I am at my father’s home to help prepare for his Catholic Solo Single’s gathering. I wasn’t confident he could move tables to where they needed to be, or bend and lug two-liter bottles of soda in from the cold garage. I pulled in at nine, a van loaded with folding chairs; the crystal punchbowl was carefully wedged to halt any movement that might chip it while I drove.
I quietly slipped my spare key into his front door lock; didn’t know if I would catch him sleeping, or bustling around the room. When I walked in I almost fell over. He had all of the tables lined up in a perfect row covered in darling shamrock tablecloths. He also had green ducks for centerpiece decorations and plastic flatware all rolled up with green paper napkins. Curling ribbons held them all together and for a moment I thought I’d shown up in a little old lady’s house.
My father shuffles out of the bedroom wearing his sensible Rockport shoes and a huge smile on his face.
“Well, Liz, it looks like we’re ready for the Catholic’s Gone Wild party.”
I smiled with tears in my eyes. Just when I figured I would be helping him pick out a sweater or maybe reminding him that people were coming over, he fully surprised me with a real-life example of how incredible my father can be.
My van was loaded up with bagged potatoes, cabbage and carrots that had also been wedged into the chairs so they wouldn’t roll all over the place while I drove and blasted my Donna Summer. I figured I’d be spending most of the morning setting everything up but he really had it all taken care of. I told him, “This looks really great. Is there anything you need me to do? Need me to stand up on a ladder and hang up some green crepe paper or something?”
“Nope, nope. I think just the sign is enough.”
I turn to see a groovy Saint Patrick. I do love how his group celebrates every Catholic holiday. Every saint’s birthday is a party complete with a special drink.
I straighten some picture frames and pause. Pictures of me and my brother when we were little kids cover the walls. We moved into this house when I was age five, my brother was six; our bedrooms are still waiting for us down the hall. My mother died in this house. So much to think about as I straighten up and smile back at the happy little faces of a young boy and girl who had no idea what was in store for them.
I told him about my upcoming trip to the Natural Burial Co-Operative Board of Director’s retreat. Although the retreat was in Three Oaks, Michigan, I would be flying in and out of Chicago and was excited about the possibility of meeting up with a friend before my flight home.
Dad perked up at the mention of Chicago. Very casually, he told me that when he was a kid he went to St. Salomea Church at 118th and Indiana Avenue and his family house was at 134th and Indiana. Oh, and that his family owned a funeral parlour in a Polish neighborhood.
“Wait, what? Your family owned a funeral home on Chicago’s South Side?”
“My relative became one of the first females in Illinois history to receive a Funeral Director’s license. Her three sons followed her footsteps, operating the Pisarski and Sons Funeral Home in Chicago,” he said, and explained the parlour had been handed down from generation to generation. “It skipped a generation with me,” Dad said, “But you should know you are the 8th generation of morticians on my mother’s side of the family.”
Was he kidding me with this, with this earthquake, tsunami and biblical flood of astonishing information?
“I’ve been an undertaker for years, why didn’t you ever bother to tell me?”
Dad looked at me squarely and said, “I guess it never came up.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “So why did you discourage me so much when I wanted to become a funeral director, if this is one of your family’s legacies?”
Dad shrugged. “It’s a lot of hard work and the pay is lousy. I thought your life would be better if you did something else. I guess I was wrong.”
That surprised me. “You think now that I made the right choice?”
“Oh my, yes,” Dad said. “Just look at you. You’ve done so much and come so far. I’m so proud of you.”
My eyes welled up and I hugged my sweet, wonderful Daddy. “It means so much to me to hear you say that.”
“Didn’t you know?” he asked.
“I never knew for sure,” I said, opening the blinds to let some light in. The windows were outrageously spotty, like a dot-to-dot picture. I wondered how long he would be able to live alone in this house. My mother died in this house, and now, my father’s heart was slowly failing in this house.
It was too much to think about so I said cheerfully, “Hey, can you please tell me where you hide your window cleaner? You realize these windows look pretty bad, right?”
He led me to where the household cleaners have been kept for 40 years. It’s good to know he can remember. He pulled out a squirt bottle with blue, foamy liquid inside.
“Here it is, just used it last week. Good to the last drop.” I grabbed some old newspaper and scrubbed the hell out of those windows. While wiping with newspaper in one hand and Windex in the other, I am painfully aware that I will be washing these windows in the not too distant future, when he is no longer in our lives, yet this plastic bottle of Windex will still exist. In that moment I am painfully aware bottles of Windex will make me cry and laugh at how life continues, forever.