I remember Maria (long i), the 22-foot sailboat my father bought when I was a child. As a family, we sailed Maria many times on False River and even spent the night aboard her. Later Dad would keep her moored at his dock on the Tickfaw river. Eventually, he sold her to a young man named Michael.
As my father's illness progressed, he slept more and more and responded to less and less. I was fortunate to be present at his last epic day....
A Friend Plans a Surprise
My father was dying. As his body betrayed him, he grew steadily weaker. He went from walking to shuffling, to using a walker or sometimes even a wheelchair.
Family and friends came to visit him in his last days. Doug shared how he was looking forward to purchasing a boat, a 28-footer. He told my dad he would bring it by and tie up on his dock. But there were delays in procuring the boat, and Doug began to seriously doubt if my father would live to see the new craft.
Doug called Michael. Would Michael agree to bring Maria to my father's place so he could get one last look at her? "Let's do it," Michael said.
So the two of them set about bringing Maria to my father for one last inspection. But trailering a boat from out of town to a local marina, putting it in the water and motoring it to its destination takes time. Time was a commodity which was rapidly running out for my father.
They got Maria moored and came into the house, but Dad was sleeping. His bed had been moved into the living room when it had gotten too difficult for him to climb the stairs to the bedroom. Michael approached the bed and gently put his hand on my father's shoulder.
My father opened his eyes.
"We brought the boat," Michael said simply.
My father sat up. He was suddenly very animated. "I want to see it," he insisted.
"Would you like the walker or the wheelchair?" my stepmother asked.
"I want my wheelchair," he said. "Alan Barrett," he called my stepbrother, using both his first and middle names, "come work this elevator."
The river is known to spill over its banks sometimes. For that reason, the house is on stilts. My father didn't simply want to look out of the window or go onto the deck and see the boat. He wanted to go out to the dock and see it up close. We got him downstairs and wheeled him onto the dock. The photo at the top of this article is one we took.
"It's not my boat," Doug explained, "but it's a boat."
"It looks familiar," my father joked.
After visiting for a few minutes, we all figured my father was tired. But he told us he had to go to the bathroom. Fortunately, there was a bathroom downstairs. We wheeled him to it and he did what he needed to do.
When he had finished. I figured he must be really tired. But he wanted to visit with everyone on the covered patio outside, so I wheeled him over to where friends and family were chatting. He talked, laughed and joked with us. My stepbrother (the same Alan Barrett who had operated the elevator earlier) approached, handing out beers to whomever wante one. I took one and turned to my father. "Want a beer?" I asked him.
"Yes, I want a beer!" I handed him mine, and Alan gave another to me.
Dad talked and joked and laughed for quite a while. And though he hadn't been eating or drinking much, he finished about two thirds of that beer.
Eventually most of the guests left, and I wheeled my father back upstairs. It was approaching eight o'clock, the hour at which he had been falling alseep for weeks. But my fahter was not done with his epic day.
"I wanna watch a Jackie Chan movie," he suddenly announced. We were surprised. But at his insistence we located his DVD of Mr. Nice Guy and put it on. He stayed awake for nearly the whole movie, finally going to bed around ten.
~ ~ ~
My father's decline was rapid. He never again had the sort of energy and interaction he had that day.
Looking back on it, it occurs to me that everyone should have one last epic day. Of course, none of us knows when our last day will be. So the next time you are having an epic day, cherish it. After all, that is what epic days are for.