Thursday, April 2, 2020
When I was in my 20s, my father was hospitalized for a month following a brush with death. The hospital to which he was taken was about a 30 minute drive from my home, up the Merritt Parkway in Fairfield County, Connecticut. It was May, and in the 1970s, May was springtime in New England, although that has moved much earlier in the calendar now. The dogwood trees lining both sides of the parkway, alternating white and pink, were in their absolute glory; just budding, really, at the beginning of his stay, but in full, burst-open beauty as the weeks passed. They extended past the exit onto the road on which the hospital was located, and my memory of it is that the weather was spectacular nearly every day. We knew he would recover, so the drive to visit him daily was not frightening; I never worried that we would arrive to find some ominous sign like the blinds in his room being closed or the door with a foreboding notice on it, but it was troublesome nonetheless. The trees made the routine more bearable.
He was a brilliant man, and funny and sarcastic and handsome. Although small in stature at only 5'7" and probably 145 lbs., he was an enormous personality with a deep, resonant voice. He was charming beyond measure; he had a deep, rich history of being respected and loved as a boss, and women were completely taken with his looks and his success, my mother most of all. She had the added pleasure of having snagged him at a very early age. She was not, however, amused in the least by how his charm and intelligence had engaged his doctors; she thought his near death and the resultant hospitalization would "teach him" to treat his body better and perhaps straighten up and fly right. When my sister and I would visit him, he would boast about how the doctors had remarked on his wit and mental acuity, and how the other inmates, as he called them, were in awe of his clever tongue, to the point where we would roll our eyes so hard they nearly burst from their sockets. Over the four weeks he was there, we saw progress in his recovery, and were hopeful that he would return home to my mother, behave himself, and quit worrying all of us.
In the mid-south, where I live now, it is dogwood season. Their lacy branches filter the light in the yards, dappling the azaleas and hydrangeas with sunlight, and nearly glowing against the deep blue sky in the early morning light when I am out walking. It's been over 40 years since that time, my father has been dead for more than 25 years, and yet there isn't a single day that I see those trees and am not transported to the drive back and forth, and connected again with the man who shaped me in so many ways.