On the one hand, I can hardly believe 50 years have already passed since that night. On the other hand, it seems like that was in another lifetime. Thursday evening, December 10, 1970, is burned deeply in my memory. I have replayed it in my mind more times than I can count. I’ve wished I had said more. I’ve wished I had asked more. I had not seen my dad for almost two weeks. I’m thankful that I had a least one more night with him. That Thursday was the last time I would ever see him or speak to him again, at least in this world. We were both too young. He was only 54, and I was only 15. This week marks the 50th anniversary of his sudden passing.
The final two years of Dad’s life were spent driving one of his trucks on long hauls. He was home for Thanksgiving but left right afterwards. He took a load of something to Mexico, or New Mexico, picked up another load there and took it to California. Somewhere along the way he began to get sick with a cold. Rather than seeing a doctor there, he opted to drive back home. By the time he reached home, he was so sick he couldn’t get out of his truck and walk in the house without assistance. He looked horrible and was burning up with fever. Mama tucked him in bed and did all the things that Mama’s do. Soon, he called me to his bedside. He gave me a giant-wooden pencil with New Mexico written on it. I still have it. He was so weak and hoarse that his voice was almost gone. I leaned in close to hear what he said, but I’ve never forgotten our conversation. I’ve never known for certain, exactly what he meant when he said he wasn’t going back out on the road again. The next morning he went to see his doctor, and he sent him directly to the hospital. A strep infection and fatigue had taken a toll on his system. He was a diabetic, and his sugar level had risen to over 500.
I went on to school on that Friday, and then spent that night with my friend David. Somewhere around 2:00 that night, I heard a phone ring. Even though I had not imagined he was going to die, when I heard the phone, I said to David, “I think my dad just died.” In a few minutes, David’s mom came in, sat beside me on the bed, and told me the bad news. We buried my father on a cold and snowy day, less than two-weeks before Christmas.
Christmas of 1970 was one of the hardest and saddest Christmases I’ve ever experienced. One week after Dad died, my Uncle Webster was killed in a car accident. Christmas should be a time of joy and happiness. It should be a time when families are together...when they laugh, sing, eat way too much, and exchange presents. Christmas should be all those things, but sometimes it simply isn’t. For many, it is a season of sadness, depression, and a longing for those who’ve gone. I truly understand. I’ve never had a man-to-man talk with my dad, but sometimes I want to so badly it hurts. If this is where you are this Christmas, I know the pain, and I’m praying for you. The wound eventually heals, but it does leave a scar. Please know that God loves you, and He cares about your pain. He gave up His Son for you and me. Please spend time with those you have left. Love them and let them love you. Even if all your family is gone, find a friend, find someone to be with. Please, with everything within you, have a merry Christmas!
— Bill King is a native of Rainsville, where he and his wife graduated from Plainview High School. King is a director of missions in Opelika, a writer, musician and author. His column appears in the Times-Journal weekend edition. Visit brobillybob.com for more information.