Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sunflowers to the Max

September 5th. September 11th. Sunflowers. Max, Sr.

So much remembering to do on this day.
It was 8 years ago today that we had a birthday dinner. A dinner for a man who had missed his 68th birthday by 6 days. A birthday that would, the next year, become forever associated with an act of terrorism that was beyond comprehension.

Yesterday I reminded Mr. Outdoors that he should send his mother a note today.

"Why?" he asked.

"It's your dad's birthday," I reminded him.

He was silent.

Both of us went back to the spring and summer of 2000 in our own way. Him, through a maze of memories over his 42 years, both pleasant and uncomfortable. Me, with a very short history and an intense 5 months of absorbing every bit of a lifetime that was to end way too soon.

I used to spend my lunch hour with my father in law. We sat, on the small wood deck off the sliding doors, looking at the mountains. I brought KFC chicken wings for him -- it was all his chemotherapy-ravaged system craved. There was a standing appointment, one that nothing in my professional life could trump.

He told me stories -- about his life in the shipping and oil rig business, about the son he raised and who I would eventually marry, about all the time he spent shooting -- and I listened. Occasionally there would be a trinket brought forth to punctuate the tale. One afternoon I was very late getting back to the office because I sat, cross-legged on the floor, with all of his shooting medals spread around me as he explained where he was and who he was with when he won each of them.

The call came around dinner time. He had not awakened from an afternoon nap. We knew. Deep down, we knew what would be waiting for us when we got to their house. We hoped not, but we understood that his time had come.

It was September 5th. Earlier in the day we had discussed what we could do for his upcoming birthday, but most of my ideas were feeble -- he could not stand for long, and the indignity of being propped heavily as he walked from the car to a destination was more than he was willing to accept.

He helped us out of a jam. He allowed us to have a cheese fondue with cucumber salad at home 6 days later, quietly toasting him with tears and stories for his 68th birthday.

We had a vase with wild sunflowers on the table. Sunflowers just like the ones he picked for me two years prior, when he gruffly but genuinely accepted me as the one his son had chosen. He had stopped by the side of the road and, with his ever-present Swiss Army knife, sliced off in matching lengths a bouquet of the flowers I had mentioned in passing a few days earlier.
The gesture was lost on me at the time, but the memory is more powerful than that moment. Every September these wild, strong and handsome flowers remind me of an adventurous, resilient and rugged man. I'm married to his son, and am mother to his grandson.

My son, his namesake.

He is missed.


susan opel said...

Jennifer - this was so very powerful and wonderful all at once. I am awed by the beauty of your words and the perspective that you shared about the cheese fondue. Glad to have you back in the blogosphere.

victorinox knives said...

That looks awesome!