Sunday, December 13, 2009

TO BIG JOHN, ON OUR BIRTHDAY

I'm pleased to share a one-day-apart birthday with my son-in-law (December 14/15). It reminds me that throughout my childhood I shared a birthday with my dad's best friend, John. Oh, I always got my own kid party, too, but I recall that, especially in some of those younger years, I really thought that it was fun, and very special, to sit at a table with Mom and Dad and John and Thordis and have birthday cake with my big friend, John.

As I grew, I not only got to know John as a sort of uncle, but, now that I look back on it, John and Dad modeled a lasting, solid friendship that I am now blessed to experience with my own friends.


In my pastoral meetings with parents to prepare for the baptism of a child, I like to tell the dads about my dad and John and the other men sitting around the church dining table, drinking coffee; and that those were the same men who were with their kids upstairs, in church, and they were the same guys that my dad and I went hunting with. This was not a culture of "going to church with mom and going hunting with dad."


So here's to John, In Memoriam. (The repeated phrase in the poem--a verbal "tic" of John's--is not an exaggeration.)
"I remember the time your dad and I over there..."
Over there across the room?
Over there east of the Missouri?
Over there on some remembered gravel backroad?
Over there.
Big John used the phrase as punctuation --
direction -- as the comma to his sentences,
his wonderful stories
of pheasant hunting and fishing over there...
"When you were just a kid and your dad and I
took you along to Lake Byron over there
and you got that fish on your line over there
and you looked at your dad over there
and didn't know what to do!"

The older he got, the deeper growled the voice,
the brightness of the eyes not diminished.
And, the less he was able to go anywhere,
the more "over there" became everywhere--
and anything;
the memories of all the times over there that
your dad and I over there....

Until at last, that day in the nursing home,
I sat across from him with the offered communion,
sharing with him the sacrament of the calling
I had entered as much because
he was at all those church basement suppers
drinking coffee with my dad --
as much because he and the other men were there
as because Dad was --

The eyes were duller now. He wasn't speaking;
he wouldn't know me, they said.
But after bread and wine
he provided the whispered post-communion blessing:
I miss your dad so much.
Over there.

2 comments:

Warren Hanson said...

Beautiful, Dick. I know Big John only from knowing his son in college, and from your hilarious impersonations, disrespectful and respectful at the same time. But I know him better through this essay and your loving poem. With your last two lines, I, too, miss Big John so much. Over there.

Betty Rohr said...

Brought tears to my eyes...