I remember the day well. It was a Tuesday afternoon. My Dad had just called me an hour or so before. "What are you doing, Little Red Hen?" he asked in his jovial way. (You see, my Dad never called you by your real name. If he liked you, he gave you a nickname, and it stuck. Your whole life you were 'that name' to him. I was "little red hen." I suspect it had something to do with the fact that it rhymed with Tracy Lynn. But no matter - it was special. Special because he was the only person in the entire universe who called me that name.) He and I had chatted a while. He asked me if I would go with him the following day to pick out a paint color for his office we were redecorating. He also wanted to buy a new leather sofa and wanted to go look at those as well. He was going to pick me up the next morning at 9:00 a.m. But things changed in an instant when the phone rang. .
Back to that phone call. Words you never want to hear. "You better get to the hospital right away," she said. "Your Dad is real bad - they took him by ambulance." That's all I remember hearing. My husband had just walked in the door from work. I grabbed my keys, grabbed my husband, and we were off to the hospital for what seemed to be the longest ride of my life. The next hour is such a blur to me, painfully hard to write about, much less think about. Let it suffice to say that my Dad never regained consciousness and they pronounced him dead in less than an hour.
I remember the doctor coming into the waiting room twice. Both times I asked him - begged him - to let me see my Dad. Both times that request was denied. The third time he came back to us he gave us the news. I was still in shock when he told me my Dad was gone. It was surreal. This time the doctor told me I could go see my Dad for "just a moment" and I remember the long walk down the hall, my husband by my side, holding tight to my hand.
When I got to the room, I remember looking in and seeing my Daddy laying on that table, quiet and still. Very strange because my Dad was one of the most full-of-life, busy people I knew. And when he was asleep he was snoring - very loudly I might add. So to see no signs of life was very eery, very strange for me. I removed my shoes at the door (something told me I was on Holy ground) and I walked inside. I just stood there, touching his hair and talking to him. I just touched his face and his hair for about a minute or two until I saw the tears on his face. They weren't his tears, they were mine. But they had dropped like tiny raindrops from my eyes onto his face and were running down his cheek. That's when it hit me. My Daddy is gone.
Something strange happened at that moment I realized I would never hear 'little red hen' again. I heard a faint whimpering or moaning sound. It was coming from me! I was so numb and so traumatized that I was moaning every time I took a breath. My husband tells me that it occurred off and on over the next week or so - during the the funeral - at the rotunda - at the veteran's cemetery. I don't remember much of that.
What I do remember is the receiving of friends. My Daddy looked so handsome. Peaceful. Almost asleep. He would have been very pleased with the photos we had around. Photos of the most important things in the world to him - his kids and his grandkids. He would have loved what all his friends and family said to console me and my family. He would have loved the stories they told about crazy things he had done or fun they had throughout the years. He would have loved the American flag embroidered on his casket. But more than anything else, he would have gotten a big kick out of the 'nickname bouquet' that proudly stood at attention at his feet. You see, to pay tribute to my Dad, I had a large bouquet made that had a banner for each of his children and grandchildren with their nickname on it. Beautifully done in white satin and gold leaf, it was adorned with large streamers, each one representing the nickname that he had given us and called us until the day he went home:
Little Red Hen
Now many years gone, I still long to hear those words again. "Tracy Lynn, little red hen" he would say. And my children all cherish those banners so very much. Each of them has their respective banner - some hanging on their wall, some have them put up for safe keeping. But each is precious just the same. A badge of honor. A reminder of the man so full of life that loved them with every ounce of life he had in him. Their granddaddy.
Life wasn't always easy with my Dad. But he was surely the life of the party. And he is still missed by this old hen more than you will ever know. I look forward to seeing him again someday. And I know that when I get to heaven, I will hear those precious words again. There are many things I anticipate seeing and doing when I get to heaven. But one of them is hearing "Little Red Hen" from my Dad.
Happy Father's Day, Daddy. I miss you so very, very much.