The last time I saw my dad he was sitting under a magnolia tree.
It was the last time we would smile for the camera together; the last time we would laugh together; the last time we would sing hymns together under its leafy shade. But I didn’t know it then.
It’s a splendid tree, this love, he said, with that wonderful twinkle in his eye that characterized my dad so perfectly. Just look at it! It’s really at its best.
It wasn’t quite the truth. I knew it, and he knew it. The tree’s best days were certainly behind it. The tell-tale carpet of pink blossoms on the ground beneath our feet gave it away. But my dad was always one to look up, never to look down. It was the reason he saw the best in everything and everyone.
And so we smiled, and nodded together, and admired the splendid tree.
Now then, said my dad, as he looked up into its leafy boughs. Is that Mr Blackbird? He’s always here love, and he’s always singing. Well then, give us a tune.
And Mr Blackbird did. Perched high up on the branch as it swayed in the wind, the blackbird opened his beak and sang at the top of his voice. It was a beautiful tune, shrill and clear, a morning song that carried on the breeze and brought sunshine to the grey skies overhead.
My dad chuckled.
What about this one then? he asked, as he pursed his lips together and began to whistle a tune. The blackbird cocked his head to one side and listened. We waited. And sure enough, there came the obligatory reply. And so it went on: my dad whistling a tune and the blackbird copying.
That was in May, before summer gave way to fall, and autumn gave way to winter.
And on a December afternoon, I found myself kneeling at my front window, saying good-bye to my dad, as he lay 4000 long miles away, taking his final breaths.
Dad, it’s Glenys, I say, very deliberately and very slowly. It’s really important to me that my dad hear these words.
I have something very important to tell you. I can hear his breathing.
I love you Dad. And I WILL see you again.
I can’t bring myself to say the word goodbye, and so I don’t. I save it for the moment I see him again, lying very still, and peaceful, and quiet.
I slip an acorn into his pocket as he’s lying there and kiss his head.
And on the morning of his funeral, I’m in front of the mirror, getting ready, when I hear something right outside my window. It’s a blackbird, perched high in the treetops, swaying back and forth in the wind, and singing for all it’s worth.
It’s so very loud. And it’s so very lovely. You’d never guess it was singing in the rain that morning, or that the sky above was so grey.
It’s just singing for all it’s worth, that little blackbird…
singing its song for a man who truly taught me how to live, whose legacy of love will last forever, who saw the best in everything, who sat with me under a splendid magnolia tree in May as blossoms of pink covered the ground.