Every now and then I have a moment of duh. I’m sure we all do. It is that moment when you realize that you have totally overlooked something important and you need to rectify it as soon as you can.
Consider this my moment of duh.
Over a year ago I wrote a story about my mother, a heartfelt homage to a wonderful person. Since then I realized that I never did a similar tribute to my father. And this was a clear whiff on my part, because Charles Herald Bryan was one of a kind. To begin with, yes, that’s how his middle name is spelled, as in ‘Hark the Herald Angel sing’. This probably has to do with his West Virginia roots, but I cannot say for sure.
My dad went by Chuck, though he also answered to Charlie. He was a Chuck. He would greet you with a smile & a firm handshake as if you were his longtime friend. Chuck made friends easily. He had a knack at making you feel at ease within a few seconds of meeting him. How? With pithy phrases to mundane questions. For example, an innocuous, ‘How are you?’ was answered with any of a variety of colorful retorts: "I never had a bad day", or "Glad to be on this side of the earth", or my absolute favorite, "I’m just laughin’ & a-scratchin’." I have no earthly idea what "I’m just laughin’ & a-scratchin’" means. I just know it brought a smile to the other’s person’s face and made them feel comfortable. Chuck was very good at that.
Dad was quite a contradiction. He could be very self-centered, almost self-absorbed. But at the drop of a hat he would do anything for you. I know in my life he did that many times. If I was in any kind of situation that needed his assistance, he was there. Usually at 5:30 in the damn morning, but he was there. Because that was another of his traits - a very, VERY early riser. When I was still living at home & in my early 20’s, I would stagger home at 3 or 4 in the morning to find my dad just waking up, drinking coffee & smoking a Winston. In the dark. ‘Good morning son’. ..‘Goodnight Dad.’
Which brings me to another one of his lovable traits. He was not a judgmental person. Now I am sure my siblings may have a different take on that, but what I mean is that dad was not an intervener. Instead, I think he believed, at least for me, in allowing people to make their own mistakes. I married the wrong woman - he supported me. I got into a couple of jams in my younger years - he was there to bail me out of them. Never once did I hear from him, ‘If I were you I would…’ Instead, his typical line was, ‘Son, if you’re happy, I’m happy.’
And he was a happy guy. That’s the part of his personality I have tried to incorporate into mine. To this day, when people ask me how I am, I try to refrain from the bland ‘Fine’ answer but instead search my mind for WWCS - What Would Chuck Say. My latest favorite for that question is ‘I’m just living the dream.’
I will tell you what made me mad about Dad. He didn’t take care of himself. He was a lifetime smoker, two packs a day. He didn’t watch his diet (one of these days I will relate the custard pie story). He didn’t exercise. As a result, he had a number of health issues & heart bypass surgeries. In fact, that was the way he lived his life - do what you want, eat what you want, let the doctors fix you up when needed. And it was one of these surgeries that ended up taking his life. He had a heart bypass on April 2, 1997. He never came out of it. And on April 12, 1997, he passed away at the too-young age of 71.
But knowing Dad, even that wasn’t a bad day. Because he never had a bad day.