BLUE BIRDS OVER THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

He was sitting in a well-worn recliner, head rolled back, dozing in the sunshine slanting through the tall window. The room was standard institutional bland but he made it look almost classy with his dapper, baby blue sweater vest, pressed pants and shock of wavy white hair. He had shaved and dressed early in anticipation of our lunch date. The rehab schedule was light on Sundays and we planned to break up the long, tedious day with lunch at his favorite steak house. His eyes fluttered open as I tiptoed into the room.

“How’re you doing, Dad?”

He smiled that gentle smile.  “Mighty fine.”

Nearly 90, with failing vision, a weak heart and decreasing tolerance for walking even short distances, he still managed to find something positive to say each day. On good days, he was mighty fine. On less than good days, he was “Coming along. It’ll take some time.” If I had to deal with all of his health issues, I might simply pull the covers over my head and never get out of bed. Yet there he was, mighty fine and ready to hit the road for a good steak with his middle daughter.

Our world had tilted in so many ways since the death of my mother the previous year. Lately he handed me the keys to his car and almost trusted that after 40 years, I finally knew how to drive. My mother’s walker, which we folded up and tucked into the back seat, was now needed by him for anything more than a few steps around his living room.  His pace, our pace, had slowed to nearly a shuffle. But still, he was mighty fine.

As the hostess showed us to his favorite booth, I watched the charming man who never missed the chance to flirt with the ladies.  Everywhere we went that day waitresses, nurses, and even the checker at the grocery store, indulged him as if he were their very own grandfather and seemed to truly enjoy his company.

The sun was shining as we headed back to the car. Even though it was close to his nap time, I decided to keep our special day going a bit longer with a ride along the waterfront, a ride he had taken countless times with my mother over the years but not once since her death. I popped one of their CDs into the player and, as tunes from WWII filled the car, he crooned along to the songs of his youth. His mellow voice transported both of us back to happier times when he was young and strong with years of endless possibilities ahead.

One song, The White Cliffs Of Dover, resonated with me that day as never before.

There’ll be bluebirds over                                                                                                                  the white cliffs of Dover                                                                                                         tomorrow                                                                                                                                            just you wait and see

There’ll be love and laughter                                                                                                           and peace ever after                                                                                                                        tomorrow                                                                                                                                        when the world is free

It was a song of hope, made popular at a time when our country was fighting an evil force  threatening to destroy the free world. I thought about how frightening it must have been to live through that time in history.

“It must have been so scary during the war, Dad. Weren’t you afraid all the time?” I asked.

“Not really. We knew Hitler wouldn’t win”, he said.

“How were you so sure?”

“FDR told us it would be okay and we believed him”

He made it sound so simple. He had grown up at a time when the world was turned upside down, yet he had believed it would all be okay. And it was.  The same generation that never lost hope as bombs fell on London, Pearl Harbor and around the world, was now the generation living into their 90’s and still finding a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The Nazi army had goose stepped across his formative years. Rather than break him, that time in history had turned my father into a man of strength, hope and endurance.

Did that explain his optimism as he faced down the cruelties of aging with courage and grace? How he could adjust to the steady chipping away of his independence and still give it his all at the rehab center, proving to the naysayers that he could indeed live out his remaining years in his own home, on his own terms? His missed his wife of 65 years with a sadness that was constantly just below the surface. Countless tears were shed when he was alone in his bed at night. But each new day brought that gentle smile and the reassurance that he was once again mighty fine.

No one lives forever and my father gave up the good fight not long after his 90th birthday. It’s been a long, dark winter as I adjust to a world without our daily phone calls.  There are days when I resent what aging is now doing to me – the wrinkles, the aches and pains, the sense that I am becoming invisible.

But spring is in the air, the birds are returning and I’ll never be younger than I am today. I’m grateful to have come from such solid stock. Whenever I play his CDs, I can still hear him crooning and will forever cherish that day cruising along the waterfront of North Carolina. So as I think of my dad, and the lessons he taught me, I too am feeling mighty fine.

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About Carol Bryant

Hi. My name is Carol Bryant. I'm a transplanted New Yorker, living in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. While it was skiing that initially drew me to Colorado, it's been the laid-back, outdoor lifestyle which has kept me here for nearly 30 years. I'm a writer, nurse, travel agent and mediocre tennis player. I began my writing career 20 years ago, writing essays and magazine articles. Recently, I completed my first manuscript and am currently seeking representation for this work. It's a memoir of my nursing career which spans two continents, forty years and some of the most intriguing characters who have ever entered a hospital. I’ve been told that if I ever hope to have my memoir published, I need to establish a platform – a following of readers who enjoy my writing. So, I am shamelessly asking for you to become part of that platform. I plan to blog on various topics that I find entertaining. If you are entertained, moved to cry or laugh out loud, then I have accomplished what I have set out to do. I feel as if I am taking that first, timid step out onto the frozen lake, hoping that the ice will hold me. It’s scary as hell but I’ll give it a go. After some of the things I have faced down in my 40 years of nursing, how bad can blogging be? It beats shaving scrotums.
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6 Responses to BLUE BIRDS OVER THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

  1. Phil Bryant says:

    “The Blue Birds over the White Cliffs of Dover” vividly portrays your father’s positive attitude as his health was failing and his friends were failing all around him. He was one of the last holdouts, and it really makes you wonder how he was able to cheerfully carry on solo, not every day, but most. A chip off the old block, you might say, and a father to be proud of.

    Like

  2. Pingback: BLUE BIRDS OVER THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER | carolbryantblog

  3. profkf says:

    Stunningly beautiful….especially apropos as we lost my mother in law suddenly in the summer and my father in law is very similar to your dad here

    Thanks for this

    K.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

    • Carol Bryant says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I am sorry to hear about your loss. Make the most of your time with your father in law. It isn’t always easy but the more good memories you can stockpile the better.

      Like

  4. Janet britt says:

    He was a good strong man. He has left a bigger hole than I ever realized he would.

    Like

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