A few months ago while my father was still able to leave his nursing home, the family spent an afternoon in our apartment. As Jeff and I were describing our last trip home to New Orleans, Dad spoke up.
"In the south, if you just pull over for gas and they always say, 'Aahm Gawnna Kiillll Yeeeew,' " And he made the most menacing scowl, I had ever seen. For a non-scowler, it was epic. As the the warnings got more dire, we were eventually all in tears.
More tea dad? "Aahm Gawnna Kiillll Yeeeew." My gentle dad was sharing this final cautionary tale against stopping for gas in the south. There is nothing funny about the possibility of getting popped at a gas station. And yes, crime is on the upswing in New Orleans. Everyone I know has been affected. It was just the randomness and the enthusiasm of my father's final advice.
He slipped away over Mother's Day weekend. This Father's Day I have his legacy of giving to remember him by. It helps inspire me to keep the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund rolling as we lobby for awareness until we're hoarse. Dad often offered Thanksgiving Day dinner for anyone in our small town in his bookstore. Generally we fed little old ladies who were happy for the companionship. He traveled the world with mission work, every continent but Antartica.
And he fought an admirable battle against the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. As a doctor, he could figure out all-purpose social phrases like, "How are things at the office?" no matter who he thought you were.
In the last year, Dad was finally wheeled in front of enough nursing home television sets to absorb pop culture and it offered more conversational shortcuts. After a lifetime of reading the Bible, I found him with a People Magazine and he angrily declared, "Celebrity Cellulite!" Then he came across the ultimate conversational shortcut. "How's dinner Dad, do you like the chicken tonight?"
"Yabba Dabba Doo," he answered with a grin.
When New Orleans musician James Andrews second lined to dedicate his grandfather's belated gravestone, his band marched into the cemetery playing, "Flintstones, Meet the Flintstones," That's when I knew I would probably never see my father again. We made it back to Illinois too late to visit with him one last time, but he gave me the gift of a lifetime learning from the finest person I have ever known.
So thanks wherever you are, Dr. Ray Earl Dalton. We're a modern stone age family.