Dad’s Denouement Part 1: Coming Home and Losing Home

Just past the horse-trailer dealership, I came to a lonely gas station. It’s hard to tell what the prices are, $2.something-9, the lights are broken on the sign. Behind it there is what looks like an abandoned trailer home, a few windows still peeking out from the voracious kudzu that is reclaiming it.

It made me smile. Abandoned buildings being eaten by the forest… now I really feel like I’m home.

I mostly grew up in semi-rural Georgia. About an hour north of Atlanta, my parents bought a big house on acres of land. My dad wasn’t from the area and was a strange fit. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Florida, a hyper-nerd who got into Georgia Tech at 16, finished up his Masters in statistics at 21, a ladder-climbing geek turned salesman working for IBM, the only company that mattered in the early 80's. Every promotion was met with a relocation and by 11 years old, I’d moved 6 times, 2 countries, 3 states. Dad didn’t have even a hint of the southern accent & we didn’t really hunt or shoot, didn’t own a truck, the geeky nature of our family made us an awkward fit in the area.

But he loved it and we loved it too. After so much moving we loved having a home.

He’s selling it tomorrow.

A little over a year ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis was not good. The tumor count was high and the specific type of cancer had a very low 5-year survival rate.

I now live across the country from my parents, so I started making plans to come back as often as possible. We have 3 of the 8 grandkids and they love seeing their grandparents whenever possible.

I started talking to my dad about his life, calling and recording our conversations as we walk through his childhood in Brooklyn, moving to Fort Pierce, FL, high school, college, his early married life. I found out so much about him, I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier.

In the first year of treatment, he did pretty well. Tumor count plummeted, all his numbers were looking increasingly good. He was even getting back into hiking the Appalachian trail, a passion that he’s had for the past few years. Things were going so well and, like a fool, I let our weekly conversations slip.

We all got together this summer for a trip to Disney World. It was really wonderful, great family time and wonderful memories were made.

But we noticed that his speech was starting to slur, he had trouble finding the right words when we were talking. He joked “That’s what happens when you’re having a stroke” which my mother did not find as funny as he did. We discovered a week later that the cancer had spread to his brain and now he started fighting multiple health battles at the same time.

So they decided it’s time to sell the house. And that’s where I am now, moving the final boxes out of the first home I really had.

This isn’t the part of the story with an ending. We all know the ending is coming soon, but we are still holding to a thin strand of hope that we can push the running time a little further back. Instead, this is the beginning of the end. This is the part of the story were I start learning hard things.

The first lesson, seen above, is to take advantage of the moments. Be curious while there is time because there won’t always be time. I’ll have to write more about this (and more about Dad) later.

The second lesson is about community. As my parents move out of their house, they have a quarter century of stuff they have collected and they couldn’t even begin to move this much stuff on their own. That’s why I’m in town to help.

Except they barely need my help. The people from their church have already done most of the work.

One family in particular, have been close to us for years. The patriarch of the family, an ex-Navy Seal, is as redneck as they come. His 12 kids split between going the nerd route, ending up at Georgia Tech, or the good ol’ boy route working with their dad in his construction business until they came up with a business of their own installing garage doors & other home and industrial construction. They marry young, have kids young, and stay near the family. None of them have moved out of state. They don’t want to “get away” or “get out”. It’s nice here.

So while my dad’s son is 3,000 miles away chasing my high-tech career and casting an arrogant side-eye at some of kids I grew up with (especially when the local gossip makes its way back to me), they’re moving my mom and dad out of their house. Is it because they grew close to my parents while I was out chasing my career?

It’s because they are neighbors. Because they grew up around my parents & that’s just what you do for the people you know.

That’s important out here. Where the nearest restaurant is That Biscuit Place and it’s a 15 minute drive to get to the grocery store. I’ve grown away from the region. It doesn’t match my adopted sense of what defines success or ambition. I could never have built my current career out here. I’d be missing out on a lot. But I can’t shake the feeling that I still am missing out.