We scattered my step dad Olen’s ashes recently in Florida where he lived.
I kept some of them and brought them back with me to Texas so I could have this Korean War veteran’s memories in a tangible form, I guess.
We had a beautiful ceremony for him three days before on April 17, which happened to fall on the adoption anniversary finalization of my daughter in 2001.
We played his favorite music when we scattered his ashes and as each of us took a scoop and returned him to the ocean he loved, we all said our private sentiments. Since we didn’t have any scoops the minister who was there, thoughtfully scooped up oyster shells on the beach which was perfect since Olen loved oysters. After it was over we drove across the shore, playing Olen’s songs with the windows down and looked out over the water where his ashes were now. There were birds flying overhead and a nice sunset. The minister said no one ever caught any fish in this particular spot. Olen was an avid fisherman back in his day.
We watched a guy catch seven fish. Someone was helping him out!
When I met Olen I was 9 and I just turned 55. He and my mom were married 43 years. We had a complicated relationship. Although we were close we had some rocky times, to say the least. We didn’t get along for a long time but there were also a lot of good memories.
The day I met him, he, Mom, my sister Cindy, and his sons, Mark and David spend the weekend at Olen’s house boat and that became an almost every weekend event, listening to Olen’s John Denver songs and the Eagles. When Mom and Olen got married I remember taking trips with them in the van or in his little Toyota truck where country music, Dolly Parton, and Linda Rondstadt blared from the speakers. At 11 he taught me how to ride a bike, having already taught me how to bait a hook, fish, and many other things.
When I was 12 he gave me my first job in the summers, working at his plumbing company, filing, typing, answering phones, cleaning, running errands. He taught me to look people in the eye when you talked to them and to be concerned but not worried.
At 13 he started teaching me how to drive in the parking lot behind Cobb Center and oh, what an adventure that was! He had to fix him a tall drink each time we set out and once we got pulled over. This was before open container laws.
The officer understood when he told him he was teaching me how to drive.
I knew he’d been in a war but had no idea that he had flash backs, PTSD, that he was a paratrooper, that he didn’t like to talk about it, and that his responsibility was stacking dismembered bodies and notifying the families.
At 15 I remember how he teased me about how expensive these Gloria Vanderbilt jeans were that I wanted for me birthday – but he got them. That was the rage back then.
He always said from the beginning, “I’m your daddy” even though he knew I had one because he knew mine was abusive.
He even kept me out of jail in college for bouncing checks by driving to my college and paying the bail then waiting patiently while I withdrew the money from my account to cover some of them. He joked with the officers, calling me his “Little Bandit,” then we were out in the parking lot, turned to me sternly and said, “That’s the last time I bail you out.”
It took me 20 years but I paid him back that $300.00.
At 27, he walked me down the aisle and everyone shouted “Nice (cowboy) hat,” but I didn’t mind at all.
In 2008 when my dad died, Olen expressed his condolences to me even though they never got along and I hadn’t seen my dad in 20 years because of his abuse.
Then, things came to a screeching halt: In 2016 Olen had a stroke due to a blood clot in his heart . When I got the call my heart broke into. Initially he was paralyzed on one side but his speech was severely affected. He did a lot of work with a speech and occupational therapist but he was never the same. My sister tried to warn me ahead of time the first time I saw him after the stroke but there was nothing that could’ve prepared me for what I saw.
The man who was once so strong, macho, who ruled the house, now sat before me, so small, sickly, and lost.
He had nurses who came in but only so many hours so it fell on my elderly mom to care for him in the meantime. Plus later he had a brain bleed though it didn’t require surgery but he developed dementia which just got worse through the years. He had several falls through the last five years and they kept increasing.
I came back to see him Christmas 2019 with several relatives and on Christmas Eve that year he was saying things like, “I’m going to buy me some land” and “They’re working me too hard.” I told him we loved him and he said, “Why are you telling me that?”
It was heartbreaking.
He wanted out of hospice after the first night in the new year. He said he wasn’t going to take his heart meds any more and just wanted to die at home. His heart rate was reported this past October to be at 30 percent. It was determined later that the heart medication wouldn’t do his heart any good any more. They had him on morphine for the pain and were just trying to make him comfortable.
He would call for my mom in the middle of the night but she didn’t know what he wanted.
Then in March this year he was taken to hospice and we were told he was too sick to leave.
The night before he left, since he had been in the army, an army flag was put outside his room which was nice.
I said my good-byes to him two nights before he left on the phone, talking about memories and my sisters did the same individually. I closed my eyes and tried to remember everything. I hoped I didn’t forget anything.
When you’ve known someone 45 years it’s hard to believe they’re just gone. But there are always signs.
I was in a store the other day and heard an Eagles song, when I went to Florida for Olen’s service, my sister and I saw a bumper sticker that read “Take it easy” from another of their songs, and today a live band outside was playing one of their songs.