I can’t write about the Oscars this month. Or the Royal wedding. March Madness doesn’t matter anymore. The story I’m about to tell you Dear Reader is more important for me to say, because I think I might feel better by just writing it.
As a junior in high school, I worked a summer job near the Tunica-Biloxi tribe and reservation in Marksville, LA as a tour guide in the museum. The days were long and sometimes I can remember sitting beneath a large portico and reading a novel each day between guests. One day while reading, my Daddy drove up in this strange car. An ugly yellow Nova. In fact, I believe it was the ugliest car I had ever seen then and even to this very day.
He announced to me that it was my NEW CAR and proudly shared with me and all of my museum buddies what a bargain it was! It LOOKED like a bargain. Note to parents: Sharing bargains with your teenager in front of buddies…not cool. Especially when we are talking about big yellow cars. Identities are at stake.
I immediately informed him there was no way I was driving this car. I was wrong.
The Nova became my high school car. A mascot of sorts. If I was out sick, my best friend Eve would just drive the Nova to school. My Dad wasn’t the least bit concerned about loaning the Nova out to another teenage driver.
The Nova got me around from place to place, and my Dad figured that since it was so big and ugly it was a safer car than most. To begin with, it was a steel tank. Secondly, it was so unattractive that he never had to worry about anyone suspecting that two vulnerable young girls would be in that old thing! The Nova always got us home safely both after school and late at night through actual places like Scary Woods (need I say more) following “away” basketball games.
Just like with the Nova, my Daddy always had a trick up his sleeve. Like the time he bought a “one-man show” keyboard called the Fun Machine and brought me right up to the music store so I could learn to play Put Your Hand in the Hand (of the Man that stilled the water) in a blues fashion.
Then there was the time he bought my Mom her first microwave before we had all heard of microwaves. He raised exotic chickens. Hundreds of them. Why? (I have no idea). We also were the family that had a CB radio with an aerodynamic antenna on my Mom’s luxury car. It was awful. Daddy was always coming home with something. He was always planting something. He never liked my sitting indoors during the summer time due to the potential of me becoming prissy so he would assign me a project in the yard no matter how high the heat index. As a kid, he had me picking bushels of blackberries, fresh strawberries, garlic, and potatoes. I planted zinnias, but that was on my own. The trees Daddy planted when I was young are now shade trees, and he could tell me stories of the trees that were planted before my time and his. And he would.
Today as I sat in the carpool line, I received the call that once it ends, you know your life has changed forever. “Daddy died,” were the words of my brother. My Daddy was gone. I had been meaning to call him for the last few days and just got too busy. Yep. It was my first thought. Suddenly all the meetings and deliverables of the day weren’t important. Though we had a great relationship, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. When my sister reminded me that we HAD spoken recently I looked at his old text messages. The last one read, “Happy Valentines Day!!” I remembered our final conversation on Valentine’s Day after receiving that text. When we hung up he said, “I love you Baby Doll.” I know he did. Those were the last words my Daddy ever spoke to me.
When a loved one goes home to be with the Lord, the tears are not enough sometimes, but somehow the Lord draws near, bringing comfort through our family and friends as we all reminisce about the good times we had. My Father, like all of us, was a flawed man. But even flawed, his strength was enough to inspire me to persevere through many troubled waters. He was the kind of man who could lift my chin and say, “You go to the end of that lane, and don’t turn back!” when I left home, seventeen and college-bound. I loved that about my Dad. There was something in him that made me never want to disappoint him.
I suppose I listened to my Daddy, because I never lived at home in the country again. Because I was away, I treated every conversation with him as if it could have been my last. We had an understanding. A bond. We didn’t NEED to call, but we DID say the things we needed to say in most of the talks we had. Even so, I just wish I could say them one more time. I wish I could look in his eyes to tell him again what he meant to me. My love will go on for him, though I can’t see his face.
After experiencing the sudden death of my Dad, let me encourage you; if there is someone in your life who needs to hear a word from you, don’t delay, Dear Reader. Don’t let the busyness of life, distance, pride, anger, strife, bitterness, or unforgiveness be an obstacle any longer. Or if you just feel a stirring in your heart, maybe even an unsettled feeling, make that call to reinforce the great relationships you have or repair the broken ones. There is a blessing of peace in doing that.
Of all the memories of my Dad that I tried to quickly catalog in my heart, I know I will miss his stories most of all. He was a true entertainer and one of the greatest storytellers I have ever known. I will also miss our deep conversations and his take on life. My Dad would have turned 64 on March 6. This year, no birthday chat, no call to Jojo’s Flowers to deliver a bromeliad–a manly man plant! But I know that in spite of the heartbreak of his sudden departure, I will see Daddy again someday. Made complete. That will be a great day! Until then, I’m going to give life my all, for I am a part of who he was. My Dad. Russell James Tanner. March 6, 1947 – February 24, 2011.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. ~ Psalm 23:4