“Let’s go to the bar!” Craig said over the phone on his way home on Tuesday night. “I don’t feel like cooking.” To be honest, I didn’t either. It has been a huge adjustment going back to work – even just two shifts a week. I had just woken up at 4:30 and starting my “day.”
Carver got his cowboy hat and new paisley shirt we got him at the Western store. His cowboy boots completed the look. Looking in the mirror he was so proud. “I’ll bet Papa Moo would love this!” gesturing to his cowboy get up.
We all piled in the van and drove two blocks to our favorite bar. I had my 22nd birthday here. We celebrated Mom and Dad’s new house here. The owner brought us fried chicken the day after Dad died and stood outside the bar as his funeral procession moved through town in June 2019. He plays peek a boo with the boys from behind the bar and always gives M&Ms as we leave.
I remember the first time I ate at Riverside. I was probably 5 years old. We were in the West barn at the farm. I was hanging out with Dad as he finished milking. He said to me with a goofy smile – “When the cats are away the mice will play.” He loaded me up in the little ranger and took me to Riverside where I had my first taste of quality bar food.
We walk in the door, the boys fight over which booth to sit in while I get the cards. We deal while the waitress brings us our drinks. They usually don’t even have to ask what we’d like to drink, they know. Gannon asks if Grandma Jo is coming to join us, I hadn’t thought of it but she’s just down the street. I call her, take her order and she will be there in 5.
Mom walks in just after our “hodge podge” (also known as a combo basket) comes. I win the 4th round of “Junk” and put the cards away to make room for food. We all eat together and admire Carver’s “cowboy” get up. I joke that he needs a duster just like my Dad used to wear to church on Sunday’s. I can remember how heavy his authentic leather jacket weighed, I can still smell it. My mom comments, “Papa Moo would love your shirt, he loved pearl snaps.”
Craig talks about the farm, the same one my Dad worked at for 32 years. We talk about Craig’s fire meeting and the upcoming pancake breakfast, the same one I’ve worked at since I was old enough to pour milk and coffee. Dad served on the fire department and first responders my entire life.
Soon enough my brother Karl walks in the door. We didn’t know he was coming but saw our cars and stopped in as we were finishing up. He grabs a beer and a pool stick and soon enough he’s teaching Carver how to play. Mom talks about how Dad used to be in pool league as she tells Carver to “choke up” on the cue stick. Karl makes jokes about how he hates his bald spot, the same one that he inherited from Dad. Dad started losing his hair in 8th grade.
Karl pulls out a dollar bill and puts it in the juke box. He asks what we think he should play and Bat out of Hell is the first song that comes to my mind. Meat Loaf was Dad’s favorite. We listened to Bat out of Hell on cassette tape any time we were in the astro van growing up. We even all went to a Meat Loaf concert together my junior year of high school.
Soon enough I’m using my White Claw as a microphone. If Dad was here he would roll his eyes in that lovingly annoyed way. If Dad was here…that echoes in my mind for a minute. If Dad was here…
But he is. He is in everything we do but at the same time he’s not. His absence is so palpable on nights like these but also, he’s still very much here, sitting in this booth, ordering another Miller high life, stealing all the cheese curds from the basket, and telling Gannon to sit and eat his food. He would have loved a night like tonight. His absence and his presence have become one. It makes me happy and sad to think of him missing out on a night like tonight. But deep down, I don’t think he did miss it.
We pay the bill and all head home. On the way home, as we pull in the driveway, “Mom, I’m really sad Papa Moo died.” I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Gannon must have felt it too. “Me too, Gan.”
As I set Anders’ car seat down underneath Dad’s picture that hangs in our dining room, I wipe a tear from my eye. It gets harder and easier to talk about it. It gets better and worse in the same breath. I feel his presence and absence in the same moment. It stops me in my tracks and keeps me going. I can hold grief and love in the same heart. Thanks for the visit last night, Dad.
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