As I mentioned before, Ella and I have been best friends since we were six years old. She spent plenty of time with my family, and I spent plenty of time with hers. Her dad was around a lot, because he worked from home and preferred to work at night. When we would play at Ella’s, her mother would occasionally admonish us to be quiet so that we didn’t wake her dad.
Her dad was a big man – burly, I think most would say. He had a nice smile and a great laugh, and he loved to tease us. I never saw him when he was grumpy, though I know he had severe mood swings. He was one of those adults who talked to kids like we were intelligent creatures. Inappropriately or not, he was the first adult to tell Ella and I that we should be sure to carry condoms – just in case. Good advice, really, though I think we were only thirteen at the time he gave it.
The whole family moved to Washington when I was in my teens, so I only saw him on occasion after that. I remember how uncomfortable he looked in the morning coat he wore when he walked Ella down the aisle nearly twenty years ago. He may not have wanted to wear the outfit, but he was proud of his daughter on her wedding day. The last time I saw him was at a small memorial for his mother, held at Ella’s brother’s home. That must have been at least ten years ago now. He was less imposing by then, but still the same man I remembered from my childhood.
On Sunday, I called Ella to make plans for a Las Vegas trip we had been anticipating for several months. When I asked how she was, she said “Not so good” and asked if I had checked Facebook yet that day. I hadn’t. If I had, I would have seen a picture of her husband wrapped in bandages after an ill-advised obstacle-course run. (Please, people, stay off these courses unless you really are in the best shape of your life. So far, two out of two people I know personally have seriously injured themselves at these “events.”) Then she told me about her dad. I had known he was fighting cancer, but I wasn’t aware that he had ended up in the hospital due to seizures. I sympathized with her for a while, knowing that our trip to Vegas was shelved for the time being.
A few hours later while I was at a family meal with my niece and nephew, my phone rang – it was Ella. Cursing my bad timing – I had just reprimanded my nephew for wanting to answer a call from a friend while we were at the table – I answered the phone. Ella was crying and I knew almost before she said the words that her father had died.
Through him, Ella is related to one of our country’s best-known frontiersmen, Davy Crockett, and, I believe, John Browning, who designed a number of firearms. Besides Ella, he leaves behind two other daughters and a son, as well as a number of grandchildren.
He was not a perfect person – none of us are. But he was a goodhearted man who loved his children and God. He will be missed.
Godspeed, Ella’s dad – and thanks for the advice.