Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Heading East to Say Goodbye

My brother John and our father John Anastasios Anthony

Yesterday, my brother John called me from New York.  He lives in Vegas.  He was just about to board a train from New York to Lancaster, PA, where my father was in a hospital having suffered a massive stroke.  Medical authorities don't expect him to survive.

Tomorrow, with a grieving heart, Rick and I will be heading for Pennsylvania to hopefully see my father before he dies.  Today, he was moved to hospice care.

It is of course a natural thing to outlive one's parents.  And we must say goodbye, give them our love, and keep them in our hearts.  But it is a hard good bye.  

My Daddy was a jazz drummer--first and foremost.  He was always a musician and was a musician to the last--the last day before the stroke, he went to rehearsal.  At age  76.  He was a vital and active person, running his own commercial cleaning business.  Always funny and charming, with high energy and a quick wit.

He liked to play chess.  He loved history.  He studied world religions.  He taught me words like “reincarnation” and “pyrotechnic exhibition” and “defenestrate.”  

Music was in his blood.  I don’t know how many times he told me he was “giving up” the music business.  I never got to sing with his band, something I wanted to do since I was four years old. It is a loss I will have to live with.  But he never really did “quit” the music business.

He liked cigars and I always knew when Daddy was home because I could smell his cigar.  I love the smell of cigars.

His quick wit was often corny—too many jokes stolen from the Borscht Belt comics.  He was always the comic in the band. He told me once that I could not tell him a joke that he didn’t know the punchline for.  I learned every joke I could.  I know a lot of jokes, but I never found one where he didn’t know the punchline.  

I have been proud my whole life to brag to people that my Dad was a jazz drummer.  He was cool, you know?  When I was in the fifth grade, Dad stopped by my school for something or other  My classmates saw him.  All those nasty kids who mocked me and ridiculed me and beat me up.  Suddenly, I wasn’t so bad.  “Was that your Dad?” they asked.  “He’s so cooool.”  “He a musician,” I said with pride.  And elementary school wasn’t as bad after that.

Dad loved women.  He flirted with all of them.  His polite, corny charm had a way with women. All of his wives and girlfriends can attest to that. I think he was a romantic at heart, looking for a kind of dream love.  He was often engaged quickly after meeting a woman, though most of the relationships failed.

Dad taught me about equality and about prejudice.  He had friends of all colors—they had a common denominator—music.  I remember he visited a lot with the cook at the restaurant where he was manager—Schindler’s Restaurant in Camp Hill.  Whitey was an old man when I met him.  He was the chef who carved the roast beef and the ham on the smorgasbord line.  I loved Whitey.  He was always so nice to me and he used to tease me like Daddy did.  Oh.  I forgot to mention that he was black.  I never noticed, and I don’t think Dad did, either.

He taught me about stereotypes, introduced me to critical thinking.  He was driving me home from school one day and I remember I said something about a friend of mine from the neighborhood—I can’t remember what it was, exactly. 

“What makes you say that?” 
“Well, she’s Catholic.”
“How do you know she’s Catholic?”
“’Cause she looks Catholic,” I told him.  I realize now that it was actually an early expression of my own intuitive nature to know things about people just by looking at them.  But Dad had another lesson for me that day.

“Really?  What does a Catholic look like?”  When I couldn’t answer that, he proceeded to share with me that we can’t judge people by their looks or what we think they are.  Although the details are lost, the lesson remains. 

He taught me about helping others.  When I was about 7, he took my grandmother (his mom) and I on a trip to visit his brother, Uncle Lou.  I had fallen asleep in the backseat of the car and was awakened suddenly when he stopped the car, pulled over to the shoulder of Interstate 95 somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina, and dashed across the median and all four lanes of traffic, to pull victims out of a car that had crashed on the northbound side.  Once they were freed, he set out flares and began to direct traffic.  He stood there in 102 degree heat and directed traffic for a half hour before the ambulance and police arrived.  He was that kind of a guy.  I attribute this experience to my own later desire to become a disaster responder for the American Red Cross.  I joined ARC's disaster team in 1991, became a full-time "volunteer" (as an Americorps VISTA) in 2001, where I helped victims of the Mississippi River Flood in June, and later served in New York helping victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of 9/11.  

When I was little, he was the most fun father ever.  He played horsey-back rides and tickled me silly.  He took me places, like duck hunting, which I hated, and Dutch Wonderland, which I loved.  He never talked down to me and because of that I developed a good vocabulary at an early age.  You know, defenestration and reincarnation and pyrotechnic exhibitions.

I will miss my Dad.  I will always wish we had more time together.  But I am grateful for what we did have and I know that next time—next life—we’ll both be better.  In the meantime, he lives still and always in my heart and in the traits and values he passed to me and which I have passed to my children.  

I hope he holds on long enough for me to hug him one last time and tell him I love him.  But I know that he knows this, and even if I don't get to see him one more time, I will be there for the funeral.   

My Daddy at age 14.

1 comment: