Life sure has a cruel way of slapping us around right about the time we become comfortable. This year it has knocked me silly over and over.
It started as the calendar flipped to 2013. The fireworks that welcomed in the New Year were still ringing in my ears as we lost my Aunt Sis. By the time we were about six weeks in, I had been forced to also say goodbye to one of my closest friends and his father, and I began thinking, “Boy, what an incredibly crappy year this has started out to be.”
Little did I know that this was merely the tip of the iceberg and things were only going to get worse.
As we entered the spring, my Uncle Jim’s battle with pancreatic cancer began to draw to a close and I was fortunate to be there with my family as we held his hands through his final breaths of life.
Well, that isn’t entirely true. Not all of my family was present at the time.
We weren’t able to be joined that early May day by my dad, Edd Harvey. He was stuck in Presbyterian Hospital as he recovered from surgery to remove the same cancer that had infiltrated my own body just seven years ago. At that point we were finding comfort that the surgery revealed it hadn’t spread and his lymph nodes were clear, meaning there’d be no need for the chemo that I am all too familiar with.
Just a couple of days following Jimmy’s funeral, it became apparent that something wasn’t right with Pop and complications sent us spiraling into what became a complete nightmare.
At that time, I never even imagined that my father would never return to this little town and its people who he loved so much. I never dreamed I had spent my last Saturday with him at Clemson’s Death Valley or that I’d never pass the hours of another lazy Sunday afternoon with him down at the family place on the river.
And, I still can’t believe that last week found me repeating the actions of May, holding my father’s hand as he peacefully took a final breath.
As I’ve spent the days since at my parents’ house, I’ve been surrounded by reminders of little things that I just never realized would now become such important memories to me.
I’ve noticed things like the large knot in the old oak out back only exists because Dad placed a 10-ounce Coke bottle in the fork of the tree after we finished cleaning the first 5-pound bass he had taken from the pond in the back yard. Although it was back in ’72, I can remember it like it was yesterday.
That bottle stayed there from then on, until the tree completely grew around it, creating the deformity that exists today. As crazy as it may seem to some, I like knowing that that’s a little piece of him that will forever be tied to that patch of ground.
Just looking out there at the pond brings a flurry of thoughts of good times spent out there. One that wasn’t so good at the time, but brings a smile to my face now, also happened when I was just a youngster and Dad was fishing.
He said, “Don’t walk behind me when I’m casting. Stay over there to the side. It’s dangerous.”
Being all of about 6 at the time, I wasn’t paying much attention and began to wander around. The next thing I knew, he drew back to make a cast and the treble hook of that old Heddon “Tiny Torpedo” sank deep into the top of my head.
Those who have come by to visit have brought with them tons of recollections as well, and it was no surprise to me that one of the first folks to make it to the house was Alan Abernathy.
Alan and I grew up together and spent more days than we could ever count fishing that pond and the dock down at our place on Beaver Dam Creek. On one trip to the river with Dad, Alan brought along a fancy slingshot and a sack full of ball bearings for ammunition.
As we walked the dock and looked for something to attempt to shoot, we couldn’t believe our luck when a snake appeared from the rip-rap and sat perfectly still below us. Dad saw us flinging shot after shot at something and walked out to see what had our attention.
“Let me show you how to do that,” he said, as he took the slingshot from Alan’s hand and fired a ball bearing in what seemed like one fluid motion. To our amazement, he hit that snake square in the head, killing it on the spot. He handed the weapon back to Alan and walked away as if it were nothing.
He later admitted that it was pure luck and he couldn’t have repeated the feat with another 20 tries but loved the look of astonishment on our faces.
During Saturday night’s visitation I, of course, heard many stories from friends and well-wishers who came through the line. One that will always stick with me came from Lewis Killian.
“Edd and the other older boys used to take me rabbit hunting,” he said. “He, Charles Bailey and Ronald Whisenant would even come get me out of school to go. We did that all the time until they finally figured out at the schoolhouse that what we were doing wasn’t exactly the same as the excuse we were giving for me leaving.”
Saturday we had another visitor of sorts at the house when my Maggie came running in all excited.
“Daddy, there’s a snake in the dog kennel!” she exclaimed.
This was followed up by the words I knew were coming as she asked, “Can I keep it?”
Mack Henry and I followed her out into the yard and found a large kingsnake relaxing in the fenced-in area.
My mind raced back to just a few short years ago as we stood with my father on the bank of the pond and helped Maggie to catch her first fish. While doing so I looked down to see a kingsnake slithering by at our feet.
“Maggie, don’t get excited,” we told her. “It won’t hurt you but there’s a snake at our feet.”
And so began her love affair with all critters. My Dad was always flabbergasted at how infatuated she was with such things.
As we awaited the afternoon’s affair on Sunday when we would say a final goodbye to my father, I slipped out the back door and down to the pond with rod and reel to make a few casts and clear my head a bit. While standing in the very spot where Pop taught me to fish and where Mags caught her first, I was skipping a “Jitterbug” across the water’s surface when a bass crashed the lure and the fight was on.
Just as I was about to land him, the fish made one last jump, successfully throwing the hook and I lost him. After a second or two of cursing under my breath, the realization hit me that this was actually quite appropriate.
After all, I myself have been lost for a week now.
I love you, Dad. I’ll never forget all the great times, the lessons learned and what an incredible husband, father, grandfather and friend you were. Through the tears I’ll, somehow, find a way to keep going and pray that in my remaining days I can grow to be everything you’d want me to be.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors