A year ago, on July 16, 2017, my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. We should all be so fortunate as to experience our Transition as he did: at home, in bed, and surrounded by the most important people in his life
Honestly speaking, my relationship with my Dad was not always the best. We both tried, but we could never quite escape our perpetual checkmate. I think we recognized ourselves in each other, and I’m sure he would agree that there was disappointment and frustration on both sides of our emotional impasse. There were many reasons for the distance – none of which could ever find their way to a place of shared light.
Regardless, I was grateful to be with him for the final week of his life. We were family, and my place was by his side. And in sharing the stage in the final act of our epic play, we managed to give the story a beautiful ending. Vulnerability can move mountains: throw in an immutable deadline and our defenses are more easily dropped.
About a month before his passing, when he was still able to participate in at least one big activity a day, he treated the four of us to an epic lunch: his wife, my sister, my son, and me. Dad wanted to experience a true Texas barbecue with his grandson. That day felt as big as those drumsticks they served on art paper tablecloths.
After lunch, we took a picture and posted it on Facebook.
An old family friend commented: Lookin’ good, Froggy!
Froggy!? I had forgotten his old nickname from a hundred lifetimes ago! I never knew the origins of the moniker/CB handle, but once he was christened “The Frog” you could bet your bottom dollar there was always some plastic kitschy frog under the Christmas tree. A Froggy tree ornament. A ceramic frog holding a fishing pole for some reason. Mr. and Mrs. Frog salt and pepper shakers.
Every. Single. Year.
Did you ever regret giving up the trumpet?
It was the most sincere, attentive question he had asked me in decades.
Yes. So, so much. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life, actually. Thanks for asking.
Do you still have the trumpet?
No. Tragically it got stolen in Albany, GA. I was devastated.
He nodded, then slipped back into the galaxy of “in-between.”
What’s going on with this baseball photography you’re doing? he asked, unmoving under the afghan across his lap.
I know, right, Dad?
I was surprised he had taken notice of my latest come-from-nowhere hobby.
I’m not sure but I love it.
You were never really into baseball, were you?
No. I wasn’t. I think it’s more about photography than it is about the sport.
I started telling him about how it was scrappy amateur leagues that held my fancy more than pro ball, but he had already started slipping away, again. A compromised attention span? Loss of interest? Either way, it was a familiar drift, but it sure felt good to know I was seen.
We held vigil around the clock. To pass the time between his dwindling moments of consciousness, I would scour the internet for my next telephoto lens purchase. The lens I had been using – while well researched and massively expensive – lacked the magnification needed to capture cool moments on second base. And I could just forget about the outfield. I needed something bigger and more bad-ass.
Ebay, Ebay, Ebay….morphine drip…..Ebaby Ebay Ebay…
I won’t bore you with the specs of Lens A, but it came highly recommended by several sports photographers. It wasn’t perfect, but it would get the job done if a base was stolen. Sadly it was a bit too far out of my price range.
But mental obsession always finds a way in my life, and I discovered there was a Lens B out there that would come close to the performance of Lens A. Same brand, earlier model, slightly less zoomy, and half the price.
My Dad stopped breathing around 1:30 PM on a Sunday afternoon. It’s just so strange to send your father’s body away in a hearse, then walk back inside to continue living the life he gave you.
Between his death on the 16th, and his funeral service on July 28th, I returned to Chicago to chip away at the backlog of life-stuff piling up in my absence. I paid some bills, cut some red tape, and even made it out to the ballfield one night to shoot a game. My thirst for bigger glass was still alive and well, but first things first.
On the night of July 24th, while working into the night at my office, I saw something that gave me pause. I left a message for my sister who was still in Austin.
“Hey. Just want to tell you that there is a frog in front of my door at work. Now I know I can be a little “woo-woo” sometimes, and I’m not saying the frog is Dad – of course not – but I am saying that I have worked at this office for nine years and have never seen this before. Ever. Sending the picture now. Love you. kbye.”
My sister indulged me without making me feel foolish. Noted.
The very next day she sent me this pic:
I probably don’t need to mention that we had never before seen that, either. Never a frog on the stoop of his Texas home.
His service was beautiful. An Air Force honor guard gave my son a flag they folded in Dad’s honor. The firing party gave me the shell cases from his salute, which I then passed around to all of the siblings.
Dad would have been pleased.
On August 9th, I reached out to the guy who sold me a barely used Lens B on eBay: “I’ll come pick it up so you don’t have to ship it. You are only a half-hour drive from work.”
The seller lived in a well-to-do neighborhood. It wasn’t quite a McMansion cul-de-sac, but judging from the sprawling, healthy front lawn, this man’s landscaping budget was probably equal to my salary. The three cars in his driveway weren’t Bentleys, but each car had a “Limited Edition” feature: red leather seats and rims for days. You could smell the wax from the detail shop.
I remember the grass being freshly mowed – the edges were perfectly manicured with no evidence of the trim anywhere on the sidewalk. The workers had blown clean the driveway in a job security kind of way.
I rang the doorbell. A dog barked. I remember marveling at how clean the concrete was: who sweeps that well? Do they bleach their porch? And then I saw it.
What? It didn’t even fit the scene, man. Here was a cheap plastic frog screaming THE HOUSE KEY IS IN MY BELLY!
And it was all alone out there. No garden gnomes or stained glass pinwheels nearby to give him garden decor street cred.
“I think you’ll enjoy this lens,” said Mr. Ebay, his immaculately groomed giant purebred poodle beast slipping past him for a romp on the soft, fresh grass. “Eh, it’s okay, let him run,” he said. “I’ve got an electric fence. Good luck with everything.”
One would think that the anachronistic Walgreens bargain frog would be the final punctuation to this story. For the less cynical of us, it seems Dad may have “pulled some strings” from beyond the curtain and had led me to the lens I had ogled in the room next to his deathbed.
But that frog was only a semi-colon.
I took the lens to work the next day, psyched to give it a test run that night on the baseball diamond. Of course I pulled Lens B out of its case to show to my friends, basically telling them the story I just told you.
One friend remarked, “That’s so cool! It’s a beautiful lens. What kind is it?”
“It’s a Lens B,” I said, studying the tiny letters and numbers on the rim.
Hold the boat.
Shut the frog door.
I looked a little closer: squinted the tiny numbers into focus. Could it be?
“Excuse me. I misspoke.” I said. “It’s not a Lens B. It’s a Lens A.”
Mr. Ebay had listed it as Lens B, but he had unknowingly sold me a mint-condition Lens A: the original object of my affection.
At half the price.
Aww. Hey thanks, Froggie.
That’s my piece, and that’s my peace. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world. Carry on…
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