Monday, May 22, 2017

From the Orphanage

Wow. It's been over a year since I last posted. That's a whole lotta water under a whole lotta bridges, not the least of which is the 45th President of the United States. He's giving us an interesting ride. One wonders what Buck would have to say about the State of the Union.

In January, my Daddy suffered a recurrence of the lung cancer and was facing another round of radiation in March. He really hated that prospect, almost as much as he hated  the three-armed gowns he had to wear at treatment. (I swear, for being such a brilliant human being, he simply could not figure out to get into those gowns! Baffles me to this day.) He was down to about 120 pounds -- and he was nearly 6 feet tall. He had no appetite, no interest in much of anything, and no hope.

So, in the evening of Tuesday, March 7th, he called me -- somewhat later than usual -- to ask if I would take him some Ensure the next day. I said sure, even though I was scheduled to take him to a doc appointment on that Friday, just two days later. He asked what time I thought I might get there and I replied, "Around midday." I told him I'd see him tomorrow and we said our goodnights.

I arrived on his front porch around noon that next day, and his door was locked. His door was never locked when he was expecting me. I had left my key at home, so I rang the doorbell. I could see through the top of the cafe-curtained front window that the lamp beside his chair was on, and I could hear Rush Limbaugh on the radio; I'm too short to be able to see what was going on in the front room, though. I waited and waited, calling his landline (and leaving a message) and his cell. I thought maybe he was in the bathroom -- he had been suffering unpleasant GI issues -- so I continued to wait, knocking every so often. After 30 minutes, I called the apartment manager, fearing that he might have fallen.  She came immediately, unlocked the door, opened it, and immediately pulled it closed.

She had seen him in his chair, with his head slumped on his chest, and blood coming from what she first thought was his nose. She called 911 and advised me not to go in.

Ambulances, fire trucks, police cars, EMTs, detectives, and ultimately the Coroner swarmed the retirement village -- not a rare sight, unfortunately.

We waited on the porch as the police investigated -- thank God for Miss Carolyn! When the Officer came out to call the Detectives, he said to Carolyn, "There's a gun," and I buried my head in my jacket.

I learned a lot about how law enforcement operates that day, and I will say this -- Little Rock's LE forces have some of the most professional, most thorough, kindest, and most compassionate people in the world. They explained each step they were taking to me, right down to the fact that they had to find the bullet in the wall (fortunately the lady next door was in the hospital, so she was spared all the drama. And bullets.), and that they had taken Daddy's driver's license because, technically, it belongs to the State (which I suspect is just a ruse for identification purposes).

My family arrived with flashers blinking and started making calls. Blur.  A long/flash-forward afternoon.  And, suddenly, I was an orphan.

I wrote the obituary -- it ran in the Sunday paper:

Lee Arthur Clayton of Little Rock moved to Heaven on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in time to have lunch with his beloved wife, whom he hadn’t seen since 1977. Speculation has it that they enjoyed a “Seedy Bun” cheeseburger from Minute Man.
Art was born in Dumas, Arkansas, on April 3, 1929, to James Vance Clayton and Hattie Nuckols Clayton.
A graduate of the University of Arkansas and a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, Art joined the Navy, served in Korea on the carrier Sicily, and remained in the USNR (attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander) until retirement after 20 years. He had quite a diverse civilian work life in the financial industry at Commercial National Bank; Stephens, Inc.; First Commercial Bank; and Union National Bank. He was appointed by the Governor to complete his father’s term as Arkansas State Treasurer in the early sixties, but decided not to run for that office as successor. His favorite place to hang his hat, however, was the Yarn Mart, where he spent a happy decade running the business end while his wife, Shay, handled face time with clients. He spent his retirement years engaged in keeping up with technological advances, working at several retail establishments, doing a little traveling, and enjoying family.
 Family was his Joy.
An only child, Art was predeceased by his parents and his wife, Shay Foshee Clayton. He is survived by his daughter, Terry Clayton Paulson and her husband Walt; grandchildren Shay Rafferty and husband Tim; Veronica McClane and husband Nick; and Stephen Paulson; along with great-grandchildren Jack and Clayton Rafferty; Walter Arthur (Mac) McClane; and Will, John, and Lizzy Paulson. 
His family is certain of one thing -- he is eternally grateful that he will never have to endure another “Spring Forward/Fall Back” or presidential election. 
The family will greet friends at a graveside service at 2:00 pm on Tuesday, March 14th, at Forest Hills Cemetery.

A whole lot of memories fought to get in that obit, but there was just so much room. Plus, I got to share a few more at the graveside service (in the sleet!):

I have had the great, good fortune in my life to get to rub elbows with some brilliant people. Two of those brilliant men in particular played a significant role in molding the woman I am today – one is the man I’ve been married to for nearly 39 years, and the other is the man who raised me. 
My father was a certifiable genius. He loved taking things apart to see what made them work, and researching them on the Internet. He always got in on the ground floor when any advance in technology was launched. I can’t begin to count the number of computers he went through, going back to the days when he had to use DOS to program a Tandy to welcome me with “Hello, Terry” on its screen. Amateur astronomy was one of his hobbies, so I grew up reading Sky and Telescope just for fun. He spent countless hours holed up in what Mama and I called “the LaBORatory,” tinkering with things and visiting with friends on amateur radio. And he always built the radios. He and Mama had one of the first Pong games on the market, and one of the first digital clocks that ticked out hours, minutes, and seconds. He said it was a graphic way of watching your life slipping away. Daddy could be a bit of a pessimist. 
He was also a kind and loving father. His work life allowed him to spend a lot of time with me in my formative years, and he didn’t completely recognize that I was a girl.  He taught me how to shoot a pellet gun (Sometimes out the bathroom window. Daddy had an odd dislike of sparrows.) He taught me how to throw a spiral pass with a football. He would take me out to the airport where we would park at the end of the runway and he would teach me how to identify private aircraft by their structure – I can spot a forked-tail Bonanza right off the bat. We loved to cruise Lake Maumelle on the party barge named FUBAR Maru that he owned with some Navy buddies, but, I was well into adulthood before I learned that “FUBAR” was not exactly the acronym of Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition. He taught me how to recognize features of the night sky in unusual ways – for example, the Pleiades is an open star cluster that resembles a martini glass with a bent stem. Every elementary school age child should know all about martini glasses, right? He showed me how June bugs would make a funny popping sound when you tossed them into burning charcoal, and how to catch lightning bugs. He made fudge every time it snowed. He made really good fudge. 
Daddy wasn’t exactly gaga over children, but I was an exceptional child, as were my children and their children. He would tell that to anyone who asked about us. And to some who didn’t ask. We are convinced that he fought the good fight these last few years just so he could be around for us. And that is why, although his exit was not exactly what we would have chosen for him, and we will miss him, we rejoice that he has found his peace. 
See you later, Daddy. We love you.

Younger Daughter also gave a eulogy -- it was lovely. Oddly enough, she, too, talked about his love of birds. She also recounted how, one Christmas, she and Elder Daughter gave their "Boompie" a Beta Fish, thinking he needed a little low-maintenance companionship. He refused their gift! (Boy, that one really got under my skin -- I told him he should have taken it, flushed it, and told them that it had died. Sheesh!) So, they took it home with them and named it "Eyore," their pet name for their grandfather.

And, the memories keep on coming.

I don't like this orphan business, but it's taught me a lot with all that has followed in dealing with the government, and the military, and banks, and . . .  . I have come to the conclusion that we should never die -- it's waaaay too expensive and complicated.