REFLECTIONS ON SWEATPANTS
One Last Shot At Doing It Right!
Justin Halper wrote a great "piece" in the Los Angeles Times for June 20, 2010, FATHER’S DAY. Title: When Father's Day Gifts Bomb .
Justin’s Dad reminds me of the Dad in The Christmas Story because of his love for expletives, but also of my own Dad in so many other ways.
My Dad was somewhat tame when it came to expletives. But he loved to say, "Damnit." And I will never forget when I was about four years old and fell off my tricycle and shouted, "Damnit!" Dad was quite surprised and amused that I knew the word and could use it so appropriately! As with many of us parents, I’m not sure that Dad got it, that I had learned it from him!
But my Dad did say a lot of other things. They weren’t expletives as such, but you gotta wonder what he was thinking when he said them. For example, when something went wrong during a repair job, and I was standing there, even as a very little guy, he would turn to me and say, "Doesn’t that just screw ya?" When it rained, he wore a pair of rubberized slip-overs, and he would always call for one of us to "Get my rubbers!"
BUT the reason I am writing this blog has to do with Justin’s persistent intent to find the right gift for his father. Like Justin, I never succeeded, and I wonder how many of us ever did. Like Justin’s Dad, my Dad enjoyed his booze, and we were forever trying to find a special glass for him to drink his scotch out of, not realizing he already had his favorite glass and wasn’t about to give it up for any Father’s Day, Birthday, or Christmas gift from us!
Like Justin’s Dad, my Dad also liked sweat pants. But they could not be just any sweat pants. They had to be sweat pants with NO elastic around the waist, only a draw string! Of course, I never knew how much he liked sweat pants till the last month of his life. I was fifty two at the time, but never too late to have one more shot at buying something for Dad that he really likes!
But I have to back up just a tad to give you a little more background. In our family, we go out of our way to make sure everyone gets to die at home! Notice how we assume that everyone wants to die at home!! I thihk I will prefer to die in my own bed with my family around me in contrast to being in a hospital room or perhaps a "rest" home. Well, so far, no one has complained about our efforts.
So here is the scene. I arrive at Mom and Dad’s house the last week of April, 1997. It is approximately three weeks before Dad will pass on and we all, including himself, know that he is nearing the end. Nevertheless, he is still ambulatory, very alert, and basically his old self: cranky, controlling, funny, and at times sweet.
When I walk into his bedroom, he is casually stretched out on his king size bed showing Teri, one of my sisters, a pair of sweat pants that is almost thread bare. He’s asking her to buy him a new pair.
Now again, I must digress a moment. We also have another tradition in our family that when you die at home, we dress "you" up in something "special." so when the mortician comes to get your body, you are "suitably" dressed for the occasion. We also request the mortician to hold off on the body bag routine until they get you to where ever it is they take bodies in this day and age. And instead of the body bag, we wrap you in a special sheet or blanket purchased just for this occasion.
I know for some of you this all must sound pretty nutty.
So for Dad’s exit, we had planned to dress him up in sweat pants and a bright yellow Fresno State Bulldogs shirt.
So there’s Dad on the bed asking my sister to look for a new pair of sweat pants. AND it cannot have elastic around the waist band, only a draw string. That is a critical point because Dad says he is allergic to elastic.
So I step up to the plate and volunteer for the search. In the meantime, Dad adds another item to the list. He wants an extension cord that has a perfectly flat plug on the end, so the plug will not protrude from the wall.
So off I go. The extension chord was a cinch. But the sweat pants without an elastic waist band only a draw string, now that was a challenge and then some. I literally searched every department store and sporting goods store in the city of Fresno. After searching an entire afternoon, I finally found exactly what he wanted at Macy’s and wouldn’t you know it, they were on sale. Two pairs for $26.00. I knew how much Dad appreciated a sale, so I was in pig heaven. Not only was I getting him what he really wanted, but able to buy two of them!
I wasn’t going to tell him that we were going to set aside one pair for that "momentous" day when he would leave the house in the mortuary van. Just then, I was going to write "for the last time, " but it wouldn’t be the last time. We actually brought Dad back to the house in his casket for an old fashioned Irish Wake! Poor Dad! Even when you’re dead, your kids continue to drive you crazy!
Well, so here I am with sweat pants "in the bag," literally and figuratively. I am so excited.
"Did you find a pair?" He asks.
I was bubbling with excitement. "They were on sale," I shouted! "Two for twenty six dollars!"
"So how many did you buy?"
His face scrunched. He frowned like he was in some kind of intense gastric pain.
"Vern, Vern, Vern! Why did you buy two pairs?"
I was crushed. I thought I had finally pleased my father, but NO. So I thought I would push the envelope and tell him why I had bought two pairs.
"You really want to know why I bought two pairs?"
"Well, for when we take you out of here!"
"Take me out of here? I’m not going anywhere."
"Well, I mean when you die!"
"Oh my god, we’re going to give the mortician a perfectly good pair of sweat pants for free!"
"Well, I’ll take them back."
"You do that."
As I mentioned above, I was Fifty Two years old at the time, but still vulnerable to doing the right thing to win Dad’s approval. I left the room and found a quiet place to pull myself together. I couldn’t believe that the search for the right sweat pants had become my final opportunity to do the right thing and win Dad’s approval.
But here’s the kicker. Later he called me back into the room.
"Did you buy that extension cord?"
"And how many of those did you buy?"
"How come you only bought one?"
"Because that’s what you asked me to buy."
This little exchange went totally over my head till several hours later when I reflected back on it. I started to laugh and also called him a few choice names!
Well, three weeks later, Dad did pass on, and when the mortuary van came to pick him up, he was decked out in his white sweat pants (the pair I did not return) and bright yellow Fresno State Bullgdogs shirt. Now I know this next part sounds a little wild, but even the mortician commented on it. He had a smile on his face.
I also loved to play the piano for my Dad, but he was forever asking me to play later. So in addition to having the last word about the sweat pants, I had the mortician stop at the piano while I serenaded Dad, and I played LOUD and LONG. I couldn’t disturb him with my playing anymore, and I also enjoyed being able to send him off with not only sweat pants and a colorful shirt, but with a few original arpeggios.
One more tidbit. Dad was always very uptight about opening and closing the sliding glass patio door, and, to keep his peace of mind, he required that we just keep it shut. Well, in order to get his casket into the living room for the wake, it had to be brought through the patio door! When we were bringing the casket through the patio door, the casket bumped the door and pushed it off its track! The "damage" was so severe that it remained off its track for several weeks till a repairman could come out to the house to get the door back on track! Maybe it was Dad’s way of getting the last laugh. "If you just do as your told," he would always say!
So it’s the day after Father’s Day. About thirteen years and a month (May 14, 2007), since you passed on, Dad. Happy Belated, Father’s Day. I’m still trying to please you, and I hope you enjoy the blog. If I have any trouble getting it posted, I will know the answer!!
Love you and miss you.