The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye, until we meet again. – Jimi Hendrix
And now it is time.
On Tuesday at 3 a.m., my father kissed my sister and he was gone.
And now it is time.
Time to cover the clocks and weep.
Time to look into crimson sunsets and rippling streams to catch a glimpse of Dad still casting his line into the crystal shallows, still tilting his head back in a smile that says, "I'm waiting over here."
My Dad, our Dad, held on as long as he could, always our father even in his last few days. On the day he traveled on, there was mail waiting from him for each of us, a note and two gift cards.
And even when he wasn't feeling well, phone calls to him were always the same.
"How are you today?" he would always ask.
"How are you feeling?" we would return.
"Me? I'm great."
So really, it was just like him to wait until my sister fell asleep, sitting next to him, to make his graceful exit.
So now here we are, nearly 100 of us including kids, significant others, grand children and great grandchildren, holding onto the broad brushstrokes left by a man who guided us all on our often disparate paths.
Time for us to hold on to the love of and for a man who moored us always close to his heart.
The swath of tears spans rivers, streams, oceans and water falls; it spans thousands of miles from Florida to Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, California, Maryland, D.C., New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Ottawa, Toronto, to name a few.
Over the past few days, still stunned by the reality, we've been sharing stories of Dad and somehow they always end with laughter, because Dad was a really funny guy who loved living life to the fullest.
He loved to cook and when we spent summers in Rehobeth he was famous for his clams casino with little pieces of fresh fried bacon, onions and green peppers, perfectly diced.
He loved the opera and beautiful foreign films like "Life is Beautiful."
I first saw him cry in "Old Yeller," always a place in his huge heart for dogs, he himself sobbing when he had to bury one of his own.
And I'm thinking because he gave so much of his heart to so many, maybe that's why at the end, his heart was failing him, he had given it all away.
He danced a near perfect tango with our mother, the love of his life. Let a Glen Miller song come on the radio or at a wedding and they'd dance their sentimental journey in a kitchen, on the dance floor or outside under midnight stars.
He loved a wild perennial garden, just like I do.
And for me, the memories of Dad are big novel deep.
In my front hall, Dad's black leather ice skates hang next to the weathered wooden teething beads he gave me as a baby. They sit just across from a bamboo fishing pole, one of the ones we used as kids to fish with Dad.
In one of my china cabinets are the many British porcelain tea cups he brought to me after a visit to family in Canada.
He taught me about such fine things, rich things, cultured things, never forgetting to also teach me about the value of a good jitterbug and throwing down a Canadian ale at a local dive or the beauty of breakfast at the Auburn prison diner.
I'm thinking that's why I loved Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," when I was in third grade. Or when as a teen he didn't object when I asked him if I could have a few friends over to play music when it was really a full band and they rolled up the carpet. The music was so loud all the pictures were askew in our Lewiston home.
And maybe that's why he drove me to an Eric Clapton concert in a snow storm on Christmas and why when I was in the hospital he showed up smiling, as he pulled two beers from the pockets of his overcoat.
Laughing, he held them up, "Look what I brought you," he said, hiding them in the bedpan with some ice.
Sure some of the memories are a bit rough, like meeting him in Corning when he and my Mom had an horrific car accident and Mom was in bad shape, or when Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But as he taught us it is all part of loving and living.
I was always an offbeat kid, preferring art to math and I would sob as he tried to get me to understand the principles of whatever theory my teachers were trying to teach me.
"I can't," I would cry, making him so mad.
"Yes, you can," he insisted.
During high school, I had a phase of always trying to beat the parental rules, like piercing my ears when it was banned.
That's why its really funny my Dad showed up at my second wedding to my current husband — a backyard, bohemian event — wearing ruby stud earrings.
"Dad, did you pierce your ears?" I screamed in excitement.
"Yep," he said smiling that half smile, he would get. (They were really magnetic backs holding them in place, but they sure looked real).
My high school years must have been rough for him since I was always coming up with inventive alibis for where I had been or where I was going.
So this one time, Sue O'Keefe and I really wanted to hear this band, but I was grounded for something else. Nonetheless, in the way we had practiced, we again finagled a way to get there. Early into the evening, the band announced our names.
"Your dates are at the door," they said.
We were squealing happy.
"Who could it be?"
"Maybe its Chuck Tomaselli!" I said. (that's who I eventually married)
Breathing onto our pocket mirrors, we polished them up, before darkening our black rimmed eyes a bit more and checking our teeth for food.
With a deep breath we headed for the door.
There they were, our dads.
Yep. Dad caught the big one that night.
That's how it always was with him, we knew our limits among the freedoms he allowed and when we overstepped, he sure let us know.
After our Mom died eight years ago, I started sending my Dad a handwritten letter everyday. He actually saved all those letters and gave them back to me recently.
Those letters started a new tradition for the two of us, leading to eight years of story sharing. It is a gift I will cling to in these hard days to come and it is what I believe I will miss most. If only one more story to share. But then I would want another and another.
Fly high, Dad. I love you.
Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a reporter and photographer covering Washington County, arts and life, features and breaking news.
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