A Modern Stone Age Family

A few months ago while my dad was still able to leave his nursing home, the family spent an afternoon in our apartment. As Jeff and I were describing our last trip home to New Orleans, Dad spoke up.

"In the south, if you just pull over for gas and they always say, 'Aahm Gawnna Kiillll Yeeeew,' " And he made the most menacing scowl, I had ever seen. For a non-scowler, it was epic. As the the warnings got more dire, we were eventually all in tears.

More tea dad? "Aahm Gawnna Kiillll Yeeeew." My gentle dad was sharing this final cautionary tale against stopping for gas in the south. There is nothing funny about the possibility of getting popped at a gas station. And yes, crime is on the upswing. Everyone I know has been affected in some way. It was just the randomness and the enthusiasm of my dad's final advice.

He slipped away over Mother's Day weekend. This Father's Day I have his legacy of giving to remember him by. It helps inspire us to keep the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund rolling when it seem like no one cares anymore. Dad sometimes offered Thanksgiving Day dinner for anyone in our small town in the lobby of his Christian bookstore. Generally he fed little old ladies who were happy for a day to socialize. He traveled the world with mission work, every continent but Antarctica.

And at the end he fought an admirable battle against the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. As a doctor, he could figure out all-purpose social phrases like, "How are things at the office?" no matter who he thought you were. Wherever he was, he would tell you his office was in the basement.

In the last year, Dad was finally wheeled in front of enough nursing home television sets to absorb pop culture and it offered him more conversational shortcuts. After a lifetime of reading the Bible, I found him with a People Magazine and he waved it at me angrily muttering, "Celebrity Cellulite!" Then he came across the ultimate conversational shortcut. "How's dinner Dad, do you like the chicken tonight?"

"Yabba Dabba Doo," he answered with a grin.

When the wonderful New Orleans trumpeter James Andrews second lined to dedicate his grandfather's belated gravestone, the band marched behind him playing for no apparent reason, "Flintstones, Meet the Flintstones," as they entered the cemetary. That's when I knew I would probably never see Dad again. We made it back to Illinois too late to visit with him one last time, but he gave me the gift of a lifetime learning from the finest person I have ever known.

So Happy Father's Day wherever you are, Dr. Ray. We were a modern stone age family.

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