I grew up in northern Indiana. For as long as I can remember, I drank a cup of hot tea every morning. My Dad was a hot tea drinker and I guess that trickled down to his children, at least to me. He didn’t care anything about fancy teas. There were never any black teas or green teas in his life. He drank Lipton’s. He reused each tea bag until the hot water barely changed color when he poured a new cup, before he switched to a fresh tea bag.
This is my Dad’s birthday week and he has been on my mind more lately than usual, although I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. He is celebrating in heaven these days. He’s been there since June 28, 2011 and I can only imagine the joyous celebrations he enjoys every day . . . well, I guess there aren’t days in heaven, so he’s just rejoicing all the time, nonstop! What a beautiful thought!
I sort of see my Dad like his tea bags. . . giving, giving, giving . . . until there was nothing left to give. I always knew him as what is now referred to as a “blue-collar worker”. He worked for Indiana/Michigan Electric Company (I & M) until he fell off a truck and broke his back. He endured two back surgeries and was, eventually, put on permanent disability. Later, he would have some heart issues that added to his health concerns.
He and Mother had five little “stair-step” children. Dad insisted my Mom stay home with us children, so he worked wherever and however he could to provide for his family. Back when there were full-service gas stations, he manned the gas pumps, cleaned windshields, and checked oil at a local station. He also rode on the back of a trash truck for a few years. I know that had to be excruciating for him. For a time, he made lamps in our basement that he sold at local flea markets. I would sit down there for hours and watch him use masking tape to connect coffee cans, forming the shape of a tree branch. He would then tape small Dixie cups to the cans. Next, he covered his creation with Plaster of Paris and before it dried, he used a fork to fashion what looked like tree bark. We would take a break at that point and go upstairs for some hot tea. Once the plaster was dry, Dad chose just the right stain or paint (I’m really not sure what that brown stuff was) and those cans, cups, and plaster turned into a tree branch. Somehow, with his electrician background, he made lamps out of these everyday items. I believe Mother picked the lamp shades, I don’t have a clear recollection of that process, but I remember being so excited with each finished product! He even made some birch tree lamps with whitish bark and shading. He really was quite crafty. I never really realized that at the time. I just saw him as my Dad who could do a lot of different things. I think I thought all dads could do a lot of things.
We moved to Alabama in 1970 at the suggestion from Dad’s doctor that his quality of life would improve in a warmer climate. Indiana winters were brutal and, although all five children helped with chores, our Indiana pig farm (especially in the winter) was more than Dad could handle. We had visited my Aunt Mary, Dad’s sister for whom I was named, just about every summer I could remember and south Alabama was Dad’s choice for relocation. Even there, he worked at a gas station for a while, he did handy man work around town, and ended up doing remodels and reroofing houses. By this time, Dad was in his fifties and sixties, had a bad heart, bad back, and was ridden with arthritis, yet he was climbing atop hot tar roofs. Still giving.
In 1996 my Mother was killed by a 16-year-old drunk driver. My Dad was severely injured in that car crash. Yet, in the years to follow, my Dad started and ran a program at his church, feeding needy families. Dad got up every morning and drove to The Good Samaritan House where he kept a detailed log of those who came in for groceries, oftentimes turning folks away who were greedy and came back sooner than the schedule allowed. I know that was difficult for him, but he was a rule follower and only thinking of those who would come in next and needed help, as well. He was in his seventies and eighties at this time. Still giving.
In 2009 Dad moved closer to my sister who lived in southcentral Alabama. He had his own place, so he could be independent, but my sister worked right around the corner from him, so she could eat lunch with him every day and visit with him very frequently. Always active in his local church, this move didn’t change that. He became involved with the benevolent program at his new church and continued his life of service. Still giving . . . but his tea bag was getting weaker and weaker. His body began to betray him and, as hard as he tried to continue his active lifestyle, he became limited in what he could do, eventually being confined to a wheelchair. In just two short years, his tea bag would lose its punch and Dad became confined to his bed.
The last conversation I had with him was on the phone as I drove away after visiting him for the last time. Even though we had said our goodbyes, I just felt the need to call and hear his voice one more time. He made reference to the end being near and, through my tears, I said, “You know, Dad, this is what you’ve looked forward to your entire life. You’ve worked hard to be the man you are and you are about to inherit your crown of righteousness. Thank you for showing us the way.” We exchanged “I love yous” and that was it. He died two days later. The tea bag was all used up.
I drink hot tea every morning, still, and every morning, I think of my Dad when I pour the hot water into my cup. I thank God for giving me such an amazing father and, although I’m anxious for our heavenly reunion, I pray my tea bag has a lot more to give until that fine day. One of the many great lessons I’ve learned from my Dad is, just like a tea bag, sometimes our best flavor doesn’t come out until it is steeped in hot water. May I emerge from the hot water as flavorful as my Dad.