Dearest Readers:

While cleaning files on my computer, I discovered this story written years ago. I do hope you will enjoy! Perhaps the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, reminds me of simpler times with my dad. Enjoy!

Perhaps a portion of “Chattahoochee Child”

Footsteps: Taking the Back Roads to Alabama

by

Barbie Perkins-Cooper
Copyright Barbie Perkins-Cooper

Dad looks dashing today, so unlike other residents at the nursing home. The green shirt and tie match the hazel-green of his eyes. The khaki pants swallow his emaciated frame. Nevertheless, he walks with his shoulders erect, head held high. A friendly smile frames his face. A hat protects his shiny bald head from the sun. “Hello-ooo, Barbara. It’s good to see you today.” His once boisterous voice no longer rings with a tone similar to Winston Churchill.

With my arm outstretched to brace his slow, shuffling movements, I walk alongside my father. His legs are so weak they remind me of spaghetti. My mind ponders the moment, picturing a small child using a walker to take her first steps, while her daddy’s arms open wide to hold her in case she falls. I feel those same heartfelt emotions now, only I am the daughter holding my arms nearby. My father uses the walker. I’ll be the one to catch him, if he falls.

Today has been a good day for Dad. He laughs, managing to tease me occasionally, by telling me stories I’ve heard a thousand times before.

Sometimes when I visit, no words are spoken between us. His memory is trapped in a timepiece of years past, remembering the bitter divorce and the disappointments in his lifetime. He points his finger in my direction, accusing me of betraying him. He says women cannot be trusted, and since I’m a woman, I fall into that category. On those days, I escape quickly, visiting for just a few minutes. I refuse to respond to his rage, afraid of upsetting him. I know by watching his signals he is angry at this dreadful monster of cancer. He does not want to be around anyone because we might see his pain and suffering. He is detaching.

Today is a different story. The love radiating from his eyes touches me. I make a mental note to cherish this moment for the rest of my life. He moves his hand from the walker to touch my hand. “You’re a wonderful daughter. My precious star.”

Tears rush down my face. I turn my head away so he will not see me crying. He tightens his hands on the walker, shifting his footsteps he moves carefully. “Today’s been a good day,” he repeats. “I kept my food down and I was able to walk a bit. I think we could travel to Georgia and Alabama with Lewis. He loved Georgia, you know,” he says. “Lewis and I planned to take the back roads to Georgia, so we could see the simple things in life.” Dad wets his lips, stares at the tile floor, and speaks carefully. “I never made it to all the places Lewis and I wanted to go, but on a day like this one, I could take the back roads to anywhere.”

“So let’s take the back roads, Dad. You can describe our voyage when we get back to your room. I’ll be the pilot. You‘re the navigator. While I drive, you can describe all the colors and sounds of life along with the scenery.”

He stops for a moment. His eyes glimpse at a delicate, silver-haired lady with a blue bow in her hair. Dad nods to her. She smiles a flirtatious smile at him. I step back, watching the graceful woman my dad has a crush on, and I smile. She’s the first woman I’ve seen my dad take an interest since my parents’ divorce. Such a tiny lady, with a gigantic heart of gold. Her silver hair is neatly combed, swept into a bun. She smells of Chloe cologne. She wears a pretty bow in her hair to match her outfit. Cultured pearls flatter her youthful neck. Diamond and pearl earrings sparkle in her ears.
Today she wears a blue silk dress. Blue pumps with white buckles accent her feet. Her legs are clothed in silk nylons. “I love to look my best. I’ll be ninety years old next month, she says. “I feel fifteen, until I look around.” Tucked by her wheelchair is a white lace crocheted afghan. Her fingers are long, manicured nails painted pink. She wears one cultured pearl ring and a beautiful diamond watch. The nurses say she was a well-known pianist, before her body was attacked with Parkinson’s Disease. Her hands move the wheelchair in his direction. Dad stands taller as she moves closer. “Good afternoon, Ms. Bee,” he says. “It’s good to see you again. Do you remember my daughter?”

Ms. Bee stops the wheelchair. Her hands quiver as she shakes my hand. “Of course I do. Not a day goes by without speaking to her. It’s so nice to see you, dear.”

Ms. Bee has a beautiful smile. Her iridescent blue eyes shimmer like sapphires as she looks at my dad. “Seeing your dad every day makes my day complete,” she says to me. “He’s such a charming gentleman. He likes to kiss me on the cheek. Sometimes I get him to join me in my room for dinner. I offer him a cocktail but he refuses to drink.”

“I’m a teetotaler,” he says, reaching for her hand. The childlike grin on his face expresses a side of Dad I’ve missed.

“Ms. Bee, would you like to take a journey with us?”

She cast a perplexing look at me, smiles and says, Where are we going?”

“Dad’s taking me on a mental journey to Georgia and Alabama. I’ll meet Uncle Lewis.”

“Lewis and I have an engagement for the annual church Family Day, 1941.”

“I’ve always wanted to meet Lewis, Ms. Bee says.

Ms. Bee follows us to the lobby. Dad parks the walker near a chair. Dad speaks eloquently telling us the story of his trip with Lewis in early 1941.

“Today Lewis and Barbara will take turns, driving a 1938 Buick Special sedan. We start our trip on Highway 17 leaving Charleston, driving to Georgia. We’ll spend the night in Savannah. Lewis’ car is a finely tuned automobile, burgundy with black interior. Chrome decorates the front bumper, four new white wall tires. The Buick has an engine that purrs like a kitten as we drive along the road, headed to the First Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama where Lewis and I will preach and sing the gospel. Afterwards, a church picnic will be served, complete with fried chicken, homemade biscuits, iced tea and desserts made for a king.”

The roads to Georgia and Alabama are narrow in 1941, traffic isn’t bad. Lewis and Dad are in the back seat, snoring. I cruise on the roads, not worried about rushing to get somewhere in a hurry. These are simpler times. I see green pastures, lots of farm land. Deer, cattle, horses, and other animals paint a picture of times past I never knew. While traveling through Georgia, I notice lots of red clay, the Chattahoochee River, cotton fields, barns, and people walking on the roadside. The air smells fresh as it brushes my face. When I get tired, Lewis will awaken me by singing in my ears. The luxury of a radio is not necessary while Dad and the Uncle I never knew entertain me with harmonies equal to a barber shop quartet.

Listening to Dad entertaining us with stories from his past, I long to step back in time, to meet Uncle Lewis, the identical twin brother of my father, the uncle who died in September 1941.

Watching my dad come to life again by sharing his stories encourages me to continue the journey, learning from his wisdom. I have no control over his disease. I cherish every moment we share, but I know soon the sunset will disappear. Dad will be gone, traveling into a promised, eternal life with his brother and family members.

Dad’s always been there for me, holding my hand, teaching me to walk, telling me about the beauty of life, the sunrises, and sunsets. When he’s gone, who will teach me? Will I still see life the way he does, or will I grow bitter? Will someone reach out steadying my footsteps as I travel to my sunset? Will my memory record the pleasant days of life like my father’s memory, or will I be a wilted vegetable?

Later, as I leave the nursing home, I look back at Dad. He stands at the doorway, waving goodbye. A welcomed smile fills his face. I will cherish that wave forever. As I open the exit door to leave Sandpiper Convalescent Center, I see Ms. Bee again. Her words describing Dad as a charming man ring in my ears. I suppose its true — with age comes wisdom. My dad shows me with his kindness and tranquility how people grow, prosper, and improve after adversity. When he’s gone, I’ll remember these irreplaceable contributions of his life. I’ll break away from the rat race of life, taking tiny steps, recording the memories of these special days together.

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