I have a bundle of things to do today, but I am barely treading water. The reason is that my father died on July 13, 1979, 31 years ago today. Somehow, that 31 years seems like a long time, but the events seem like they happened yesterday.
James Austin Yearnd, Sr., 1927-1979
I remember the blur of the day, but not much more. It was Friday, the first day of a busy weekend at a concession stand I ran. The night before, my stepmother stopped at that very stand, and told me it would be wise to go see Dad. Papa and I went that Friday afternoon, an hour’s drive to a unfamiliar hospital in Traverse City, Michigan.
It was clear that he was not doing too well, and I do not remember if he was conscious enough to know who we were. What I do remember is the nurse seeing that he had visitors, and that she hurried to find a doctor. That doctor wanted to talk to us, so we stepped out into the hall. He delivered the bad news that there was nothing more that could be done. Although I knew in my heart that that was the case, I did not even know how to react. I remember asking, “How long?”, and the doctor just shrugged his shoulders, and said “A few days, perhaps a week.” We stayed for a while, and when we got up to leave, I said, “Dad, see you in the morning,” and gave him a kiss.
I had a concession stand to run, so we headed for home. I do not remember who was watching the little girls, but I do remember that our oldest daughter was at camp. When we got home, Papa got out of the car, and I was about to head to town to open my stand when he came back out of the house. The call had come just before we got home, Dad was gone.
He was fifty-one, and would have been fifty-two on July 20. I was twenty-seven years old, married, and the mother of 3 little girls; my youngest sibling was only fourteen. For twenty-four years, every time I had a birthday, I would wonder if I would make it to fifty-one. Since I turned fifty-one, I wonder how far past that number I may live on every birthday. For many years I was very angry with Dad, because some lifestyle changes might have prevented his early death. Then I just became sad, sad that he missed my daughters growing up, his beautiful great-grandchildren, all the fun times you can only appreciate after your children are grown.
How can I forgive him for being himself? When I was particularly bitter, or sad, or frustrated one day, one of his sisters pointed out to me that he had good qualities, as well as the undesirable ones I remembered. Lately, as I go through some old photographs, scan them, and file them away in sleeves, I do remember to good qualities, and the young dad who loved babies and small children.
I just wish I had known him longer.