Today you came up on the phone with Social Security. I’m having to apply for disability and it is a bitch! I was getting exasperated when they kept asking for your name. This random woman kept telling me I was wrong! “Gary McGregor Dugger!” I haughtily repeated to her as if she were dim-witted. And then I realized, they were asking for my father’s name, your name, Blackie Blackmon
It’s been a really long time, what, about 26 years since I saw you last? I crawled onto your listless, comatose lap that afternoon before they pulled the plug. I remember you moved when I tickled you. Mom had to leave the room. I also remember doing a great impression of Steve Urkel cutting cheese and asking for a quarter from my aunts and uncles right before that so I was feeling particularly comedic. But, that was the first sobering moment of my life. I knew in that moment I was saying goodbye for good.
You would be amazed by mom. She not only has become one of the strongest, most authentic, battle-tested souls, but a gorgeous one to boot. When Zach was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes as a baby she went BACK to school and became not only a nurse practitioner but one of the leading diabetes educators in the country. She’s a fighter, dad. Last year, when I began to crumble, she held me tightly as I cried I wasn’t strong enough to do this. She gripped me with a fierceness in her eyes and replied, “That’s why you have ME."
And Gary, wow, he has made good on his deathbed promise to you ten times over. That man has carried me unconscious, naked, and shower-soaked to the ER. He has sat by my hospital bed month after month. On my 31st birthday he spent the day cleaning the vomit and diarrhea from my bathroom while I struggled to survive. And boy have we had our bouts! He has been the most true father a person could ever hope for. When mom went back to school he went to work for UPS so Zach and I could have the medical insurance we needed. For nearly 20 years he has woken up around 2:30 am and reported to load those brown trucks. And guess what, Zach followed in his hard-working footsteps.
When we lost you I gained a LOT of other family: siblings, aunts, uncles. I think about your mom, Grandma Moline, and flying kites next to her Johnson City hair salon in the summers. Aunt Molly and June would always lend me dollar bills to replace the kites that would return in tatters within minutes somehow. Zach broke the porcelain baby doll she left me when she died (I of course tried to murder him) but I still have the fried apple fritter recipe she hand wrote.
I really did have a fantastical childhood filled with building forts on the 200 acres next to our Austin, TX home (and a real cabin by hand on the Pedernales River property with mom, dad, the boys, and armadillos), challenging Zach and Maverick to barefoot tree climbing contests, pretending to be a princess while riding our quarter horses, Boots and Nitro (I even trained my OWN mare!). I always had a pool birthday party in the summer (you know your Cancer baby). Mom got really good at making grandma Betty’s spaghetti sauce and no matter what, we either had pancakes or waffles for breakfast (Gary’s specialty is bacon and breakfast tacos. I’ll never forget your ham and cheese omelets).
I think you would be proud of me. I went to school and became an elementary school teacher. I resigned a few years ago when my health began to decline but I wrote some cool plays and learned a lot about not taking things personally from 12 year olds.
It’s funny when life starts to slow down, so do your thoughts… they even tend to shift backwards. All I can be is thankful for this life you have given me. It has been beautiful, filled with all sorts of adventures! I lived in Hawaii and swam with sea turtles nearly everyday (my very first memory is of you and me in the backyard pool with my floaties as we whirled around in the water). I learned to make spaghetti that rivals mom’s in Italy, stood at the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima and reflected on how small we are in the scheme of things, drank a few beers at Oktoberfest in Munich, and definitely kept mom up worrying with my spontaneous, adventurous, spirit.
These days I find myself tamed a bit, but only in how far I travel. I’m actually wheelchair bound now. But that’s okay because most of the things I enjoy doing require sitting and I’ve already hiked the Na Pali coast which just made me grumpy and muddy in the end so I know I’m not missing much. I can’t help but wish I could have seen what your granddaughter would have looked like, but Zach’s going to have to pull that one off for you.
I don’t intend on coming to meet you anytime soon. But, I have felt closer to you lately. That Social Security lady must have known it was time for me to check in and say hello after all this time. I’ve felt a lot closer to things far away as of recently. Weird, since I’m bound to this 8x10 bedroom most days. I used to wonder if you could see me showering from heaven. I now realize I’m pretty sure you can because showering is the most heavenly thing and of course you’re going to watch over someone enjoying that! I would totally be reminiscing, singing along in the tub, if the roles were reversed.
I hope it’s not too sunny and a bit breezy there. I don’t know how to end this note since this is the first time I’ve said, “Hello”, in a while. So, I guess I’ll leave it open for you to go ahead and send me any advice you might have on how to go about living this thing called life. Just, whenever you feel able, or willing. A girl can always use a few words of wisdom or even just a good ice breaker line (seeing as you used to be Mr. Gregarious and mom always says that's where I get it from).
Love you, Dad.
P.S. I just added the, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” gag Urkel used to do to my comedic repertoire. Funny how life comes in full circle ❤️