Whenever I call my papa, I end up in tears. I guess it's that horrible dreaded feeling I got last September when I was back in New England... It was that sense that this could be the last time I see his face, his blue-blue eyes, and hug his rattly bones. It was horrendous, and I cried pretty much the whole flight home.
My dad is only 77, but he is sort of one of those hypochondriac kind of daddies that likes to claim every disease mentioned on the news; and enjoys being an invalid. "Oh," he will say with his strong Dracula accent, "I'm qvite shooor I've gott Vest Nile Virus."Do you see dis brown spot here? I tink eet is de skeen eating dizease..." or he'll utter: "I'm shoor I've gott Lyme Dizeaze." He's been 'old' since before he retired. The fatalist.
What astonishes me is that as late as 2002, my dad was skiing down the mile at Timberline Lodge on his super-long black Rossies. We had come, him and I, from New England to Oregon to visit my sister. He made some visits on occasion, his visits to the slopes of Timberline a highlight for him. He was always happy to bind up his skis in their nylon case, and head to the airport.
The moment he arrived, the quiet hints to hit the slopes would be unending. He wouldn't stop until he was stomping up to the booth in his good ol' red boots, and then riding up the lift, his azure eyes a-glistenin'. My sister would telemark around him, and then watch him ski fearlessly along, with his trademark Hungarian Ski Panache, man, he is an incredible skiier, great technique, really skilled; he hadn't hit the slopes for a couple of years and he was slaloming his skinny butt off. My brother-in-law (now ex-bro-in-law) was so proud to tell people that the figure practically dancing down the slopes was a 72 year old man.
But the second day of skiing, my dad took a plunge. It wasn't a severe fall, but it shook him very deeply. He went back to my sister's house that night, and shuffled around, and I could see the realization and even the fear in his eyes. He didn't ask to go skiing the next day. Normally, he wanted to ski every day of his visit. He liked having access to powder vs the hard ice-crusted slopes of New England runs. He declared himself too old, and retired his tall back rossis for good. Ever since then, he's been fading.
The last I saw my dad, he was this little bundle of sticks. He wore an oversized sweater that nearly reached his knees, a pair of sweats pulled all the way up to his nipples, and two slippers that he shuffled around in just to drive my mother crazy. "PEEK AP JORR FEET!" she would shout, and my father's reply: "But my sleepers vill foll off."
My relationship with my dad has been pretty stormy throughout my life. He has a notorious temper, and was sort of beastly as we grew up (but so was my mom--it was a loud household); but in the last fifteen years, we've mended fences, and developed a really great relationship. I see him now, and that scary, glaring-eyed, towering figure that used to scare my socks off now looks so fragile and vulnerable to me... His icy blue eyes and his dense black hair now drybrushed with silver strands. His eyebrows are like two fuzzy caterpillars inching across his brow.
I called him yesterday, and his voice is so gravelly, his tone so subdued, so lost. I don't think I've ever missed him more than I do now.
Papa is in the back in the yellow hat, piloting, his friend is in the front holding me. I was about 2ish there, and I recall parts of that flight.