And so we drove away. Early Wednesday morning, this house of his empty, scrubbed of almost every scrap and trinket that would let you know that a man named Peter Schilling once lived here. Except for his customized chopping blocks he made to fit perfectly on top of the washer and dryer in the kitchen. Or the strange two inch wide, handpainted pieces of wood with one inch holes, fitted with little screens to allow fresh air to circulate with the air conditioning on. We left those behind. Otherwise, there is nothing left. No one will remember him at this particular house.

We drove, John and I, in separate cars through North Carolina, into Virginia (and a brief stop at Jefferson’s wonderfully wiggy Monticello), up into the strange cloud mountain kingdom of West Virginia, into the nation’s suburb of Ohio, and then to Michigan. I drove the giant U-Haul, John Dad’s truck.

As the night descended on us in West Virginny, the fog covering the tops of the mountains and keeping us from the stars, I was tying to get an oldies station on the lousy radio. I found one. Some guy with a bum leg was trying to keep from killing himself by having the DJ play The Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park”. The chorus went something like this:

What did you feel there?
Well I cried…
But why the tears there?
I’ll tell you why…
It’s all too beautiful,
It’s all too beautiful,
It’s all too beautiful,
It’s all too beautiful…

I found myself crying for the same reason. Because it was all too beautiful. We came to visit my Dad and all hell broke loose, and yet in that time, that horrible time that kept us from our homes for over a month, we discovered something beautiful. The people and the memories, those strange moments when you feel like all is lost and then suddenly you slip into peace, something small and meaningless perhaps, like a beer at the end of the day, an active spiderweb in Dad’s window, or a kind word said at precisely the right time. Those are the moments when you think maybe, just maybe, the world is a good place.

So I’m trying to remember that. The people helped. It was noted at Dad’s wake that Raleigh was “a good home for Peter”, a place where he could spin kindness and would be repaid. Five weeks in that friendly city and we came to know quite a few people quite well. I don’t know how to thank them properly, I really don’t. Thank you’s and thank you letters just don’t seem to cut it.

Oh, it is amazing to me the sheer volume of people who loved Dad–over 150 folks crammed the Hibernian to share stories over drinks. All the people who spent their time and energy on these two strangers, sons of a man they loved. So we say goodbye to them, and I wish I could remember them all. So many faces at this rough time–it’s hard. At various times down the road another face will pop up, someone who might have raced to the hospital upon hearing the news of either cancer or stroke, and just had to pay their respects. I’ll struggle to remember their names, I know. Maybe we will see them in Raleigh again. Or in our neck of the woods. One never knows.

Goodbye, then, to the teachers at South Smithfield Elementary, Mary and Melanie and Carol and everyone whom I’m forgetting or whose name I can’t remember. They came by the house or hospital, brought food, pictures, a blanket with his name stitched on it, movies and books, and memories, remembering the times roaming the halls and classrooms. “I spent more time with him than anyone else, come to think of it,” Melanie said. They came and cried and shared stories at the wake. They were the people Dad worked with in the one job he had that he actually loved. They were part of the reason he did so care for teaching.

Goodbye to the students of Dad’s who came and looked so pensive and confused, and sent him a heartbreaking get-well DVD that John and I have watched again and again.

Goodbye to Dad’s friends at 10,000 Villages, who shared his political passions and the friendship when seeking justice throws you together. These were the people who jumped in and threw us life-preservers, packing boxes and hauling boxes, feeding us, and taking his old Singer sewing machine and putting it to good use. They did everything. Drove him when he was sick. Visited in the hospital. Put friends up for the night, in town from far away for the wake. Some of them didn’t even know Dad that well, but the community is strong and it held us in its arms.

Goodbye to Dad’s friends, to Rodney and Vann and D. and Curt and Jenny and Julie, and so many more. People he met at work, teaching, at the plant store, around town. Who went to movies with him, played cribbage on Sundays, drank copious amounts of beer, and who told us stories of all this debauchery. Crazy stories, funny stories, sad stories, of love and politics and work. We shared with them his stuff, his mountains of God-damned stuff. Rodney took a McGarrigle sisters’ cd and said “I’m going to cry when I listen to this.” So few had actually seen the man do any magic, though. Tricks, that is. Of course, they saw magic every day.

Goodbye to the cats, Cisco and Propina, one gone and the other in a new house. Goodbye to piles of condiments in Dad’s fridge that we had to throw away, a lifetime’s worth of seasonings that he slathered on everything. Goodbye to Reader’s Corner books, where he bought and sold the tomes that kept him occupied. Goodbye to the Chuck Taylors he wore, to the political signs that wallpapered his place, to the old tin roof shack on Main Street in Benson, NC, where Mule Days celebrations were had year after year. Goodbye to the paints and paint thinners, the piles of nails, pieces of wood, and other gee-gaws he used to make every damn thing so efficient in his house, a talent neither son shares. Goodbye to the News and Observer that he read, front to back including comics and crosswords, every day. Goodbye to Benson and the shack on Main Street and to the Raleigh treehouse apartment on St. Mary’s Street, and the twin hawks that devoured birds in the front yard. Goodbye to the city of Raleigh, where he was glad to live and whose people he loved. Goodbye to North Carolina, whose winters he loathed. Goodbye to the kudzu growing crazy down there, swallowing the trees and houses and everything in its path, and how it fascinated him. Goodbye to that Southern sky and that Southern heat. Goodbye to the good times and the bad times.

Most of all, goodbye to Dad.

It’s all too beautiful… 

This entry was posted in The Magician: Stories of My Dad and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.