On the first day of my first big-girl job, Nurse Susie, who would later become my mother-in-law, sat down on my empty desk. She adjusted her stethoscope, propped her feet up on the back of an adjacent chair, crossed her arms and asked,
“Are you single?”
My reply would eventually chart the course for my dinner table of nine. To this day, it was the best “yes” of my life. I often tell folks that when your mother-in-law sets you up, you know it was written in the stars.
When I married Kip, I became more than a wife. I became a daughter and a sister to an extended family. “In-law” has rarely been used in my presence. Many folks in our community have asked me how my parents are doing, referring not to my own mom and dad, but my husband’s. Susie even refers to Kip’s dad as your father when telling me a story. I have never stood corrected. Our house is not divided.
But recently it has been broken-hearted.
Kip’s dad closed his eyes on a recent September Sunday morning and opened them in a much better place. There was a lot of love in that room when the labor of his breathing ceased. You could feel every ounce of it.
And it is that kind of love that is slowly putting our broken pieces back together.
Omnie, Junior, Mr. Grabs, Dad, Papa….he was among the last of a great generation.
A world without him may easily forget that…
a handshake is worth as much as ink on paper;
promises are meant to be kept;
respect is not a privilege;
there is value in an apology;
and nothing, no nothing, is more important than a family dinner.
He was a preserver and protector of words, deeds, homes, and people. He never told you what you wanted to hear. He told you what you needed to hear. When he spoke, you listened.
I returned many a book on my bookshelf when he would place one of his favorites in my hand. His recommendations never disappointed me, and I loved having great discussions about each book we read.
He and Susie showed us all what true love looks like. They held hands in church. They cooked together. They dated. They traveled together. When you saw one of them, you saw the other. Never did I witness a raised voice in their house.
And even in the midst of his declining health, a global pandemic and an unsettling world around him, he understood that the most important part of being alive was being with those you loved the most.
He wanted to keep our annual family beach week on this year’s calendar. For him all nineteen of us hunkered down, wore masks, and washed hands. Even though he only enjoyed the ocean from the balcony-view, he breathed us all in. He cooked his famous ribs, read with the grandchildren, sang songs, painted a picture, and told the stories that only he could tell.
His wedding anniversary was also important to him, so in September he took his bride of sixty-three years to the North Carolina mountains, one of their favorite spots. They rested, and read, enjoyed good food, and even got to spend a little time with the college kids in town.
And then the rain came. It started to steal away the air that had become so precious to his broken lungs. They returned home and the rain stopped, but it had already taken too much from him.
With his passing came a deep sadness, but it also brought us a large volume of stories from both near and far. We have relished every one. He was so much more than a teacher, pharmacist, community leader, husband and dad. He was a compassionate human being.
On my wedding day, he gave me a gold Moravian seal necklace that he had purchased for his only son’s future wife, long before he ever knew me.
And each Valentine’s Day he would give me little gifts, my favorite being a red leather change purse from his pharmacy. It is among my most favorite treasures.
I simply miss the sage man that Omnie will always be. He was honorable, bright, trustworthy, and gentle. The recent state of the world burdened him as it should burden all of us. I can’t help but think if we all lived our lives with the same kind of love and fortitude that he did, the world would be a much better place.
Still waters do indeed run deep.