“Don’t forget!” My father yelled those words to my six year old twin brother and me as we darted down the path to swim in a mountain river aptly named, the Swift River. It was not often we got to visit the Kancamagus Highway in Northern NH near my grandparents home. The 27 mile scenic highway offered breathtaking views of the river and the White Mountains. My father’s pointed advice was, “Do not go near the edge until I get there.” My brother not paying attention ran ahead dipped his foot in the water only to slip on the rock he was standing on and fell into the swift current. Seeing my terrified brother bobbing up and down heading downstream screaming, our father jumped in and rescued him. Now standing safely back on the river bank with a towel draped around my wayward brother, he sternly looked at us and said, “I thought I told you not to forget?”
Have you ever stopped to think how many times parents especially dad’s use the words, don’t forget? When you cross the street, don’t forget to look both ways. He spoke those words to me countless times. When I was a child he’d say, “Don’t forget, tomorrow is your Mother’s birthday, she’d love a homemade card.” When he told my brother and me “don’t forget” to finish your chores before you go out and play. We did forget. My fanny never forgot the result.
When I graduated high school he presented me with the keys to a blue 1971 Ford Maverick with this advice, “Don’t forget to change the oil every three thousand miles, it will give you good service.” When you get to your destination, don’t forget to let us know you made it safely. Late for an appointment one day and leaving me alone with my fiancé in his house, he took two steps, turned around and said, “Don’t forget, you can’t play house until you own one!” That was my Dad, straight to the point. When we bought our first house after we were married, I was quick to call him and tell him we were going to play house, a lot. He laughed.
On my wedding day as he prepared to marry me and my bride, he offered this admonition in his wedding homily, “Don’t forget, throughout your marriage NEVER ask yourself have I married the right partner? Rather ask yourself am I BEING the right partner.” Some years later on Valentine’s Day in a quick phone call I told him I was rushing my wife to the hospital to give birth to their second grandchild. As I was rushing off his parting words were, “don’t forget, have a little girl for me.” We didn’t disappoint him, we did have “his girl”. The last time we were together as we were saying our good byes, he told me, “don’t forget, I love you supremely.”
It was these flood of memories that washed over me as I drove to their home in northern Vermont this week. My father will be 80 this month. After a lifetime of service as a pastor and teacher I am losing him. Not right away, just a little bit everyday. His mind once arrayed in full splendor of wit, counsel and brilliance, has diminished like the falling of autumn leaves. His decline has added urgency to spending quality time with him before he no longer remembers me.
When I arrived, I ran into the farmhouse like I’d done a hundred times, I quickly hugged my father and mother then darted back out to the car to get my suitcase. It was then I heard my father say to my mother, “who was that?” The day I knew would one day come has now arrived.
Dad, all those years you thought I wasn’t listening and I’d forget, you were wrong. It matters not that you have forgotten, what matters is I haven’t. I love you supremely Dad and that’s something I’ll NEVER forget!