to Arkansas for the funeral. This is how reverant I was...I got really stoned on the car ride down.
As soon as we got to town, we have to face freak woman Shirley his flakey ex-wife.(He had the good sense to divorce her at some point). That was always a pleasant experience. But luckily, it was over fairly quickly. The next stop was the funeral home. And yes, the funeral director's name was "Sonny". Then we met the sheriff. His name was "Cletus". This tiny blip on the map in Arkansas did everything it could to reinforce the current streotypes.
The memorial service was held at the funeral home. They had my father's body laid out on bascially a table with a semi-fancy table cloth. The undertaker had not done a very good job of hiding the fact that dad hung himself. there was a deep red ring around his neck. But he did have his favorite cowboy hat on.
Then came the service itself. My brother had spoken to the minister and told him that under no circumstances was this to be a religous service. My father shunned religion his entire life and it would have been laughable to pretend otherwise at his memorial service. BUT, never underestimate the blind-ass arrogance of a Southern Baptist minister. He stood at the front of the room with his Brill Creamed hair and didn't stop at just making it a religious serice. He fire and brimstoned on and on about how the man laying dead before us was a prime expamle of what happened to those who did not "Follow Jesus". As you can imagine by oldest brother was livid. But it did no good. The preacher/asshole had saved some souls from eternal damnation and thats all that mattered to him.
The next morning we went back to the funeral home to make final arrangements with "Sonny". My father had donated his body to the University of Arkansas for research. My mother said he a phobia about being put in the ground. Not sure what that was about. After the med students are done carving you up you are cremated...which is what he wanted. We asked "Sonny" what the arrangements would be for getting the remains back. He reaches behind the receptionists desk and throws open this cupboard door. Inside were all these small cardboard boxes. Sonny says, "hell, I got boxes of ashes that have sitting her for ten years with no one pickin' em up". So all these people ashes were stored in the cupboard next to the copier paper and and extra gel pens.
As we stood in the receptionist area the door immediately to my left was sligtly open. It led to the room where my father's memorial service had been held the night before. I stepped into the room and realized...he still laying on the table at the front of the room. It was soooo strange. You've said all your goodbye's ...you've had the upheavel of mourning the loss and there he is, a remanant left over from the party the night before. Was Sonny so inept that he didn't see it as professional to move the body to a private area when he opens up for business the next day? God, what an asshole. I stepped back into the receptionist area to see Sonny throwing a box of someones ashes up and down as he casually told us what we could do to get our Dad's remains back. By the way, we never got them back.
On to the stranger event in Arkansas. When someone dies you have alot of downtime. You sit around in living rooms.....eating when you're not hungry and making idle conversation. When were having just such an afternoon a few days after my father's memorial service and his flakey ex-wife and her equally flakey friend stop by. Within 10 minutes they begin this conversation in front of me and my brothers , posited the theory that my dad was actually murdered! His ex steps up behind her friend and demonstrates how someone could have overpowered him from behind, chokded him to death, and then hung him in the bathroom to cover the crime. My brothers and I just shifted in our chairs nervously. This went on for about ten miuntes and finally by Dad's brother stood up and said, "I don't think this is appropriate conversation to be having!" They looked at him like he was someone that had just asked them to put out their cigarettes in a bar..how dare he. Luckily for us they left. We were left sitting their in the ugly decorated living room mentally processing the retardiness that had just happened before us.
The next day it was time to leave. At the time of his death my father had been working as a supervisor in a restraunt kitchen. It is what he had always wanted to do. He had worked as a mechanic for 30 some years and was sick of it. He loved to cook. As we were leaving town we stopped at the resteraunt he worked at and talked to him boss. His boss was on the verge of tears the whole time. When dad didn't show up for work that day his boss had gone to his trailer to check on him. He had found my father hanging in the bathroom. He kept crying as we sat there. My brothers and I were kind of uncomfortable and kept trying to leave. But he kept begging to us to stay just alittle longer. I think he really liked my dad it this was a great loss for him. Not to mention being the one to find him. He was a sweet man. But eventually we did have to leave.
So basically we drove back to Iowa and went back to our lives. As I said, we never got his ashes back from the University of Arkasas. I have no idea what they do with unclaimed ashes so who knows where he ended up. At least it wasn't in the cold ground which he couldn't of tolerated.
I have a total of 3 pictures of my father....the one posted on this site, his highschool graduation picture and the one of him and mom getting married. Not much to cling onto to maintain memories. As strange as it seems the more years that go by the more I miss my dad. Which doesn't make any sense as I didn't miss him when he was alive. I think I understand him more now though and really feel like he did the best he could. When we went to his trailer to get his belongings we saw what it looked like the last night of his life. On the coffee table their were 4 pictures ....one of each son. And a package of Marlboro Reds with his favorite lighter.