Don't ask me why, at the age of 59 and a half, I would be interested in helping my old fraternity decorate their new frat house for Christmas, but I was. I had not had any contact with anyone from Pi Kappa Alpha in over 35 years. Except for my best friend John, who was the catalyst in my becoming involved now. John was my "Big Brother" and best friend. And, although we lost contact for nearly a quarter century during which I traveled the world courtesy of Uncle Sam, he and I had our reunion about five years ago at my father's funeral, and our friendship became solid in spite of the time lapse.
So, here I was at John's urging. Attempting to teach men young enough to be my grandsons how to decorate their house for the holidays. The first thing that became apparent was the severe lack of materials. They owned a total of two scrawny strings of lights, one gold garland, and believe it or not one silver aluminum tree left over from the fifties. That would never do, so I started out to the nearest Kmart to purchase sufficient materials to decorate a three story house and two 30' pines, which graced the front lawn.
Now, when I attended Gannon College back in the early sixties, I knew every street and alley like the back of my hand. I could navigate from here to there with nary a thought.
Dad and Mom at Epcot
But now 37 years later Gannon College had become Gannon University, a sprawling institute of "Higher" (we didn't use that stuff then, the beer did just fine) Education which covered nearly 18 city blocks intermixed with residents of the area whose families had lived there for more than a hundred years. Now, even though John and I had our reunion five years ago, I had not moved back "home" until last year. So where the inner city was concerned I didn't yet have my sea legs. Consequently, in less than five minutes I was hopelessly misplaced. Men never get "lost" and we never ask directions. Sad, but true.
Now about 25 minutes into my lostness, I had to swallow my pride. After all it was December 10th and the temperature had been hovering around freezing all afternoon, It was now by my watch 8:25 P.M. I really needed to become found and warm quickly. The first house I approached was occupied by a man, whom I saw, presumably a woman, whom I didn't see, and what seemed like eight or nine children of various sizes parading within view of the doorway. They were all wearing different colored bathrobes and had their heads wrapped in contrasting colored towels. They seemed to me to range in age from two toddler to ten or twelve. So deternining the gender of these children was not possible. I asked the man how to get to the closest Kmart. He shouted something to the kids to stay away from the door. It appeared that I was a threat to him and his family, as his reply was a curt, "Get on that street and it's right over there." sweeping his arm in the general direction of "over there". I related that I had seven children my self, attempting to alleviate his fear. But he only gave me a brief "Really" and shut the door in my face.
I, in turn, got myself to "that street" and looking. first, in the general direction of his arm swing, then in all directions. There was no Kmart to be seen. I took off walking again, and thought I remembered a shortcut through an alley, which would put me back on familiar ground. Did I say I thought I remembered. Well, in reality, I didn't remember. I soon found myself in someone's backyard. This thought immediately flashed through my mind, "a guy could get shot . . ."
As it turned out I was slightly luckier this time. A very friendly older gentleman opened the back door to the house and asked, "Could I help you in any way?" I explained my dilemma, and he invited me in for hot cocoa. He even offered to drive me to the Kmart. But as his directions were very specific and clear, I declined his invitation. We chatted as we drank our cocoa, and he said my name was familiar to him. He said, "Let me show you something." As he bent over to retrieve an album from an end table, I caught a glimpse of a photograph in the pocket of his sportcoat and my heart stopped. It was brief, but it actually stopped.
He paged through the album until he came to a picture of a church ceiling. The ceiling was sky blue with stars and clouds and gold trimming on the six arches which met at the highest point. My heart fluttered again, and I said, "This is St Joseph's Church up on 24th and Sassafras. This was taken before they painted the ceiling white." He told me I was correct. I asked him about the photo in his pocket, and he became silent. I asked if I could see the photo, and he refused. I said the woman in the photo looked amazingly like my Aunt Gertie. His reply was, "Ahhh, Gertie, yes, sweet Lord. At this time I was certain of what I had glimpsed when he bent over. I was insistent upon seeing the photo in his pocket. He again refused. I said, "All right, look at that photo and see if I am correct. It is a photo of a woman, my Aunt Gertie, flanked by two men. On the left is my Uncle Ray, who passed away in 1992, the man on the right is my father, whom we lost in 1996." He told me I was right.
And I cried, I cried like I never could when awake. Full sobbing with real tears for my father.
I miss my Dad, and this is how he visits me. In these little dreams which don't make much sense until the point where he comes in and helps to relieve the grief. Thanks, Dad, I love you.
NOTE: I've kept this page sort of hidden in my Prose section. I suppose because it is in prose form, but it's really a Memorial to my father. The dream depicted above actually did happen. I'm not sure if he was telling me something or not. I do know that others have sent messages to me in dreams. Rest in peace, Dad.
The song here has a special meaning to me. Events like those of the song happened to me. And I know, Mom would love to dance with my father again.
NOTE 2: My best friend, John, had a stroke in June. I believe his brother took him to Florida for assisted care. I haven't heard from John since we had dinner to celebrate our birthdays.
UPDATE: I found John in assisted living last year shortly before my trip around the world. WE've gone to lunch and I drove him around our old stomping grounds. He seems well physically, but he can't do many of the things required for everyday living. It's a shame as he's the best friend I've ever had. In 2010, John's brother did take him to Florida and I haven't been able to find him again, but I'll keep looking.