Twenty years ago I lost my father. By this I mean he died. When you die, I’m pretty sure you’re not at all lost — you’re more present in every particle of the universe than a living, breathing person could ever be.
Maybe I should say that 20 years ago I lost myself when my dad disappeared from the world.
I would say that Father’s Day hits me hard each year, but the truth is that many days do. It doesn’t have to be a holiday for me to think of something he said or did and miss him entirely anew.
My father was the parent who called me just to ask how I was. He was also the parent who answered, each time saying, “I knew it was you! I recognized your ring.”
Because Sunday is Father’s Day, and because my father hung the moon, I want to tell you about him.
He called the refrigerator the Frigidaire.
He likes to make biscuits, and they were the hardest biscuits you’ve ever tasted.
He kept a metal glass of bacon grease on the stove and cooked with it, and I’m not sure how far back its supply extended. The grease on the bottom may have been a grandfather to the layer on top.
He grew up poor during the Depression, in rural West Virginia, and he didn’t have shoes, and when he was lucky he got a candy stick for Christmas, and he'd go to school carrying his lunch: biscuits slathered in bacon grease.
He did not have a Frigidaire.
He liked his coffee with a little milk, and I never drank the last milk in the jug, just in case he needed it.
He’s been dead for 20 years, and right this minute you can find a gallon jug in my Frigidaire with a half-ounce milk in the bottom, just in case.
He loved to stare out the back window of our house into the woods and watch for animals. He even put up a salt lick, just to see who might stop by for a visit.
He spied amazing things in those back woods. Once he saw a black snake in a tree spring to snatch a bird out of the air. Just like that, it was gone.
He knew everything about nature, like the cucumber musk the copperhead makes, or when the berries would be at their peak, or how to extract sweetness from the honeysuckle.
He would shine a light into the forest at night and show me all the sets of eyes trained upon us.
He was as fascinated as I was with the deer carcass I found in the woods, and the slow process of its returning, and all the critters that helped it on its way.
The first time I visited his grave, I took a handful of seed and scattered it to draw birds and animals to where he lay. Later I visited and found a stalk of corn growing where I’d left my offering. It felt like a private joke, a gentle ribbing from the other side.
He knew plant names and bird songs and the sound my particular ring made when I called him.
I miss him every single day.