The things that trigger grief for my dad are random these days.
I pass a truck exactly like the one he drove on my street at least twice a month. I hold my breath thinking it might be him, pulling in for a visit. Logically, I know it isn’t, but my heart falls every time the truck passes my driveway. When I go to order my dog’s food, I scroll to the aptly named phone contact, “Dog Food,” and have to I pass the Dad contact. His cell phone number, three years disconnected. If he’d ever recorded a message I would likely still have it in service just so I could hear his voice from time to time, but he hated answering machines and left the robot message as every outgoing message. I still can’t delete the number. The mailbox is a trigger because I still get his mail. Mostly from the NRA–the most persistent mailers on the planet. I can’t watch Fox News without thinking of him. I can’t watch it much anyway, but that channel was the constant soundtrack in his home and his death.
Then there’s the root beer float.
I walk through the soda aisle at the grocery store, and the IBC root beer displays make me tear up.
My dad couldn’t eat much during his chemo treatments. The anti-nausea meds work wonders, but he just said, “Food doesn’t taste right anymore. Everything tastes metallic.”
Most days all he could stomach was Ensure.
I tried making him smoothies, anything really that would keep some weight on him, but I was fighting his pride as well. Until his last major hospitalization, he was happy about his weight loss. He kept saying, “I’m at my high school weight for the first time in 50 years. 155…”
The chemo diet.
I didn’t blame him, and can’t say I wouldn’t think the same thing.
Damn I’m dying of cancer, but at least I’m thin again…
That’s so fucked up…
We finally found something he could tolerate, and that was a root beer float. So I would make him one every afternoon. The traditional beer at 5 pm, became IBC and Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.
He was never a big talker. When he did open his mouth, it was usually something oddly funny or hurtful and critical that came out.
I think that’s a common problem for introverts. The blurting. When you don’t say much, you are statistically more likely to be remembered for criticism instead of all the good thoughts you’ve kept to yourself.
But he was Goldilocks with these floats.
They were never quite right, and it became my personal mission to make one that was finally up to his standards.
I bought IBC, A&W, different kinds of ice creams.
I experimented with ice cream to soda ratios. I blended half, left scoops on top, poured more or less root beer, made it a shake. Drink it with a straw. Eat it with a spoon. A hybrid just thick enough to enjoy both ways…
I was determined to get it right, and set about it with the same dogged determination I apply to everything I can’t achieve.
Then one day, I finally nailed it.
He said, “Honey, that was the perfect root beer float. Thank you”
And the David Allen Coe bar song came on, and we agreed, I hadn’t written the perfect country and western song, but I had finally made a perfect root beer float.
♫ And I’ll hang around as long as you will let me, let me, let me…♫
The angels sang, the rain clouds parted, unicorns shot rainbows out of their asses, the nuns farted loudly in the choir pew, Nessie did a happy dance, Big Foot did a hurkey in the living room and kicked Glenn Beck in the face, and I basked in his uncharacteristic praise.
And then we watched more Fox News and forgot about it.
I continued to make him root beer floats, and never achieved that perfection again. I tried to remember the ratio yesterday and couldn’t. I have no idea what combination finally worked, and it made me cry again.
I think back on it now, and realize it’s a theme for a lot of my life.
I walk around trying to find the perfect balance, the perfect ratio for success, and when I do hit the sweet spot, I can’t remember how I did it. It was an accident. A freak of nature. The perfect shot in golf. The one shot keeps us coming back to the most infuriating game ever played. You fail and fail and fail, and the best most of us can hope for is a par hole. And par is just average. That’s what you should be hitting if you have any skill for the game at all…if you were great, you’d be hitting an eagle every time.
In the end, you can’t do anything for someone else’s praise.
You do it because you love it. You love them. You love root beer floats too, and even when they aren’t perfect, they’re still pretty good. In spite of the all the grumbling, you’ve still got the memories of sitting down and drinking a root beer float with your dad every day for a while.
You do it because you can’t take cancer away, but you can do this for them.
Blue Bell ice cream can’t cure cancer. I can’t be perfect.
In a funny twist, my daughter sat down at the computer and hit publish on this post before I put in a picture, before I tagged it, and before I really did the final edit or finished my thought.
It wasn’t perfect then, it isn’t now, and that’s okay.
I cleaned it up a little, embarrassed but still laughing.
Perfection is over-rated, and an accidental publish was probably a better ending than I had planned anyway.