When someone close to you dies, you begin to look at life through the eyes they no longer have, or you find yourself doing things they loved to do because they no longer can. When I hear music that I know my brother Danny would have liked, I close my eyes and let it sink in, listening for him. I write checks to the Red Cross or give money to the panhandling homeless, because I know Dan, who died in 2001, did and would still if he was here.
My brother Jim was a weather buff who kept detailed daily weather records, photographed and videotaped storms, and volunteered at the Blue Hill Weather Observatory giving tours. Since he died, a month before Dan, I watch the sky more closely. When I see a particularly outstanding cloud formation, I want him to see it too, and I remember the story one of Jim’s colleagues at the BHO told about how Jim first fell in love with cloud watching. He was under one of his junk-box cars, fixing something, and complaining about it when he realized that he could watch the clouds from that position. From that day on he was hooked.
Today I ate a fresh garden tomato for my dad, who died this past November. It was a Big Boy, salted to perfection, just the way he would have liked it. I had practically eaten the whole thing before I realized what I was doing … enjoying it for him. It was sweet, plump, and red, like my dad, whose name was Robert Redman. I remember him sitting in his favorite kitchen chair by the red gingham curtained window, eating with gusto and smacking his toothless mouth. “Don’t you want one of these delicious tomatoes?” he asked me last summer when I was visiting him and my mom. He actually had gotten up at that point and was holding one under my nose in an attempt to entice me. I knew he was trying to pawn it off on me because there were others where it came from, in the patio, in the pantry, getting over-ripe. The boy in him, who grew up during the Great Depression, didn’t want it to go to waste.
“No, I’m not hungry,” I told him.
Today I ate a tomato for my dad. It’s the first summer he’s not here to eat his own.
Post note: You can read the WVTF radio essay I wrote about my dad HERE.
~ Originally posted on loose leaf notes on August 26, 2006.