|Me and my father 1961|
His birthday was immortalized in history in 1963 when JFK was shot. I was too young to understand the significance of that co-incidence, but it was a tragedy that he would forever recall each year.
This year I choose to remember something wonderful, or should I say someone wonderful, in connection to my father's birthday. Mysteriously I have no pictures of him, just many fond and grateful memories.
The last year of my father's life, he had an angel attending to his needs. Not your everyday, white robes, wings, glittery angel, but a REAL angel. In the form of a 6'4", retired Air Force, "nothing phases me" angel. An angel with a huge smile and a sincere, deep laugh.
My mother had recently passed away and my dad had gone downhill a bit after that. They had both been living in an assisted living facility and I think my dad always felt that he was totally outnumbered by all the women around him. Including his bossy daughter. Mr. Tennis and I felt that my father could use some male companionship as well as some extra help with the needs of everyday life. Man-style.
I contacted a local nursing agency and explained the parameters of our needs and the person I spoke with said they felt they had the perfect person. Into our lives walked Johnny Ferguson.
My dad accepted Johnny right away as his friend and Johnny seemed to know just the right way to make sensitive suggestions to my dad in terms of hygiene and behavior. Pretty soon they were a twosome, three times a week. They had those female nurses under their control and they ruled the halls of the nursing home that my dad eventually had to enter. Johnny was there every step of the way. He not only gave my dad companionship, he provided me with a couple of days a week off from coming to make sure all was well at my dad's place. Every Friday the three of us, Johnny, my dad and I would meet Mr. Tennis at The Piccadilly Cafeteria for lunch. Sometimes we would be joined by my son and daughter, or Uncle Larry or Orlando Grandma. Then Johnny, my dad and I would drive home via the local executive airport where we would stop and watch the small planes take off and land and my father could remember his days piloting his own small plane.
Johnny never missed a day even though he had to take a bus to work each day, rain or shine. Over time he got to know our whole family. He was always interested to hear about The Maven's latest basketball game and I still remember how he gave my son a lovely pen set for his high school graduation. And politics. Johnny loved to discuss politics. He was an avid newspaper reader and I would have to make sure I was up on the latest happenings so I could keep up with him. Johnny never seemed to tire of hearing my dad's stories and that gave my father great joy, a new pair of ears to take in his life's adventures.
That summer after graduation, Mr. Tennis and I took the kids on a vacation to California for a week. Knowing Johnny would be there every day for my dad allowed us to go and enjoy ourselves. We would call them from various locales when we knew Johnny was there and he and my dad got a kick out of all the places we phoned in from. I had given Johnny our itinerary and when we arrived in San Francisco the front desk clerk said that we had telephone message waiting for us: "Welcome to San Francisco, from Dick and Johnny"!
About a week after we returned, as usual we all met at Piccadilly on a Friday for lunch. The Writer and The Maven were able to be there as well as Mr. T. In two weeks The Writer would be starting his freshman year at college. It was at that lunch that Johnny gave him the pen set. We had a great lunch topped off with my dad's favorite, cherry pie.
The next day I got the call from the nursing home. My dad had passed away peacefully in his sleep. It was a shock to everyone because we had just had such a wonderful day with him the day before. Mr. Tennis made the call to Johnny, who was just speechless. I asked him to come to the family service, but he said that he did not want to remember my dad that way. I asked him to please pick one of the paintings my dad had in his room that he admired so much. No, that was not how he wanted to remember my dad. He said he did not want any physical reminders of my dad, that he would carry his memory in his heart. He did agree to meet Mr. T and I for lunch one day.
He told us during that lunch that he had come to regard my dad as a father figure and that this was devastating to him, but so meaningful, because knowing my father had influenced his life for the better. I asked if he would continue his work in nursing. He said no. My dad was his first patient and his last. He had never done that kind of work before and that he felt that his time with my dad was meant to be. I thought Johnny had been doing this work for years, but apparently we were the first ones he worked with.
That's the last time I ever saw Johnny. I tried to convey to him how much he meant to my dad, to me and our family. Johnny saved my relationship with my father. Before Johnny, I was the "bad guy" who was making his life miserable. After Johnny, I was able to be my father's little girl again. The last year of my father's life was a gift. He was happy and content. Johnny was a big part of the reason for that.
Johnny Ferguson, I hope you know that you are an angel. I still hope that I will run into you one day and be able to tell you again, in person, how much you meant to our family, especially to my father.