Sue Murphy’s column from our June 13, 2013 issue was recently awarded first place in the Alabama Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
Other than That
Things at my house have been crazy lately. Crazy good, crazy bad. Some days the juxtaposition makes me…well…crazy. On those days, I am kept vertical only by snippets of momentary bliss, a pair of bluebirds at the feeder, chocolate samples in the grocery store, a funny story gifted by a stranger in the checkout line that makes me think…My dad would have loved that.
For years, every day at 4:30 p.m., I would call my mom and dad in Illinois. It was never a long conversation, just a few minutes to catch up on the day’s events. We’d talk about the weather, national news items, things that were going on with my children (their grandchildren). News of their great-grandson was a highlight for sure. When I’d relate a story about Jackson’s antics at preschool, or some new funny phrase he’d picked up, I could hear my dad smiling over the phone.
Of course, things weren’t always high comedy. When there was bad news to report, something that was hard to hear, my dad would listen patiently, then say, “So, other than that, everything’s fine?”
Fire, pestilence, Mongol hordes breaching the ramparts–it didn’t matter. “So, other than that…”
It wasn’t that my dad wasn’t interested. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. It was just that he had always been a no-nonsense, it-is-what-it-is kind of guy. “Everyone has their buckets to carry,” he’d say.
The man was right, of course. Everyone has problems. Why, I’m sure even the Mongol hordes had days when their pillaging hit a snag. But, “other than that” wasn’t what I wanted to hear just then. I was looking for a “poor baby” or at least a “goodness gracious,” but it never came. I wanted someone to pat my head, but the man knew better. “Poor baby” can be a trap. Wallowing is still wallowing, even if it’s well deserved. The answer is always to get up and go forward.
And so I did, and in the process, I discovered that “other than that” was a quirky road to gratitude. On any given day, I do have my buckets to carry, but everyone else does, too, and if I lift my head from my wallow pit it never takes long to find someone whose buckets are heavier than mine.
My dad died last September. It was throat cancer, late-diagnosed. He endured a tracheotomy, a feeding tube and rounds of radiation that sent him into seizures. Big buckets for all of us. Big buckets.
But there were little snippets of momentary bliss there as well. My dad had a quiet but killer wit. His zinger lines are legendary in our family. When he was deprived of speech capability by his medical contraptions, he initiated every new nurse by pretending to faint when she adjusted his tubing. She’d gasp, he’d grin and the two became instant friends.
On his last day at the rehab facility, he put on his old Bruno’s Memorial Classic straw hat, took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and pulled himself to the door in a wheelchair. He told the nurse that he was going home.
And that night he did.