Say Yes and Leave Your List at Home

Dad playing charades in 1958

Dad playing charades in 1958

“If you have your health, you have everything you need,” Dad said.

He looked fit, played golf, and smoked Lucky Strikes like the doctors in Life Magazine ads and the other men in Mexico, Missouri in the 1950s, but he was often too sick to get out of bed. My mother grew quiet then and cooked him special foods. She blinked and cleared her throat too often.

“I remember when your dad had rheumatic fever when we were kids,” Uncle Jim told me many years ago. “We plowed furrows next to each other, walking behind our horses. I’d get to the end of the row and wait for him to catch up.” Uncle Jim wiped his eyes. “He was a year and a half older. He had been the strong one, but after the fever, he was never the same.”

Afternoon boat ride

Afternoon boat ride

“Let’s go on a breakfast picnic before it gets too hot,” Dad said on August mornings. If the night was steamy, it was “Let’s take a ride.” He didn’t focus on destination or task. Just the pleasure of wind on our sweaty faces. I sat in the back seat of Dad’s latest white Chrysler with Mom in the passenger seat, my brother Jim at the other back window, and our terrier Amigo on my lap. We held our faces, arms, and paws out the windows. Amigo gulped air while his little brown ears quivered in the wind.

Afterward, Dad took us to A&W where leggy high school girls served root beer in frosted glass mugs. Even if he felt too sick to eat, he ordered chili hot dogs for everyone else.

“Good health is all that really matters.” (I’ll save the discussion about health and chili-dogs for another time.) For Dad, health meant well enough to get out of bed and do something with family. He knew it depended on his attitude before that idea was in style. He died at forty-four, but didn’t waste a minute complaining. He ran his company Mexico Building Products, rested in the afternoon, and enjoyed what he could.DSC05967

“Why don’t you come down to the lake tomorrow afternoon?” a friend asked last week.

“I don’t have time.” I said, bored with my own words. “I need to work on an abstract for a presentation, and I can’t figure it out.” It was a good excuse, a real excuse, but was an abstract more important than spending time with my friend?

I asked Inner Dad what to do.

And if you have no lake, this is fun, too.

And if you have no lake, try this

“Be with friends and take Willow for a swim. We can’t count on good days or more days, so go.”

After throwing sticks off the dock in the rain, I sat inside with my friend and her family. Her husband told me about an article he’s writing about the effect of collective grief on art and architecture following the industrial revolution and world wars. While rain drummed on the roof, I told my friends about the obstinate abstract and my thoughts about the lessons of grief. The ideas I needed flowed. When I got home, I wrote the abstract. The next morning, I read it over and sent it off.

Pat and Lauren know how to make me laugh

Pat and Lauren know how to make me laugh

The unconscious needed to simmer rather than be forced. I also remembered how much I like figuring things out in conversation.

“Try spontaneity once in a while,” Inner Dad said with a smile and a puff of white smoke. “Don’t assume you’ll be here tomorrow. The essential things get done. Pleasure doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just show up without your list.”


For more about what I learned from my father and his illness, see Why We Need Hospice Help with Bereavement and End of Life Issues. I also suggest Best Practices for Optimal Productivity and Creativity by Jeffrey Davis in Psychology Today.

  1. I loved this Elaine. Your father was certainly wise about life. Life is short. Don’t forget to have fun because we cannot always bank on a tomorrow. 🙂

    • Yup, my dad knew some things about making the best of things, Deb. Too bad he didn’t get a longer time on the earth, but he shared his love and practical wisdom while he was here. I still feel his support, just as I do Vic’s.

      • I’m sure you do. It seems as though they both play a big part in your inspirational writing. I lost my own father in his early fifties and it is precisely those little moments of great sharing which stay lodged in my memory. 🙂

        • I’m glad you have those memories and can write about them, Debby. So much of our writing is from what stays strong in memory.

  2. Good advice! I left my writing chair and did just that with grandson Ian at the Hands On Children’s Museum today. Memory making is sometimes more important than memory recording.

    About the Lucky Strikes. I know the millennials think this is ludicrous, but smoking was glorified in the 1950s and 60s. Even doctors made it look glamorous. Just like you, I was there!

    • Grandchildren seem to be the best teachers of the value of just being together in simple, happy ways. So glad you shared this day with your grandson. The kid within you must have had a great time, too. Yes, smoking was glamorous and medically approved. I smoked when I was in high school and college. Fortunately I liked Vic better than I liked cigarettes. He hated cigarettes, so I said goodbye to tobacco after a few tries.

  3. I so often don’t know what to make a priority; this is a great story about getting it right! Thank you Elaine!

    • I don’t either, Kirsten. My habit is to try to will my way through it, but that’s becoming less effective. Grateful to remember my dad’s way of appreciating life.

  4. Wonderful article and photos, Elaine. It makes me feel some hope. You have not forgotten your father’s lessons. He still lives on in you and I thank you for sharing him with us.
    You always set me to pondering, so off I go…
    This is one of my favorite posts from you. xo

    • Patti, this seems your style (even though I don’t know you in person). I see you spending time with grans, taking trips to the beach, and healing yourself with Nature’s gifts. I was best at doing this in the years after Vic died. Now with the book promo activities, it’s too easy to let work devour me. For what? When Vic died, his three books were the last thing on anyone’s mind. I have to remind myself. I’m glad to know you like this one.

  5. Wow, Elaine, I really needed this one–your Dad sure had a great attitude toward life–teaching us all an important lesson.

    Family, friends, and the lake first!

    • Yes, family, friends, Nature for me–but here I sit at my computer, so I’m always searching for a balance. I love the work, but don’t want to drown in it. My dad had a remarkable attitude and didn’t spend one ounce of energy feeling sorry for himself. He also took to his bed or the couch when he had to, but he was available for family.

  6. What a lovely and apt reminder! I’m relearning this valuable lesson after years of courting my animus writer, sometimes to the detriment of my anima! Your soul-restorative daily walks with Willow on your wilderness property have so inspired me that I offered to bring my son’s golden retriever, Izzy, with me to our mountain retreat this summer. She’s doing a magnificent job of bringing more balance to my life!

    • Thanks, Jeanie. Sounds like we’re both moving in the right direction with our soul animal guides. I didn’t realize Izzy was your son’s dog and not yours. It’s all in the family, and like grandchildren, our dogs bring us into Nature and the present moment.

  7. This is flat-out wonderful, Elaine. The wisdom in your writing, and your ability to say it so well, simply amaze me. Brilliant. Thank you. ♥

    • Wow, Marty. Thank you for your affirming words. I’m glowing. My daddy’s illness made him wise beyond his age, but he must have been born with that positive attitude. I’m working on a talk for fall and realize that I must go back to my earliest experiences with my dad to discuss grief as an opportunity (no matter how we’d rather avoid it) for spiritual opening and initiation.

  8. Elaine. Thsnks for the good reminder of nowness.

  9. A wise man, your father. You were lucky to have him and he lucky to have you. Jenna xo

  10. “Amigo gulped air while his little brown ears quivered in the wind.”

    My favorite sentence. If I could just not mention the luminous feeling in your piece and comment solely on the writing (not that the two can be separated–the one conveys the other): WOW!!!

    • Thank you, Fred. I’ve been lucky with men from grandfathers to sons, and Amigo was my therapy boy after my dad’s death. Employers and health care providers, too. I bask in your WOW and hope you’re riding the heat waves in AZ with grace.

  11. You had a wise father, Elaine. So neat you can “hear” him still and allow him to guide you. There are too many days when I haven’t finished something and delay doing the good stuff. But often I let my daughter’s spirit of living-like-the-lights-could-go-out-at-any-time kick me out of the house. We need to listen more to our loved ones who died too early. Life is too short and precious.

    • Unfortunately, I’m not a good listener, so I have to seek out the lessons again and again. Yes, lots to be learned by taking in the wisdom of those who have died. In time, we seem to be more comfortable carrying them around in our hearts.

  12. ‘Good health is all that matters’ – wise words from your father Elaine. How little we pay respect to that. Thank you, love the spontaneity that he practised, we can all learn from that, instead of constantly plotting and planning … let the ego take a rest every now and then seems to be his message ..

    • I heard my dad say it so many times when I was young, but didn’t fully get it until I was older. My busy list-making ego is getting lessons in spontaneity from the Pupster. Shhhh… She’s sleeping.

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