Juniper Disco | Fragments of Grief No. 2
Nineteen Little Things
Today marks two years since my father died from COVID. It simultaneously feels like it never happened and like it’s always been this way. I get confused a lot, like I dreamed the whole thing. I forget he’s gone. It destroys me when I remember. Still. Two years later.
When we released his ashes, I shared this list with my family. I’d like you to know these things about him, too.
Nineteen Little Things
He’s the only person I’ve ever met whose favorite wine was Lambrusco.
When I picture him in my mind, he’s scooting around me to make sure his good ear is closest to me, his head bent slightly downward, and his hand cupped behind his ear, not wanting to miss a single word.
I remember I wanted to go out to a fancy brunch at Windows in Lancaster. It was an extravagance he didn’t need to grant me. He didn’t even bat an eye when I ordered foie gras and trout — two things I’ve never ordered since.
We spent a lot of time together in the car. He took me to all my college interviews, which included a trip to rural Maine in the middle of a snowy winter. He also drove me and all the neighborhood kids to school every morning for years. And when he got his new Volkswagen Golf, he let me drive it to school every day for a year, happy to hang up his chauffeur hat even if it meant he drove the old car.
I think about how every animal we’ve ever had in our family would choose him over anybody else to snuggle up to and cuddle with.
When we’d go to Penn Manor* sports games, it would take him 45 minutes to sit down because everyone was saying hello to him. For an introvert, he knew a lot of people.
I used to do my homework reading assignments in the tub. He made me a tub desk to hold my giant text books so I could take a bubble bath while reading my AP American history.
Even though he spent most of his life in Lancaster County, he travelled — more than any of us — to worlds, places, and back and forth in time through all those books he read.
When I wanted a 10-speed bicycle to ride to and from the pool, he made a deal with me. He’d pay for half, if I earned the rest. That summer picking berries in the hot sun alongside families of migrant farmers had a lifelong impact on me.
I can still hear him saying Haaahvaaard while rolling his eyes. I don’t think I ever heard him say it any other way.
It used to make me crazy that he took photos of everything but people. His home movies, on the other hand, were all about us. And I lived for those nights when we’d gather downstairs by the fireplace and watch the reels, eat snacks, and relive our special family moments.
To this day, the scent of a cigar transports me to Veterans Stadium and the Phillies games he would take us to. And the sound of a baseball announcer takes me back to sitting in our van parked in front of the takeout window at Friendly’s, eating an ice cream cone while he listened to the game.
When I told him about my decision to have my preventative mastectomy, he supported me immediately. It meant the world to me that he was in my corner no matter what at a time when I was so terrified.
As soon as he saw any of us, he would try hard to listen and hear what was going on with us, but eventually within a few minutes all the things he had gathered up in his head would come spilling forth. And that often included information punctuated by the phrase “those goddamn Republicans.”
He recorded everything. Mostly on blue-lined graph paper. And always in his heavy handwriting that looked like he was going to break through the paper trying to get it all down.
We all know he carried me everywhere when I was kid. He carried me as an adult, too.
I think of his perfectly organized, Harry Potter-esque sports closet under the stairs that he filled with every type of sports equipment — from badminton to golf to croquet to volleyball. I loved throwing the football with him in the backyard and watching our Eagles together on Sunday afternoons.
For awhile it was just me and him in our home. I know he had no idea what to do with a 15-year old girl. His best. That’s what he always did.
These last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what parts of him I want to cultivate in myself. Here’s what I came up with: Be curious and never stop learning. Give people the space to just be themselves. Document and share what you see in the world. Nurture lifelong pursuits. Finish things. Never vote for a Republican. And always, no matter what, show up.