By Karen Brode
Last summer, when my father was alive, we had gone to Red River, New Mexico. The first night, we camped by a dry creek bed. While we were walking along the creek bed, I spotted a green rubber snake lying in my path. I picked it up and then it started to wiggle. Mother screamed and told me to put it down. I watched it wriggle away, and wondered how I could have been so fooled.
When it was time to go to bed, Daddy said he wanted to sleep on the concrete picnic table. Mother and I slept in a tent next to the picnic table. We laughed as raccoons and possums began to walk around under the picnic table as Daddy snored in the open night.
The next night, we stayed at a little cabin in the mountains. I had a pallet by my parent’s bed, and in the night, Daddy was sick, very sick. He didn’t know it, but he had a brain tumor, and sometimes brain tumors made people sick to their stomachs. My parents decided that we would pack up and start home that very night so that my father could go to the doctor right away. We rode down the winding mountain roads and I looked out at the threatening night sky. I couldn’t stop shivering as I listened to my mother try to convince my father that he absolutely had to go to the doctor.
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I had always felt sorry for the kids at the Denison Day Nursery and now I was one of them. On Saturdays, the Camp Fire Girls came to read to us, and sometimes the Horizon Girls would come, too. I wanted to be a Camp Fire Girl when I was old enough. I sat at the table at Denison Day Nursery and waited for the bowls of bland, tasteless soup to be served. Everyone else was waiting, too, and the rule was that there was no talking. If you wanted more crackers, you had to ask for them and the lady in the kitchen was never happy to give out extra crackers. If you finished all your soup, you couldn’t get up until the others were finished. Some of these kids had been coming here all their lives, and I guessed these rules made sense to them, but not to me.
On Thursday afternoons, we went to the park just down the street from the Denison Day Nursery. We marched in single file down the sidewalk, and then dispersed to different areas of the park. I sat under the slide and thought about last summer when my daddy had brought me here. We had played on the merry go round, and he had pushed me faster and faster when I asked him to. He had made my swing go so high, and sometimes he would run under my swing as he pushed it. I knew my father had not felt well that day. His head was hurting almost all the time by then.
It didn’t seem like the same park or the same world now. He hadn’t wanted to go to the hospital in Dallas, but Mother had made him go. She thought if he went, he would get better, but instead, he died.
When my father was sitting in the wheelchair getting ready to go up to his hospital room, he called me to him and said, “I’ll see you in the funny papers,” commemorating all the times we had been to the bookstore and all the times I had crawled up beside him to read the newspaper with him. I’m sure he didn’t think that would be the last thing he would ever say to me, but it was.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.