A few years back I wrote a short essay called “Last Time-Next Time” about encountering memories of my father after his death.
I hope you’ll take the time to read that here, as it relates to this essay.
A month ago I was in Tulsa, visiting family, and one day we decided to meet up for barbeque at a place called Albert G’s. Taking corners and reading signs, I started driving slow, awakened incrementally to the fact that the last time I ate there was with my father, about twenty years before. Wow!
There was a period of around two years when I would work for my Pops all day on Thursday’s and Fridays, and then the closing shift afterwards at Hideaway Pizza. Workdays started about 6 am and ran until about midnight, from dark to dark.
I’d only be off my feet when Pops would call for a lunch break, his treat. Such moments of respite are a precious treasure to the weary laborer, I promise.
Anyhow, when Dad and I ate at Albert G’s two decades ago, it was in a lot different than here in 2020. They’d bought an old gas station and put picnic tables out front where the gas tanks used to be, under the coverings.
Pops was always concerned about us offending others with our peculiar landscaper’s aroma, so such an outdoor-in the blazing heat of the day-hey, at least that covering kept us out of direct sunlight-kind of place was a reasonable choice, and one things for sure, the food was filling and tasty.
So, back to 2020, I’m entering ol’ Albert G’s and the good thing is they’ve built around the picnic tables and now we’re inside, with AC! (On a side note, every time we travel back to OK, it lays out the welcome mat – 100+ temperatures almost every day.)
So I’m sitting down with my Mom and sister and wife and kids and nephew and nieces, and my soul is travelling back to that moment, late 90s/early 2000s, sitting on the bench (out in the heat), and suddenly, the memory hits me like a brick in my chest.
I’d been caught up with a girl back then, for a number of years. I was hoping hard, and grieving hard, because it wasn’t turning out like I thought, never would, but I was holding on anyway.
Sometimes it felt like a million pounds were sitting on my soul, and I might fall apart at any moment.
Pops was a blessing and a lifeline for me during that valley. I’d confess to him my sorrow, and he cared, tried his best to give me succor. His love and companionship helped get me through. As I remembered that blistering day twenty years earlier, those two elements snuggled up tight in that memory – my heartbreak and my dad’s presence and his love.
Summer of 2020 at Albert G’s – my heart was healed, blessed beyond imagining. I looked across the table at my wife, a lovely, loyal, smart and tough bride, and also at the four unique and wondrous sons she gave me. They were all laughing and talking, lots of smiles and silly talk. What a joy!
The heartbreak is gone, a memory that can barely touch me, certainly doesn’t weigh me down any longer. One thing didn’t change was the food – it’s still lip-smacking good.
My mom was there, too, and I love her, and I’m grateful. But, Pops wasn't there with us in the flesh.
He’s been gone for too long, and the weight of his loss is heavy. Only my eldest son Noah ever met him, and he was only two. There is heartbreak in that, too.
Right now, this pandemic is like, a major drag. Lord willing, it will pass, and we’ll be back to ballgames and shows, dinners and parties, at ease among the many. When it finally leaves us, we’ll rightly rejoice.
It’s not all bad, though.
I’ve been side by side with my nuclear family (some might suggest this is not-so-great) more than I ever have been. One day, when our nest is empty, I’ll ponder these days with fondness.
I doubt we’ll ever see this much time with family again.
No matter where you are or when, there are some things that are trials, and there are other things that bless. Hold on to the good. When it changes, when this chapter of your life ends, there will be losses and gains, always.
In 2000 I had a broken heart, but I was also carried by my dad. Today, my heart is full, but I can’t see my Pops, shake his hand, hug his neck, or hear his voice.
Don’t wait for your life to be perfect. It never will be. Instead, practice gratitude, and hold on to hope. These are the anecdotes to our sorrows.
Hold on to the good.