So This is Christmas

I didn't have any Christmas Eve plans this year, so when one of my fellow managers at work asked if I could close for him (working 4-1 instead of my normal 2-11) I said it would be no problem.  I put on a festive red shirt (a vest, too, to showcase my new Doctor Who pocket watch) and came into the office with a smile.  The workload was steady; although it was Christmas Eve, people still needed assistance with their cell phones.  It's just another night in the call center.

Later in the evening, an associate from another team came up to my desk.  She is an older woman, in her sixties surely, and someone I have a casual, 'Hey, how's it going?' relationship with.  She wished me a Merry Christmas and asked how I was doing, acknowledging that this was my first Christmas without my father.  It took me a moment to respond; the shock of her question hit pretty hard.  I knew that, of course.  A year ago today, actually, we had our last meal together and he drove back to Pawhuska.  I only saw him again briefly before he was gone.

No, the shock came from the remembrance.  Someone who was only a passing acquaintance took a few moments to remember me and my loss.  After searching my feelings for a moment, I smiled a genuine smile and said I was doing okay.  Dad was never big into holidays, as I've mentioned before, so there aren't any big traditions that are suddenly absent.  It's the little things I miss.  The phone calls, the occasional email.  I have moments where memories are so recent and thick that it nearly brings me to my knees, but those happen less and less often.  They happen more often in grocery stores than anywhere else, which makes sense.  But for the most part, Dad is someone who feels like he has been gone for a long time.

Tomorrow morning, I will get up.  Prepare food.  Make coffee.  I will welcome my mother, my brother, and his fiance into my home and we will have Christmas together.  Though Dad is gone, it feels normal.  As much as my world came to a screeching halt this year, it is moving smoothly and has been for a while.  My friend told me her father has been gone for seventeen years, and still has occasions where it hits as strong as it ever did.  I imagine that's how it's going to be.  I love my father, and cherish the good memories.  Christmases past with him in his recliner, watching us open presents as he smiled a small, knowing smile.

Though my eyes well up a little, the smile that comes with them is deep and genuine.  Merry Christmas, Dad.


Empty Picher

After some schedule juggling at work this past week, I found myself with a Saturday off for the first time in a long while.  Fatefully, this happened as I read an article about the abandoned mining town of Picher, Oklahoma and a random dinner engagement with my friends Leah and Darci.  All of these happenings added up to a relatively impromptu Saturday on the road with my fellow photographer friend Darci and a great opportunity to take my new camera out for a spin.

Like my father before me, I wanted to get on the road as early as possible.  I'm not used to dealing with delays like "I'm fixing my hair" but I'm a patient man.  We set out north on the Will Rogers Turnpike at about 9:30 AM on Saturday, full of excitement and expectations.  Due to massive amounts of mining, toxic lead contamination, and a kicker of a 2008 F4 tornado the town was evacuated and abandoned a few years ago.  Many of the structures have been torn down, and there's still light traffic on the highway that runs through the old town center, but the grounds of Picher is an eerie sight.  Roads to nowhere.  Concrete pads overgrown with weeds, old tile peeling up in the sunlight.  Post-apocalyptic spray-painted warnings like 'KEEP OUT' on buildings that seem in decent shape, as well as many dilapidated structures litter the old town footprint.

As you approach the town, you see tall mountains of gravel, or 'chat', left over from the mining operations.  Some of these mounds sidle right up to previously residential neighborhoods.  A water tower looms over the skeletal remains of the town, proudly proclaiming cityhood since 1918.  In fact, due to the mining operations, Picher produced over half of the lead and zinc used in World War I and was also a big contributor to World War II ammunition manufacture.  While walking the foundations of the old commercial district, I found an old Matchbox car, crushed and full of dirt.  "How appropriate," I thought.  How many hopes and dreams died here?  I also came across a fire hydrant with a hose still attached, as if the call to evacuate came amidst an emergency and people had to pick up and go with haste.

Once Darci and I had sufficiently explored, we set out westward.  Driving old Oklahoma and Kansas highways, we found ourselves in Sedan, KS...evidently the home of the World's Longest Yellow-Brick Road.  We parked downtown and looked at the historic storefronts, enjoying the last bit of warmth of the afternoon sun.  Due south of Sedan, not far across the state line, we drove to Pawhuska, my father's hometown.  I hadn't been back since his grave marker had been completed and placed.  I stopped to pay my respects.  There's something so final about words etched in stone.  The quiet time on the hillside was interrupted by a woman and several children with toys and Cheetos.

We cruised back into Tulsa at about 5:30.  It was a fantastic day trip and reminded me how much I missed the open road.  I need to do more research and find other close locations that I can stop by and capture.


Things Remembered

It's crazy, the things we remember.

There was a minor water leak at the office a few days ago.  I used to have a water cooler next to my desk that had been scheduled for removal months ago, but they just now got around to it.  It was hooked up to the water line and everything.  When it was taken out, the line wasn't drained properly and, during my off days, completely saturated the carpet around my desk.  I came to work on Saturday to a squishy workstation.  I called facilities and they took care of it pretty quick.

However, the area around my desk has this odd smell while it dries.  I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it smells just like Grandpa Hardy's butcher shop used to smell like.  Almost metallic.  That smell brought back a WAVE of memories from Hardy and Gail's house out in the country.  I remember the sound of the metal doorknob on the shop turning, the springs inside constricting.  The sound of a car driving down the gravel road behind the house, heading towards the creek.  The sound of Black Cats echoing off the countryside on the 4th of July.  Grandma Gail's laugh.  Their old dog, Tippy, barking as we pulled into the drive.  The sound of their old turn-dial microwave dinging.  The trash compactor.  All sights, sounds, and smells that completely fill my memory.

It's two weeks to Christmas.  I have a tree up, presents under the tree, and a stocking on the mantle.  The cheer grows stronger, even while the clouds grow darker.  The last time Dad and I spent time together was December 23rd and 24th last year.  I helped him pick out a new phone at the U.S. Cellular store.  We ate lunch at Brewburger, saw True Grit in the theater, watched Zombieland at home, and went to Blue Dome for breakfast the following day.  He wanted waffles, but they only had pancakes.  I almost ran a red light on the way home and that cracked him up when I panicked and slammed on the breaks.  It wasn't the last time I saw him, but it might as well have been.

I still haven't made the drive to Pawhuska to see his grave marker with my own eyes.  I'm off on Friday the 23rd and I might make the drive.  Might not...I guess it depends on how I'm feeling.  Plus I don't fancy taking that trip alone.  I did that enough when I was taking care of his estate.  Maybe I won't want to mar the holiday season with a day of somber sadness.  Then again, maybe it'll be somber anyway.  Grief is weird like that.



Thanksgiving came and went without too much fanfare.  At least, that's how it was on the surface.  I went to Mom's on the day of for dinner.  Last year, I took care of Thanksgiving dinner at my tiny efficiency apartment and had Mom and Tyler over.  Dad never was big on holidays.  Since Mom's oven has since been replaced, she was tremendously excited to be able to cook this year.

ThankTyler had to work, and due to some scheduling communication failures, Mom and I ended up eating our meal with just the two of us.  It was peaceful, quiet.  Perhaps a little too quiet.  Make no mistake, the food was great and I love spending time with my mother.  With both Tyler and Dad not being present, it was just a little too hard to ignore that it was different this year.  After we ate, I got to see Tyler's new house.  Tyler and his fiance rented a place in Broken Arrow.  It's his first house.  He was so proud when he was showing me around the place.  I remember the feeling; I bought a house back in 2003 and couldn't be prouder as I sat in my own living room.  I was less proud when it was time to mow the lawn, but I digress.  It's nice to see my brother growing up.  I try to fight the feeling that a complete implosion is around the corner.

Then I was home.  It was odd; I realized that all day I was fighting to get back home, and now that I was back home I had nothing there.  It was quiet, dark.  The night did not go as well as the day.  It'd been a long time since I had broken down with feelings of utter loss.  Thanksgiving memories are filled with food, good spirits, and Dad feeding Lucy bits of turkey as he carved it.  Hard to believe they are both gone now.

I wanted to call Dad and ask him questions.  For some reason, I was stuck on wanting to ask him what he was doing at my age and what his priorities were.  I don't feel aimless, I just want to know.  I was fine once I got on the other side of it.  I was talking about these feelings to a good friend of mine and she said, "Were you alive when your Dad was 30?"  I was 3.  "Then you know what his priority was."  That was impactful and it was all I could do to keep from totally losing my composure.

Since then, I've been thinking about Dad pretty constantly.  In this day and age, it's easy to backtrack a year and see what was important to me.  Facebook posts, blog entries, bank activity.  It's strange to look back and recall how different things were, even though they were almost the same.  As Christmas draws closer, I focus on my friends and my family.  Work is going well.  I listen to upbeat music. Should I slip into sorrow, I let myself settle there for a little bit...and then get back up.  I have too much good going on to focus on the bad.

To quote Andy Dufresne, Hope is a good thing.  Perhaps the best of things.  And no good thing ever dies.