Musings on this Father’s Day – 6/17/2018
I never thought I’d be one of those people that visit cemeteries with flowers and gardening utensils to cut the grass around the gravestone. I remember going with my mother on Mother’s Day to do that for her mother, my grandmother. But that scripture: “Let the dead bury the dead” always resonated to me and so I had peace with not going. After all, my mother is not in that ground. Her spirit is with the Lord in heaven. Her essence is not in that cemetery. And my father is definitely not there because he was a missing person and we never found the body, so his name shares my mother’s gravestone. His death is recorded as 2008, 7 years after he was reported missing.
So why now, do I want to visit his memorial plaque or gravestone? I feel God put this on my heart. God has been preparing me through plays of all things. A play I’m currently in takes place at a church and during the play we go to another location, the pastor’s house. When I first went to this location for rehearsal, I was overwhelmed with emotion to realize the house was very close to Evergreen cemetery. This is the cemetery where William J. Seymour is buried. He is the Black, one-eyed preacher who God used to usher in the Azusa Street Revival that started the Pentecostal movement. At a time when segregation was at its heights, this preacher drew White, Black, male, female, All races, all ages under one roof to worship the Lord and witness His miracles. When Mr. Seymour passed, Blacks weren’t allowed to be buried next to Whites so I heard he was buried at a cemetery called Evergreen.
When I shared this with my fellow cast mates and crew members of this play, they were almost all wearing green and I couldn’t wait till I could walk through the cemetery and witness his grave marker. I haven’t yet found the time. Before this play I was in a play called the Willows, that took place in a mortuary. Before that play, I was in a play called Fucking A, where my character’s son passed. Then there was the Black Panther movie where it was important to honor your ancestors. And there was the movie, Coco, where “Recuerdame (Remember Me)” reminded of the importance of remembering your ancestors. And just recently, I performed my mini one-woman show at the REDCAT after 10 years of applying to be part of Studio and finally getting accepted after 10 years. In preparing for it, I had to build some video montages. In them were photos and newspaper clippings regarding our ancestors. If it had not been for our ancestors and what they endured and went through, I would not be here. All of this revelation came after my visit to the cemetery today.
All I knew was that it was Father’s Day and I needed to do something different than the familiar Facebook post. I needed to visit the cemetery to see his plaque. I would need help remembering where it was located and need to be prepped on the how-to’s of flower placing and all. Of course, when I got there, they were about to close in 15 minutes. But they were nice enough to still help me. The gentleman looked up the location of my father and mother and printed it out along with a map on how to get there. Even though they were about to close he instructed me to go in the exit. They were closing the gate to the entrance. For a minute I flashed to all of those horror movies where people are stuck, trapped in a cemetery. I quickly whisked those thoughts away. As I was slowly driving to the location, a car behind me honked. I pulled over thinking I was going too slowly. And yes, I thought it was strange that someone would be in such a hurry…here. The car stopped and pulled over behind me and it was that same helpful gentleman, Daniel. He said he wanted to help me look. And thank God he did. Between the two of us, neither one of us could find it. He checked and double checked numbers and slots. He walked to the opposite side of the street and came back. This time we were able to find it. I told him if we were able to find my mother’s grave stone, my father’s would be close by. We found my mother’s but my father’s wasn’t the one next to hers. I was confused. But as he brushed off the years of dirt and debris that had accumulated on her gravestone, I was able to see that his name had been cut in her stone. His name, the years and “friend and father.” It had been 10 years. 10 years since I held his memorial service in this spot. 10 years since I ordered the modification done to my mother’s stone with the suggestion of a helpful technician noting that since there wasn’t a body, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to have a separate stone.
I asked where I could put the flowers. He said, “there should be a vase around here somewhere,” as he felt around in the grass. “Here!” He managed to find the outline of a holder. “You’re going to want to tell the grounds keeper to bring this up. It’s overgrown with weeds.” He let me know that I could do that Monday. I thanked him as he walked away. I stood there for a moment looking at the faded stone. I remembered that when it was new, it had color in it for the flowers designed in the stone. Pink. Now, it was mostly gray with a hint of what might’ve been dusty rose. I tried to take in landmarks to remind me of the location for next time. Then remembering how they are closing, I left. I was supposed to go to a concert tonight but felt that I agreed to go prematurely and was feeling like there was a heavy emotional weight upon me that I definitely needed to address and sit with.
I called my friend to tell her that I wasn’t going to be able to make it and shared with her where I just came from. She was beautifully understanding. A true friend. I was able to start to unpack and process a bit of what I was feeling with her simply because she asked the question, “Are you ok.” That was her text. “I don’t know” was my response but when I called her, I started to have the revelations previously mentioned. But first, it’s Father’s Day. My father, was not perfect but I do know he loved me. My father, was a hard worker, might’ve been too hard a worker, might’ve contributed to his early death. My father provided for his family. My father was married to my mother when she passed and when he passed. My father was Assistant Vice President and manager of Foothill Independent Bank and owned rental property before his stroke in his forties. We owned the house in Altadena and two cars. I don’t know what my father went through growing up but I suspect there must’ve been trauma and traumatic events. My suspicion doesn’t come from his infectious laugh and friendly disposition. His way of greeting everyone even strangers on the street. Nor did it come from his need to play tennis and fix the toilets and paint the properties he owned. Nor his collection of roadrunners.
No, my suspicion comes from the way he would wake from naps. If he was resting and you walked in, it would startle him awake and his eyes would be wild, his breathing would be rapid and he would be poised as if he was ready to attack you. Fight or flight? He was definitely looking ready to fight for his life. When this would happen, if you weren’t terrified into silence, you would quickly but calmly talk him down. “Dad, it’s me. It’s ok. You were sleeping. It’s just me. You’re in your study. I just came to tell you dinner is ready.” And just like that, he would slowly come back to the usual mild mannered, jovial father we knew and loved.
My father went to PHS (Pasadena High School) and looked to be the only Black person in his class. In Chicago, he went to Tilden Tech.
My father was a hard worker and he must’ve had to endure some things that I don’t even know about. To get where he ended up. I may not agree with my dad on some things and some choices he made, but he was there when I grew up. Not only was he there, he came to my piano recitals, carried me on his shoulders while hiking off of Chaney Trail and taught me how to drive a stick (because if you know how to drive a stick, you can drive anything). He and my mother took me with them when they travelled the globe. They put me in private school (because they wanted me to have the “best” education). I feel like my father made sacrifices that I don’t even know about, won’t even know about. I owe him a lot if not my life. I am thankful and grateful. I’m thankful for all of the sacrifices my ancestors made. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. Happy Fathers’ Day.
So, why 10 years later??? I think this is the time where and when I can rest and process. You see, there were some years that it felt like I was just living from crisis to crisis. Crisis mode. I didn’t have time to process, only time to survive. Trauma to trauma. I have a friend who is about to lose her housing. Every time I see her, I ask about it and how she’s doing. This one time, she said, “I can’t think about that right now.” I heard her but I still asked a follow up question, “Do you have any idea where you’re going to go?”
She very lovingly but sternly clarified, “No, you don’t understand. I can’t think about that right now. Really. I don’t have time to. I will probably have time to think about it Monday.” And after that, I completely understood. I’ve been there. I can’t think about that right now, don’t ask me to.
I believe that’s what was happening in those ten years. Actually thinking about getting flowers, driving to a cemetery…that would’ve been too much at the time. The Lord in His loving mercy and kindness knew and knows what I need and when. If I listen and obey, He gives me just what I need. And He knew I could not have dealt with that at that time. So, now, in this time of rest and healing. In this safe place and space. Surrounded by safe people and understanding friends, I can start the process of processing. And that part of healing. Thank you Lord for Your divine timing. Ten years??? Yes, ten years. Right on time.