One person's thoughts may change the world
It was Father’s Day Sunday June 18th, 2017, and I had not talked to you in 44 years. It was not by design but, happenstance. In fact, I was the last person in the family to speak to you that day, Thursday the 29th, 1973. I asked you would you pick me up Monday, and you paused and said, “I don’t know Timmy”. We said our goodbyes, and I watched you driving the truck away for the last time. That day was my Pearl Harbor, such an infamous day for the whole family, one that changed everything for us. I’m a man now, yet I think of you practically every day. Hmmmm, sometimes I ask myself, do I think of you too much? Am I living in the past too long? Should I put you out of my mind except on certain days of the year? Strangely, I have never thought of you on this day, Father’s Day, until now.
When I was a child, and was faced with a choice to make a decision of whether doing right or wrong, I would always ask myself, “what would my father think?” That one resounding statement would always provide me the right path to follow. I never, ever wanted to disappoint you. But after that fatal day when you were shot and killed in our grocery store, I could never bring myself to say that again, because, you were no more, you were gone, and you were a memory. I no longer had that moral compass you provided, that spiritual cover, that everlasting dependability you imparted that I mistakenly took for granted. The courage I derived from you was gone, and the world was a dangerous place without you. But this Father’s Day is different because I was thinking of you, and I was wondering, “If I had an opportunity to talk to you, what would I say to you after all this time?” Wow, where would I start? How would I put it? How could I say it? What would your reaction be? How long would we have to talk?
Before any words would be spoken, I would hug you. To reestablish our father son connection, and “feel” your dependability, your spiritual cover once again. It would be a long hug, tearful, warm, and a powerful emotional outpouring. It would be hard for me to let go and start talking. I would also be reluctant to feel that way with you again, because I know it would not be permanent, and once we separate, that feeling of you not being there would sink in, that ugly, gut wrenching feeling, the one I have tucked away for all these years.
You were such an imposing figure to me. I use to think you had your Phd the way you ran your business. It was amazing to watch you throughout the day, from sunrise to nightfall, you worked, and guided everything that happened in that store. You ran the cash register, cut meat, stocked the shelves, swept, loaded and unloaded the truck, took care of customers, you did it all.
Well, I would first tell you things have changed dramatically. Everyone, almost all your contemporaries are gone. Many lived fulfilling lives, a few went quickly just like you, but, OK I’m getting ahead of myself, let start with Yvonne, your beloved wife.
She’s 93, and still in the house, and plans on dying there. She doesn’t speak of you that much, but when she does, they are powerful words of respect and joy. She had a tough road without you initially, but, your death galvanized her, empowered her to push harder on her own agenda, community service and education. She did a magnificent job, faltered only one or two occasions, but, I regained some of my courage from her at your wake, as fragile as it was.
Henry is gone. I feel bad to tell you that, as you know, he had been a problem for a very long time, and a disappointment. He succumbed to alcoholism. I saved him several times, but, he didn’t love himself enough to save himself. I felt so responsible for him, and although I was the younger of the two of us, I had to be the mature one for both of us. I was angry with him, he used up all the fuck up points, I never had an opportunity to be irresponsible and just hang out and do things without any worries or concerns. In many ways, I had to be you, but, I soon realized, I couldn’t be you while trying to help him or more importantly, learn to understand myself. He really died of guilt, remorse, and sadness. He couldn’t live up to you, and he let you down and frankly, let all of us down, practically destroying the family. He did have two kids though, they are twins and are wonderful. I don’t think about him much a all, for me there is no reason to. His deeds affected us all but gave me grief from the age of 10.
Rena is married and has three children and two grandchildren as well. Wonderful family, I tried my very best to be a good uncle to them. I had great examples: Charles, James, Bessie, Madeline, Sadie, Mary, Ester, and Eddie. Madeline is gone, so is Charles, Sadie, Eleanor, Sutton, Ridley, Mary, James, Bessie, Charlie, and Uncle Joe. When you died, Janie and James took it so hard, I’ll never forget that. As Janie cried uncontrollably on the sofa, mom said to me, “Your father was like a father to his younger siblings, I’ll explain it to you one day”.
I miss our family trips. New York was the best. So were the trips to Idlewild, Chicago, Traverse City, and the upper peninsula of Michigan. Those long rides were fun, I stayed up all the time, taking in the scenery. I miss all those other trips you paid for but you didn’t come because you had to work. Biloxi, Gulfport, Orlando, Texas, Washington DC, and many other cities.
I missed being down at the store too. I’ll never forget those early mornings of getting up before the sun rose and driving down to Eastern Market to get our produce. I still go to Eastern Market, but it’s a different place now, you would not recognize it. I won’t go in to detail how Detroit has changed, but wow, it’s a different place. Our dogs, Champ and Smokey missed you a lot. Champ really loved you, he loved biting and playing with your shoes. He used to make you laugh so hard. After you were gone, they would howl at night. When Uncle Charles brought your truck home and parked it in front of the house, their ears were up with anticipation to see you. When Uncle Charles got out, they were confused, and growled at him, they didn’t understand. Nobody could face the inevitable, that you were gone and never coming back. That was a stark reality that I had to slowly grasp, painfully.
During your wake, I saw you in your casket, and even though you laid there silent, you’re presents was still there, it was powerful. You looked so perfect, still an imposing figure, handsome, even in death. I kept saying to myself, get up, just get up, I know you can get up, nothing has ever stopped you. Aunt Ester sat with me and gave me spiritual support that night, but I was a broken person. That night, I asked God to take me, to end my life, I could not bear the burden of your death, I could not deal with the pain in my gut, I never knew that kind of pain before. I apologize, I am bringing up things that I have already dealt with, but you’re the only one I have not talked about it with, because it was about you. Over those subsequent nights between your death and the funeral, I said many prayers, and absolutely none were answered.
My faith began to waiver. I recalled the verse in the Bible about Moses being angry because with God, and smote the rock twice to obtain water from it. His anger was out of frustration, of being in the desert, with the Israelites murmuring in anger because they were thirsty. Moses had a right to be angry, and I justified my anger because I wanted no more of this life, I wanted for God to take the unbearable pain of you gone by taking me too. We all got through it though, we all took a piece of what you taught us and tried our best to live up to it. Those first few months without you was so empty I thought I didn’t have a soul anymore, but, it slowly got better, but different. Everything was different without you. And I never wanted that again, I never wanted to care or depend on someone as I did you. EVER.
We went down to the store a week after your funeral. It was like a time capsule. Quiet, except for the refrigerator motors that ran the coolers. I noticed my relatives didn’t know how to turn all the lights on, I turned on all of them. Everything was in place. I went around the whole store, inspecting everything. I went behind counter where the cash register was. It was clean back there, aunt Ester and Bessy cleaned up all the brown paper grocery bags that hung on the rack back there, I never saw the rack empty before. All the cigarette and cigar boxes were gone, you usually piled them up throughout the day, and I would come back there and move them. It was clean, too clean. The fruit and vegetable bin was empty, the floor was mopped and spotless. The stack of Detroit news papers were in there usual spot, but, stuck on Thursday, November 29th. Everything was immaculate, perfect, and wrong. The controlled chaos was no more. When we left, my mother tried to turn off the light that you always kept on in the back. I told her to leave that light on. She did.
No one ever sat down and talked to me, not even Dr. Massey. Everyone looked at me as if to say, “He looks OK”. I had no counseling. No one to express my grief to. No one knew how I felt, and no one asked me. So I became stoic, and angry. I use sports as an outlet to relieve myself of that anger.
I have two boys. I named my eldest son after you. That’s what I was suppose to do, just like you did with Henry. Justin is named after Charles. I didn’t raise them like you raised us. I talked to them more, and had the luxury to do more with them. Remember the time you asked me to play catch with you in the field next to the house? You couldn’t throw the ball well, but I didn’t care, it was one of those rare moments we had of doing something together. I’ve done everything with my sons. Boy scouts, music, sports, robotics, model rockets, travel, we’ve done it all. Have I done my best? I’ve tried to, and I had to stop trying to be like you, that’s impossible, and it took me a while to understand that. But there was one thing I learned from you and uncle Charles, and that was being in business for yourself. I’m still at it, still trying, I’m going to make it work, just like you did.
I went down to Macon, your home town, and I understood why you and uncle Charles loved pecans so much, that’s all that’s there, pecans and peaches! I must return there, I understand your name is written in stone with others whole helped build a church there. I would like to see that one day.
It’s time to go. I could go on forever but, I’m coming back to my reality. It’s sobering in many ways. Time to let go of the past again, and move forward, time waits for no one. The only cure of the pain of your death was time. I go visit your grave on Memorial day, something no one does in the family but me. I broke the family tradition of never grieving over someone’s grave, but I don’t go just to visit you. I look at William Hill’s grave, along with his wife, Bessie’s grave, Henry’s, Charles, Ridley’s, Sadie’s, Madeline’s, everyone in the family. I never grieve, but, I’ll never forget. I embraced you one more time, then I let go.
Happy father’s day, Joseph Myrick, best dad ever…