The conference leader asked us to take a couple of minutes and respond to the prompt “A Garnish of Joy.” My train of thought started with the winter burst of green nandina and its red berries against the bleak charcoal of empty trees in my back yard and traveled quickly to the gray days of life sometimes eased by bursts of joy.
It took me to the late Monday night phone call in Germany on January 11, 1982. My brother-in-law asked to speak to “Allen” – a name used only by family. I watched my husband’s face as he talked and knew there was bad news. He hung up the phone and said, “Your daddy died at noon today of a heart attack.”
The next morning I met my principal at school on a snow day when only the staff were working to plan for my absence. Doing what he could to help, he moved my favorite substitute, who knew my class and routines, from another assignment to cover my class until I got back. He offered sympathy and wisdom in the observation that death is a part of life. This was the closest death had ventured to me.
Early the next morning, we traveled through snowbound streets to get to an airplane to carry me home. Travel delays made me concerned about catching my flight from Atlanta on to Jackson. As we came though the customs checkpoint, passengers were filled with questions about meeting flights. The German lady in front of me couldn’t get the airport personnel to understand her question. With my limited German, I became translator, asking about her flight. When I found out it was due to leave immediately, I could tell her “snell,” and she knew to hurry.
My personal cloud grew darker when I got to my connecting flight to find the snowstorm across the South had shut down any flights west from Atlanta. I’ll skip the details and go straight to getting home on Thursday after dark – to Mama’s house where the pipes were frozen and neighbors were bringing in water in large containers.
Those dark days were garnished with joy as people called or came to remember Daddy. They might begin with the last joke he had told them or one they were saving to tell him the next time they saw him and finish with the impact he had on their lives. Sometimes the order was reversed, but they never failed to include both items.
Not long after my return to Germany, I got another garnish of joy. My sister Gwyn had developed her Christmas pictures with this one of Daddy in a typical pose. She thought he was watching Mama open the Christmas present we had sent them.
Thirty-two years later, a day seldom goes by without a garnish of joy in some memory of Daddy’s wisdom or his sense of humor.