I walked toward the bedroom; my heart racing, afraid of what I would see.
I stopped at the doorway; stood there for a few seconds; allowing my mind to take in the scene in front of me. Slowly, I went over to the bed and sat down.
I reached over and softly brushed his hair; touched his cold face. My father was gone.
"Poor daddy," was the only words I could utter.
He was in a kneeling position beside his bed; with his head resting on an outstretched arm across the bed. Perhaps he had tried to pull himself onto the bed; or maybe, knowing the end was near; he indeed was praying. I will never know.
I looked at him and memories flooded my mind. As a child I thought my father was invincible; so tall and strong; my protector and my champion. Now, he looked so fragile; so human; succumbing to the enemy that was death.
My mother's phone call that early Saturday morning, had prepared me for what I was to find.
"I think Ray is gone; you daddy's gone." My mother had said with panic in her voice.
Only living across the road from my parents; I rushed over there right away. We knew he was, as the doctors had told us months before, "living on borrowed time," but even so it was still a shock. I had watched as a series of strokes had taken the light from his eyes; leaving him almost childlike and depending on family to care for his needs.
It broke my heart; he was a proud man; a man who met every challenge life threw at him with brave heart and strong mind.
My dad was the very first love of my life; as many fathers are with their daughters. He represented all the qualities I would one day look for in a man; once I had grown into adulthood.
He was tall, over six feet; with jet black hair that looked almost blue in the sunlight. His broad German face with hazel colored eyes that projected a mischievous nature; and great intelligence as well.
He was a hard working man, pulling double shifts when need be, in the furniture factory in town.It was grueling and dangerous work; with many losing fingers in the saws or other machinery. My dad was one of a few that still had ten fingers.
I loved the smell of him; a mixture of Old Spice cologne and sawdust; of woods like pine or maple. For forty-five years he toiled in that factory; until his health began to fail him. He provided his family a home and food and when budget allowed; vacations to the Carolina coast.
On those vacations, I can remember him lifting my small body up to ride the waves onto shore; while my mother stood on the beach screaming for him to hold onto me tightly. I knew I was safe in those strong arms; the largest wave would not take me from them.
He had a devilish sense of humor too. On occasion; he would sneak outside at night and stand outside our bedroom. Scratching the screen and making a low moaning sound; sending my older sister and me running and screaming to our mother. She would scold him profusely; but it never stopped him from doing it again.
There was a day, where my dad had placed a partially drunk Pepsi in the refrigerator; to finish later.
I slipped into the kitchen and took a tiny sip of the soda; it was a treat of sorts; since we rarely got them. Unbeknownst to me, my sister and brother had done the same thing; bringing the contents of the bottle even further down that it had been when Dad placed it on the shelf.
He came home from work that day and went to get his Pepsi. He walked into the living room with the bottle in his hand.
"Who's been into my soda?" He asked sternly.
All three of us denied any knowledge of what he was talking about. We stood in front of him and lied; knowing how much he detested a liar; but also knowing our behinds could receive a dusting if we confessed.
"Well, I guess I will have to do a test to see who the guilty party here is."
He asked my mother to bring a cup of flour from the kitchen. We must have all looked puzzled as to how flour could possibly have anything to do with his soda and who drank it.
"Now, I'm going to dust this soda bottle with flour; that will allow fingerprints to show up. I will know which one of you drank my soda; so it would be better to fess up and tell me the truth now."
I slowly raised my hand; no use denying it anymore; not with my fingerprints all over that darn bottle. To my surprise I saw my sister and brother's hands go up as well!
My dad began to laugh; much to our relief. He wasn't really upset at all about his drink or the fact that we had partaken of it. It was just one of his jokes that left our knees knocking once again.
Besides his sense of humor; be it as it may; he was also a man of great faith. Every Wednesday evening he would line us children up on the sofa and read to us from the Bible. He wanted us to have strong values of honesty; and right from wrong; values that would carry with us into adulthood; and make us responsible and compassionate members of society.
My dad took me fishing with him in the summers; where we'd sit on a bank for hours and he'd tell me wonderful stories of his childhood. I looked forward to those fishing trips as much for those stories as for any fish we might catch.
I grew up close to my dad; and it remained that way for the rest of his life. I counted on his sage advice about so many things; from becoming a woman, to my first date and even my first heartbreak.
Both us having quick tempers and strong will; made for some clashes between us as I grew older; but luckily for both us; once we vented our anger, we always hugged each other and within five minutes; it was like it never happened at all.
Staring down at him on that bed; I knew I had not only lost my father; but my hero; my teacher,and my best friend.
His legacy is three children who grew up to be caring, and compassionate people. He made us better adults and better parenstto our own children through his loving guidance.
For all of you who still have your dads; tell him often how much he means to you. I can honestly say my dad knew how much he meant to me; and I knew he loved me as well. It brings great peace to know that; even though I miss him every single day; of these past twelve years.
This story is written in his honor and is dedicated to all fathers who work hard; and are actively involved in their children'supbringing.