It was Christmastime and I was in an odd Chicago with The Old Man who, just as he had been doing the last time I laid eyes on him before the coffin, was dying upright. There was an ashy snow falling, and he’d backed up the rig a city block and a half, with the same finesse a pilot ferries in an oil tanker through tight straits, and slid it up to the loading dock with only inches to spare on either side. Masterful. I’d always envied him that talent, but never more than now, knowing I was probably witnessing it for the last time.
We went into a mall that had glass and chrome stores and hospital beds in the hallways. And they were testing him and they wanted to test me. I remember that it looked like he’d been in some pain, but that the pain had gone, and now he only looked tired and tiny and old. I saw all of this, but none of it surprised me; saw all of this before he saw me seeing, and it didn’t surprise me at all when he looked up and said, “Well, hel-LOOO, George,” just like he used to say when I was a little boy, just getting up from a nap.
I’d be lying if I said I remember much more than that.
But I saw him again last night, or earlier this morning. we were walking, the three of us, down the far end of Southwood, and I was kicking along a small, thick pad of papers bundled together with duct tape and elastic bands as I walked. My mother and he didn’t really seem to know each other, but they were getting along just fine. And I was happy.
(Of course, I’m not always so lucky to recall such specificity. It’s hard to know which are the good days. Here’s another aspect, at The Red Room).