The day of his visitation I went into his closet. I selected his tweed jacket, his necktie. I even wore his reading glasses.
I was twelve.
His clothes were too big. His glasses gave me a headache. His jacket came to my knees. I looked like a damn fool.
There was a matchbook in one of his pockets. On the front it read: “Drink Royal Crown Cola.” The matchbook looked ten lifetimes old.
I kept it in my left palm while I shook hands with a line of visitors.
The first hand I took belonged to Mister Bill. He worked with Daddy. He had tattooed forearms like he’d been eating too much spinach. He smelled like cigarettes.
“I loved your dad,” he said, sniffing.
Next: an old woman in a flowery hat. They said once she’d hit middle-age, she’d lost her hair—and her mind. She was a bird in the world.
She told me about a dream. “Saw your father in Glory,” she said. “He was laughing, wearing white, and eating dinner with Abraham Lincoln.”
After her: a girl I grew up with. My first kiss. We were six. She threatened to rub poison ivy on my face if I didn’t let her kiss my lips. I gave in. At the visitation, she hugged me and cried.
And my uncle. He wore overalls and necktie. He was the same man who taught me to play guitar, cuss, and chew tobacco. When he hugged me I could hear his heavy wheezing.
An accident in a fertilizer factory weakened his lungs. He wheezed even worse when he cried.
Then: my baseball team, the Boy Scouts, women’s Bible-study groups, old friends, new friends, strangers, distant family. My third-grade teacher. The mailman.
It was a god-awful day.
When the room cleared, I stood alone. The funeral director sat in the rear pew. He told me, “Take your time, son, there’s no hurry.”
On an oak table sat a photograph of a smiling man. I looked at it, wishing I would’ve had something poetic to say. But I’ve never been much for big words.
All I could come up with was: “I guess this is it, Daddy.”
The funeral director killed the lights. I left. I don’t remember ever feeling more alone.
Yesterday, I went to a party with my wife. I shook hands with people I’ve never met. I drank expensive beer. I flashed my most genuine-looking smile to folks who seemed about as shallow as creek water.
At the end of the night, I reached into my tweed jacket to retrieve keys. I felt something. A matchbook. “Drink Royal Crown Cola,” it read.
It’s been a long time since I’ve worn his jacket. But I’ve grown, it fits me now. So does my own life. I’m happy. I still have nothing poetic to offer. But if I did, I might say:
I’ll always miss you, Daddy.