In August of 2012 I took my mother to Colonial Williamsburg for vacation. I had taken my family there in 2004 and 2007 and knew she would love it. My mother is a costumer and specializes in renascence and colonial attire. This was a special trip with the family that dad had no interest in but mom was really excited about.
We didn’t do “vacations” when I was a kid. We weren’t poor but we weren’t rich either. Dad was a civil servant working on an Air Force base and mom worked from time to time at various part time jobs. Our annual “vacation” was a trip to the Santa Cruz / Monterrey area for dad to play some very ritzy golf courses (at an extremely discounted price) with his golf club from McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. Make no mistake, those courses are absolutely beautiful parks and forests, but caddying for dad isn’t exactly a vacation…
Dad didn’t do “vacation”. It wasn’t in him. He was an incredibly driven man. He had a purpose and a plan for everything, including even a night out with “the boys”. He spent every moment of every day doing “something”, whether that was working, reading, doing work on the house, golfing, flying, or whatever. He was the guy that watched golf on TV, and he was watching it intently to “learn from the pros”, so just to put a point on it, he actually learned things from it!
Mom loves the old costumes. She loves the flowing robes, the frilly lace, the hoop skirts, the tunics and pumpkin pants, tights and codpieces, bodices and whale bone, she loves it all. She loves learning about the times of old and how they dressed, how they lived. She had volunteered with several organizations that re-created various eras and currently volunteers at Ft. Vancouver, Washington doing costuming for them.
I wanted to take my mother on a vacation that dad could never take her on. It wasn’t in him, it wasn’t who he was. I have no animosity toward him because I understand who he was and respect him for who he was. I just wanted to do this something special for mom, something she would love.
I drove down to Vancouver to pick up mom and decided to take dad out on a little excursion. We hadn’t shot guns together for over 30 years, so I found a range in the Vancouver area called the “English Pit” and brought all of the supplies needed. We found the place and shot for a couple of hours having a good old time. It was not a “father/son” outing, it was just a couple of guys out having fun. We went back to the house and sat at the kitchen table cleaning guns and talking like just a couple of good ’ole boys. It was a unique experience and something I will never forget.
The following morning I headed out with mom to my house so we could fly out of Sea-Tac the following morning. On retrospect, dad’s goodbyes seemed particularly … complete.
We stayed at the Williamsburg Woodlands hotel which is right next to the Colonial Williamsburg visitor’s center which meant we just got up and walked into Colonial Williamsburg. For those that have never been there, Colonial Williamsburg is a living museum. It is staffed with some of the most well studied historians on the colonial times and the revolutionary period there are. The entire crew is dedicated to bringing to life the history of this great nation. This is true immersion into the founding of our country and the culture that brought it about. Chris Matthews may have got a “thrill up his leg” when he saw a speech from “Stalin with a great tan”, but Colonial Williamsburg gives me the tingles all over!
One of the really wonderful things that Williamsburg has is some historical taverns that operate as restaurants. The three that were operating on this trip had lunch and dinner services. One of them had a special dinner theater that we had to register in advance for but the other two were just a show up and sign up, first come first served plan.
The first night we went to Christiana Campbell’s Tavern which is a nice tavern at the end of the revolutionary city. The service is full immersion with the staff dressed and behaving as the staff would have at the time, complete with entertainment. In this case the entertainment was a particular Scottish Bard who wore about his person several fiddles and flutes, playing tunes of the time. My mother was thrilled and insisted on tipping him. We have Scottish heritage on my mother’s side that we are quite proud of. He stayed close to the table for the rest of the service and educated us on a variety of instruments and how they related to the times.
Two nights later we attended the special dinner theater at another tavern. They had a melodrama play as would be the custom of the time during the dinner service that was really quite good. During the intermission, in wandered the same Scottish Bard we had seen before. He recognized us and gave us some special attention while playing his tunes he so obviously enjoyed.
Two nights later we went to the third tavern for dinner and, while we were signing up for dinner at the outside stand, I saw the Scottish Bard through the window in the door just a split second before he spotted us. He stopped and put his face with a big smile in the window and waved to us. We waved back and we could see he was quite happy to see us. He hovered around our table giving playful banter not just to us but to other tables around us. He was having a great time being a playful soul. He is a person that enriches the lives of everyone he encounters. We need more like him.
The following morning was Sunday. I took my mother to Sunday morning services at Bruton Parish Church. It was the first time in over 20 years we had attended church together and it was truly magical. I hadn’t been to church at all in over 15 years but I knew the hymns and stories. The sermon was meaningful for both present day and for the period. For the first time in three decades I shared communion with my mother. It was a magnificent morning.
That was the morning dad died.
He laid back in his lazy chair, and ceased.
Dad’s life was done. He couldn’t do anything that really gave him meaning to his life. He was a pilot and loved to fly, but he developed diabetes and could no longer fly. He was athletic and an avid golfer, but his knees deteriorated to the point that he could barely walk let alone play golf. He was always a voracious reader but could not transition in to the new information age of computers and e-books. He got a trailer on the vague hope of touring the country, but he hated it. He had nothing left, but mom.
I took my mother on a trip that dad never could. He didn’t have it in him. He said his goodbye and was done. Did he know? Did he know it would be best for mom if he went when mom was on the other side of the country? (it was) Or did he just think he had nothing left to offer? If so, what role did I play in that?
That is what will always haunt me. What part of this did I play? Is it worse if I made him feel he had nothing left to offer, or if I had no role in it at all?