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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Snake who bites itself.

Those were the days
These are the nights, I'm afraid to say it

I hang them in my heart
and save them for a rainy day...
Pigeon John "Growin' Old"

  • He was in every John Wayne movie ever made.
  • He had dresses that looked just like mine when he was a little girl.
  • He could tell time just by looking at the sun.
  • He had the ability to shrink himself to fit into the hole in my closet, which led to a fireplace ventilation thing in our backyard and allowed him to successfully escape me during a game of hide-and-go-seek.
  • He was good friends with a gypsy lady in Albuquerque, NM who took disobedient children and he wasn't afraid to buy us a one-way bus ticket to see her.
  • He was just minding his own business, when some crazy woman jumped in front of his car as he was driving down a back road in Trinidad.

Those are just a couple of the gems my dad told me when I was a kid. And, like all good daddy's girls, I believed just about every word that came out of his mouth. 'Cause he's my dad. Even after I figured out that it was chronologically impossible for him to have been in every John Wayne movie; or that he probably wasn't ever a little girl; or that when he told time by looking at the sun he was really just looking at his watch, which he had turned to the inside of his wrist -- he was still pretty much my go-to guy. If something was wrong, daddy could fix it. Not just with money (since there really wasn't all that much to go around in the first place), but also with a good old fashioned ass-whomping if need be. He was the kind of dad that would schedule a gun cleaning session to coincide with a guy coming over to pick up one of his daughters for a date.

For a long time, he worked the graveyard shift at an air force base, leaving for work as we were getting ready for bed and coming home as we were getting ready for school. It took years before many of my friends even knew what my dad looked like, since he was pretty much always asleep during the day -- or "taking five" as he called it. Still, he'd manage to pick up me, Remy and Cris after school a couple of days a week and take us to Buy 4 Less to get Shasta and Little Debbie snack cakes. On the weekends, we'd go on adventures of the outdoors sort -- usually to some kind of lake -- we'd get dirty and muddy, while searching for leftover fishing line and hooks so we could try to catch fish. Actually, we were pretty good at catching fish with just a string and a hook. Occasionally, he'd go around capturing mayflies for us to use as bait, but it wasn't really necessary. He showed us how to clean and gut our catch when we got home so that we could fry it up. On the evenings when my mom wasn't at home and my dad didn't have to work, he would cook us dinner -- whatever we wanted. And we almost always wanted pancakes. So, he made us pancakes and bacon and eggs and hash browns for dinner. Breakfast for dinner at Smith always reminded me of my dad.

It wasn't until my late teens/early 20s that I really got to know my dad as a person. Talks that I would have considered lectures before, were actually just discussions (albeit some quite lengthy). We didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, but I (at least like to) think that we respected each other's positions. On more than one occasion one of my siblings would come into the living room during one of these "little chats" -- which sounded more like a shouting match -- only to promptly retreat again. Afterwards, my dad and I would have a good laugh about whatever it was we were shouting about just moments before.

The last couple years haven't been particularly easy on me and my family. And in the last 12 months I'd spoken with my father for a grand total of maybe like 10 minutes -- probably more like 7 minutes. Shame on me for that one. I guess I was just waiting until I had some really good news to tell him. When good intentions go horribly wrong...

One thing's for sure, Papa Brooks had me pegged. He was right about a lot of stuff about me and not in the bad way either. But that's life, I suppose. The one time I wouldn't mind hearing a big, fat "I told you so" . . .

When I was about six-years-old, my mom took us (me, Robbyn, Gillian, Rem and Cris) with her to Trinidad. My dad stayed in OKC. It was the first time that I got to meet Darron, Junior and Joanna -- my three oldest siblings -- not to mention, countless cousins, uncles and aunts. Vacationing in the Caribbean is supposed to be like this awesome thing, and it probably would have been if I hadn't spent three-fourths of the time complaining to anyone within earshot about how "I miss my daddy!" On the trip down, I threw such a fit in the Houston airport, that I spilled orange juice on my shorts and my mom wouldn't let me change. I just had to sit there with orange juice pants all the way to Miami. Finally, my mom's friend Valerie gave me a Snickers in the hopes that it would shut my cry-hole. It did...temporarily. Mind you, we were only gone for three weeks...

My brain runs on a strange type of logic -- whether we're talking about my nightly ritual of setting my alarm clock for an hour before I need to wake up in order to capture that "Daylight Saving Time feeling" of sleeping in for an extra hour or my irrational fear of fans (because they remind me of airplane propellers). Somehow my dad always understood this craziness about me and knew exactly what to say/do to distract me or convince my dumb brain that everything would be ok. Like when I was a kid and deathly afraid of elevators and escalators, he told me that elevators were magic rocketships and he'd do a whole countdown and blast off thing whenever we got into one. That was the funnest. My mom on the other hand, took the more tough love approach and dragged me kicking and screaming on to an escalator once -- which resulted in the two of us tumbling back down the steps, while my little brother rode calmly to the top. I also lost my shoe in the process.

Thinking back, there are loads of stories I could tell about Papa Brooks. He wasn't perfect by a long shot, but he was a fun and a funny guy that did what he could with the material that he had at hand. That's more than I can say about a lot of people.

It's definitely a weird feeling, because I don't know how all this grieving stuff works -- knowing me, I'm probably doing it all wrong, as I've consumed far too much rice pudding in the past two days...

One thing's for sure, we definitely didn't eat any BBQ spare ribs.


*taps right-hand index and middle finger twice on upper left arm*

I love you too too much, Dad.

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