No one was more surprised when my dad died than he was. He said he wanted to outlive his own father, my Grandpa Vern, who lived to be 94. Dad was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 60 and battled it for 11 years before it finally took him.
Some of my most memorable times with him are from my adulthood. He, my sister Kristi and I became good friends as adults. His visits to Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan with us are some of the silliest, funniest memories I have of him.
In December 2013 my sister graduated from Valparaiso University for the second time, this time with her BSN degree. Dad drove up from Arkansas and I flew in from Minneapolis for the event. Kristi and Dad picked me up in Chicago and we toured the town. Lunch at a little deli, a tour of Willis Tower and goofiness all around. I love the photo Kristi took of Dad and I pretending to descend upon a miniature replica of the Chicago downtown area.
|At the Willis Tower skydeck|
|Kristi's nursing school graduation, 2013|
|Look out Chicago, the Florias are in town! |
Dad could make any outing special, an ordinary day extraordinary. He saw the wonder in nature, the goodness in people and beauty in the every day world. Once I was visiting he and my stepmom Terry in Arkansas, and he was telling me about a spider he had watched spin a web over their kitchen window. Later that night, as we were getting ready for bed, I hear him call for me excitedly. "Jenny! Come here, the spider's back! Look at this." We turned off the kitchen light so we could see into the night. He and I stood at the window in the darkness and watched the spider, which was outside thankfully, begin its dance. Back and forth and back and forth she swung, creating a web that spanned the entire window. We probably watched the spectacle for half an hour or more. It was finally complete, and we saw her nestle in the center of the web, ready to pounce on any insect that dared enter her creation. She was quickly rewarded and we watched her go to work preparing her meal. By the next morning the web was gone, only to be spun once more the following evening.
He and Terry often took road trips north to visit us and other family, and he made the drive sound like the most amazing trip ever. He spoke of the little cafes they stopped at, the roadside stand where they bought some apples, the kids he saw riding bikes down a sidewalk. He would make up a little story in his head about those people, what they were doing, the relationship between them, and always find something quaint or endearing to say. Later, Terry would confide in me that the café was more like a dive, the roadside stand not quite as picturesque as he made it sound, and the kids looked like they were up to no good. Not that Terry was being negative, but my dad always had rose-colored glasses coloring his world.
|Antique shopping in Hopkins, 2015|
Fall was one of his favorite seasons. He would wax poetic about the leaves turning vibrant colors, the industriousness of the squirrels preparing for winter, the chestnuts he and Terry harvested from their chestnut tree. He and Terry celebrated Halloween with all her family, whom Kristi and I call our "southern rellies," with everyone coming together with well-executed and quirky costumes. My sister made it to Arkansas for a few of those parties, they sounded epic.
|An Arkansas Halloween party, 2015|
|Floria Reunion in St. Louis MO, May 2016|
So...it's that time of year when I reflect on all those wonderful memories and remind myself to be grateful that my dad and I were friends. And I still miss him.