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Those Unused Minutes Can Be Precious

Phone your father -- while it's possible.

June 19, 2004|Jim Alexander

My father died this year -- Feb. 17, to be exact. There's nothing funny about that, but Dad had a gift for finding humor in almost any situation, and he passed that occasionally mortifying attribute on to me.

For instance, Dad arranged his own funeral. A peculiar procedure, to my way of thinking, but he wanted his death to be as easy on his loved ones as possible, not to mention that he liked to barter more than a Tijuana street trader with a "Gucchi" bag full of "Rollexes." I can hear Dad now -- "Do you have any used caskets with low miles?" Or, "I'll trade you my gold fillings if you fill me up with pina coladas instead of embalming fluid."

He was generous to a fault, but to say my dad could be thrifty doesn't do him justice -- a merchant would have a hard time pulling a dollar bill out of his wallet with a John Deere tractor. So when he returned from a place I'll call Funerals R Us, I asked him if he had picked the cheapest casket. He smiled and said, "I was all ready to pick the chintziest cardboard box the state would allow, but then I saw a green one." Being of Irish descent and proud of it, Dad was a sucker for green.

He was tough as tempered timber, but diabetes chips away at the mightiest of men, and toward the end, I was talked into getting a cellphone so that I could be reached at any time. Hating cellphones more than tight handcuffs, tight underwear and DMV clerks, I resisted at first, but eventually caved in -- though I never got used to the contraption strapped to my belt. For one thing, with hips like a eucalyptus tree and a butt like a buttermilk pancake, the last thing I need is another thing pulling my pants down.

Several months ago, while driving Dad home from dialysis, the nagging cellphone rang. My worst fear had been realized -- the call was from my wife, Lora, asking me to bring home a rutabaga and a couple of leeks. Irritated -- not to mention that I hate rutabagas and don't even know what a leek is -- I tossed the cellphone on my dashboard and told Dad, "When you die, I'm burying that damn thing with you in your casket." "OK," he said, "I'll call you when I get a chance." We laughed all the way home. We did that a lot.

When the time came, I completely forgot about my promise until the graveside ceremony. Knowing that some oversensitive people might think that opening Dad's green casket and throwing in my cellphone might be inappropriate, I relented.

About a week later my cellphone rang. Not wanting to pick up the dry cleaning or feminine products, I looked at the display to make sure it wasn't Ms. Lora calling. My heart pounded and my mouth filled with the taste of copper when the display informed me that the call was from "Dad." It took me a few seconds to work up the courage to answer. When I did, no one answered back. Creepy, I thought -- some kind of cruel joke the universe plays on grieving sons? Or, maybe ... could it be?

Two days later it happened again. Within a month of Dad passing, it happened five times, but there was never a response on the other end -- no "Mind your Ps and Qs, Buddy-Boy," no "Your mom says hi," no "Hey, Jumbo, there really are golf courses up here, and the traps are a bear."

Since then, I try to remember to carry my phone everywhere, but there haven't been any calls from Dad for a while. My guess is that there are payphones in heaven, and Dad's run out of change. Or maybe he's too busy playing tennis with Arthur Ashe or playing poker and knocking down pints of Guinness with Duke Wayne, Jackie Gleason and Jimmy Cagney.

This Father Day I'll be guarding my cellphone, and I promise I won't try to make him talk. The readout "Dad" will be enough -- I'll know.

Let this be a lesson to all of you -- bury your father with a cellphone or a pocketful of change. If your father's alive, call him before he's up there with my dad, trading forehands, dealing from the bottom and cruising Mary Magdalene Boulevard in his big green Cadillac.

Jim Alexander writes a humor column for the Montecito Journal.

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