Friday, August 24, 2012
Love You Always, Dad
I'm taking a timeout today from our usual Tennessee mountain adventures to say probably a few too many words about my sweet, loved, dear old dad, Nick B. Williams Jr.
He died a couple of weeks ago, at age 75, after more than 10 years of that rotten-godawful-dreadful-demeaning-I-hate-it disease Alzheimer's. Our family -- my mom, sister and me -- have been mourning Dad for years now, ever since we had to turn to a nursing home for his daily care. I'm not going to lie; it was a miserable end to a wonderful life.
Dad was a newspaperman, the old-school kind with rolled-up oxford sleeves, inky fingers and an inclination toward alcohol to take the edge off of deadline stress. The best years of his life were spent chasing stories in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, living in Bangkok and Cyprus with an exotic collection of other ex-patriots. Dad's dad was a newspaperman, too, and sure enough, I followed both of them, at least for awhile.
When Dad wasn't at work, or thinking about work, he was in the garden, on the tennis court, or on the couch watching the Dodgers or Bruins. I sometimes tried to be the son he didn't have, playing football in the street, listening to the Dodgers while I helped in the yard. In high school, I'd stay up "late" and watch "Cheers" with him. Got my first sip of beer -- Coors -- when I went to watch him and his old buddy Eric Malnic hit the yellow fuzzy ball around the court.
Last week when I was in Texas with Mom, I spent hours going through old photos of him, putting together a photo album for his wake. It was good to be reminded of those so many good years. There was Dad playing host to our annual Kentucky Derby Day parties; Dad looking lovingly at Mom through the years; on the burning oilfields of Kuwait; in a field of burning marijuana plants in Thailand (rough job); and shaking hands with the Dali Lama; and -- even once Alzheimer's took hold -- dutifully walking his dog Will, who now dutifully watches over Mom.
Dad was charming and sweet, yet rascally if not dirty. I like to think I have his sense of humor, though Mom has a pretty good one, too. The first day he met my college boyfriend Mike -- later my husband -- he took him to Bangkok's infamous red light district and watched Mike squirm as mostly naked, underage girls sat on his lap. Dad? He just sipped his drink and smiled with that smirk of his. Those who knew him, you know that smirk.
I know this was weird, but I named my dog after my dad. I called Dad dad, not Nick, but I always loved that name: Nick. Manly but sweet. That was Dad.
We told Dad that I now I lived in the Tennessee mountains -- not too close, but not too far, from where his family had roots back in the 1800s -- but I'm not sure he really ever knew. Those later years were just so hard; you wanted to think there was still a glimmer of the man he used to be. Days before he died, a nurse checked in on him, and he said, "Still here." Who knows, but it sure sounded just like the witty Dad we knew all along.
Dad had a Southern heart, and always loved the stories of his family's heritage. And living here on Flat Top Mountain often reminds me of those stories. Digging in the dirt also reminds me of him. Not to mention throwing back a beer or two.
So I'll be thinking a lot about Dad here on the mountain. And if you made it this far into this blog post, thanks for listening a lot about Dad.