Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend

Lafayette County Courthouse with a Confederate soldier facing south in memory of his comrades.

I am in Oxford – Oxford, Mississippi. A couple of months ago, in late November I texted my bother Warren – ‘Hey what do you think about Oxford for MLK day?’ Warren, being Warren, texted in return, ‘Wouldn’t Selma be a better choice?’ I have to admit he got my message, but he had me in the one-liner department.

I am here to visit Julie, my stepmother and I have been looking forward to visiting since I booked the tickets in late December.  I had not seen her since we parted ways at O’Hare security and she flew back to Memphis and on to Oxford in June after our trip to Paris. I had been in touch with calls, letters, and thoughts; but, I had not visited with her, in fact, none of us has been there to visit.

She and dad moved to Oxford in 2001, a few years after he retired in 1998. Immediately after his retirement, they lived in Houston where my mom and my brothers live, but he was looking for a place to retire where the cost of living was not as expensive and the climate was a bit more palatable than the heat and humidity of the Gulf coast and Houston. After some research and a visit, he and Julie sold their home in west Houston and moved to Oxford. I was upset about their move, as it would make visiting them more difficult than it would if he lived where I could see everyone in my family. It would take a while, about eight years, before I fully understood why he moved but it would be too late to repair the damage to our relationship.

Dad fell ill in June ‘09 and passed away a month later. Last summer, Julie and my brothers and I took dad’s cremains to Paris and his final resting place.  When he became ill, I rushed down to be with Julie and see dad, but I had to return and finish the last day of the ’09 school year. He had a brain aneurism, fallen down stairs and was unconscious. At first, there was hope he would recover, but his health took a turn for the worse and by the time I was able to come back to Oxford in mid-July ’09 dad was in hospice care and in a coma. I spent the last week of dad’s life with Julie, mostly with her at his bedside, but we were not alone as Warren and David and their families came, too and we spent time together remembering dad and supporting Julie. Warren and I would visit the local coffee house and then head to the hospital to see dad, during our ‘coffee with dad,’ we would talk to him and ourselves as we sipped our coffee, remembering growing up and telling stories. One morning we brought a cup for him, setting it on his bedside table. As we spent time in his room and visited with Julie it a clear that his days were few and we discussed the future; Dad did not want a funeral, or even a service, and was very clear that he wanted to be cremated and have his cremains taken to France. He passed away on Monday evening, July 20, 2009.Warren and I had left before dad passed away and David was with him and Julie when he went. I had a difficult time dealing with dad’s passing, mainly out of guilt for what had been said and not said between us. In the last years of his life our relationship was strained and was guilty of not being a better son.

This past summer, we all reached closure, but there were loose ends, at least for me in Oxford.  It is difficult to get to Oxford from Wheaton: a plane flight to Memphis and an hour and a half drive or a twelve-hour drive in the car. Either way is difficult, but that is an excuse. It makes little sense to come for a weekend and with my summer schedule, I was not able to get down visiting with her, but these are all excuses.

Dad and Julie's bookcase in the family room, organized by topic!

I was really not sure what I could do in three days except spend time, talk, and be with her. I suspect dad’s office remains largely as it did on the night he had his fall and his clothes still hang in the closet. They were married 34 years and had a great life together living in Saudi Arabia, England, Paris, Houston, and the last eight years before he passed away in Mississippi. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be left alone and have to sort through Beth’s clothes and papers or what anyone is going to do with the stuff I have collected in my office much less sorting through dad’s stuff. There are his books, hundreds of books and I can thank, or blame, him for my love of books and reading. His stepfather and uncle were sportsmen, though he was not, and he has a small collection of rifles and a pistol. You can collect a great deal in your lifetime and much of it is meaningful to you and your family, but some of it connectionless to a relative outsider, like me.

I hoped to be helpful in whatever way I could, but most of all I just wanted to see her and spend time with her talking and helping where I could. The best part of the weekend was just spending time and eating dinner with her. She is a wonderful cook and I remember many a n evening sitting down to dinner when I lived with her and dad or when we visited them in Paris; simply sitting down to dinner and enjoying food and conversation. Although, Julie has a few close friends in Oxford through church, and they spend time together, it does not replace family.

The past couple of days has been spent well and surely have counted. I went to church with her Sunday morning and had breakfast with her and Carol, one of her friends from church afterward. It was a place called Big, Bad, Breakfast and it was good, delicious, and a great place to sit, talk, and share time with friends, old and new. Monday, I return home to Wheaton and to continuing the task of Making the Days Count.  We are halfway through the year, last Thursday was Day 86 and Tuesday is Day 87, we are on the downward slide of the year – Making the Days count, one day at a time.

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