“He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man.”

  — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our summer travels for basketball games have ended.  The laundry is done and stored in drawers and closets, and the empty suitcases have been returned to their place on the highest shelf.  Life has taken on a familiar rhythm once again, and the comfort and scent of my very own bed ranks high among the things I cherish most.  The stifling heat has given way to some more comfortable summer days; and once again, I feel the urge to leave my air-conditioned kitchen and conjure  up dinner on the surface of my grill.

That is exactly where I stood yesterday, a little later than I had planned, grilling some chicken for the family and enjoying the solitude of the act of cooking, my sheltered porch, and the sounds of the birds overhead in the huge fir tree.  As the chicken pieces hit the hot grill grate, one by one, their sizzle was accompanied by the buzzing vibration of my cellphone in the left-front pocket of my jeans.  I pulled it out and took a look, only to discover that my reverie had been interrupted by a spam email.  “Delete!” my thumb commanded the keypad, and the unwanted message was gone.

There I stood, phone in hand; and suddenly I thought of you.  Now, Dad, I don’t say this to make you feel bad or to make you regret a single minute we spent chatting as I multi-tasked in front of this grill, but that meaningless message took me back to the moments — hundreds of them — when I would escape to the grill, start the food cooking, and be interrupted by the ringing that announced a call from you.  There I would stand, spatula or tongs in hand, and listen to the stories of your day.  Your reports weren’t always cheerful; and considering the hand you had been dealt, that was understandable.  Your days were not terribly different from one to the next, and there were times when I felt as though I could recite the litany of your life right along with you.  There were times when the family would come to check on me, and I would wave them away as I mouthed the word, “Dad,” and tried not to miss a word that you said — even when you would forget to hold the phone close enough that your voice would be strong and clear.  “You’re turning away from the phone, Dad.  What did you say again?”  “Oh,” you would reply, “is this better?  Can you hear me now?”  And on we would go, reviewing the incidents of the day.

There were days when I had a lot on my mind, and I would have liked a chance to be the one to process it all, but there was something so special about our chats that I simply had made up my mind to be totally present to whatever was on your mind when you called.  That far outweighed any impatience or any feelings of being torn away to what was going on in my own world.  “You are the materfamilias,” Dad would tell me — “the mother of our family” — and I would do my best to be just that for the man who was my father.

I thought about the excitement of Ivy’s very last basketball tournament, and I wished with all my heart that I could tell you the stories of how she boxed out a girl seven inches taller and kept her from rebounding the ball.  I wanted to tell you how proud you would have been to see her play — after all, you were her biggest fan.  Then I smiled as I realized that you probably had a front-row seat at every game and were cheering her on, without needing my descriptions to conjure up a picture of what it was like to watch her.

I turned the chicken for the last time, moved it to the serving plate, and turned off the gas.  This would be the time when one of the family would remark, “Wow!  That sure was a long one today!”  “Yes,” I would sigh, “as I returned to the real world that awaited me.  “It was pretty much the same as  yesterday; but some day these calls are going to stop, and I will miss the sound of my dad’s voice.”

I learned yesterday that I am pretty smart, because I do miss the interruptions and the repetitive daily news.  I turned my ear toward the breeze as it rustled the topmost branches of the tree, but there was no familiar good-bye to be heard.  Who would have imagined that yesterday, at my own grill, on my own porch, beneath the trees of my own home, I would be served Grilled Chicken, with a side of sweet memories.  I think maybe my Dad was telling me it was time to come back here and start to write again.  I hear you, Dad.  Thanks.