Memorial Day is the day we honor all who died in War. I usually think of it as Red Poppy Day. Each year, I walk up my street, cut through a business parking lot, dash across a busy street to the Calvary Cemetery. My father is buried there. He died in July 1978 from Esophageal cancer. I had just turned 18.
The cemetery sits on the side of a hill overlooking Santa Rosa. It is quite the climb getting to the top where my father’s grave is located. Usually I am out of breath – yesterday was no different – as I sucked in the warm air and looked down upon the stone marker. It is marked with a small American Flag. My father was in the Army and served in Korea.
My mother lays roses over the headstone, she always arrives there for the early church service held to honor the dead. I always stare at the engraved words “ELDON EUGENE HUGHES”. It seems like a lifetime ago and yet, it also seems like yesterday. When I stare at his name I am transformed back to being a teenager and the years spent dealing with his cancer.
There always seems to be a soft breeze flowing over the graveyard as if the dead are blowing kisses to the ones they loved. It was a beautiful sunny day when my dad was laid to rest in this graveyard.
The day my father died, my boyfriend at the time, Steve, was driving me to work at Round Table Pizza. We were on the freeway when my father’s voice came through my head “Cathy come home – hurry.” I turned to Steve and said, “Take me home NOW!” “What? Why?” he wass irritated, “We just left there.” “Turn the damn car around and take me home. Its my dad!” Without another word, he takes the first exit and speeds back home.
My father died in his favorite leather recliner. The cancer had gone to his brain and throughout his entire body. He died after watching his favorite movie, Spencer’s Mountain. He loved Maureen O’Hara and the Grand Tetons. My mother hugged me and placed a cloth over my dad’s face.
And that was it. This larger than life man, who I adored was gone from me in an instant. I was in shock.
The wind across the fresh cut grass of his graveside always brings me back to the present moment. Other families will be visiting lost loved ones too. We are a bonded community in silence, each understanding this type of pain. It never leaves you. You adjust, go on with life, but you are never the same, never innocent again.
In different years this tradition doesn’t bother me and often fills me with peace.
I miss my dad’s hugs, the way his large arms would surround me and I could bury my face in his chest. I felt safe, and loved. I loved the way he smelled after putting on his after shave. He smelled like a dad should. Every now and then when I am in a store that still carries that brand of aftershave, I open one and take a whiff and remember what my dad smelled like.
I wish I could hear his voice one last time, but instead there is only the sound of the wind and the birds. Would he be proud of me? What would he say about my life? How different would my life be if he were still alive?
He would have been crazy over my son Brian.
Until next time-