If he could have raised from his coffin, I’m sure Dad would have walked to the graveyard. He hated being late for anything; but today, he had no choice. He was the center of attention and there was nothing he could do. I chuckled at the thought that Daddy would be late for his own funeral.
The small funeral-home chapel was unbearably hot and humid. The central unit was no match for the mid-afternoon sun that was streaming through the doors; left open to accommodate the overflow of Dad’s former colleagues.
I wiggled in my seat and sighed loudly to see if that would catch the attention of the Pastor; it didn’t work. He was too busy giving an altar call for the unsaved to repent in true Pentecostal fashion; and my mom didn’t seem to mind that the service was going way beyond the allotted time, and that we still had an hour’s drive to the cemetery.
I fanned myself in the perishing heat as my mind wandered to the previous year.
It was the Friday before Father’s Day 1985, and I was producing a Father’s Day tribute program at Radio Trinidad where I worked as a scriptwriter. Our listening audience was asked to submit the names of their dads along with a greeting which the announcer would read, and for every four or five names a selection would be played in honor of the dads; along with commercials to fill the hour. Dave, the radio personality, asked if we had any more names from the entries, and there were no more.
I guess I can add my dad’s name, I suggested, wondering why I hadn’t done so from the beginning. And, that’s how my dad, Lorenzo Brown was added to a Father’s Day radio program.
Dad was a huge man, almost seven feet tall, and when he was younger he weighed over 400 pounds earning him the moniker “Big B” at the Trinidad Guardian where he worked as an editor for over forty years.
Even after he retired, he’d still catch-up with the guys at least once a month. Mom used this empty-nest time to travel to New York to see her kids and grandkids, or shop; but dad stayed close to home, preferring to spend his days doing chores around the house.
Fathers’ Day, Sunday, June 16, came and the kids and I called my dad. He enjoyed chatting with my girls, Shakira, six years and Candice, a year and a half. My youngest Jonathan was only 6 months old.
They loved their grandpa and I was amazed to watch him turn to mush in their hands. Who was this big teddy bear sitting on the sofa with my kids; bouncing them on his knees, making funny faces and taking then for walks to the candy store?
Before we hung up, I mentioned the program that was to be aired at 2 o’clock that afternoon and he said he’d skip his nap to listen. He also mentioned that my mom had called him from New York that morning, and then we rang off.
By 2 o’clock I was busy getting the kids ready for the week. My husband was also in New York preparing to take his boat to South Carolina for docking, so we called him and then I busied myself getting ready for the week ahead while the girls kept each other company. The program started and every time the names of the fathers were read, I’d listen for his. Half hour, forty-five minutes went by and every dad’s name was called except his. Then panic set in, what if they ran out of time and had to cut his name. I felt bad that I’d mentioned anything about the stupid program. That’s why I never involved my family in my work, I reasoned.
If his name weren’t called I knew he’d be understanding. Ansie, his pet name for me, he’d say in his baritone voice, clearing his throat, and inserting a cavalier laugh, that’s okay girl, maybe next time.
But it would not be okay with me. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s in a country that preferred people of a lighter skin tone and a straighter hair and nose. All of which my dad didn’t have. Born in Panama, where his dad worked on the Panama Canal, he always thought of himself as an outsider although he’s lived most of his life in Trinidad. He was passed over for promotions at work that were given to younger, inexperienced men who had the right names, right connections and more importantly, right skin color.
My dad knew his craft but had little faith in himself because he believed the lie that those with the lighter skin-tones, straighter hair or well-connected names were better than he was.
He was a good dad and took care of his family by working alternating shifts every other week so he’d qualify for the night differential. The extra income put food on the table and clothes on the backs of his wife and eight children; although he wore pants that my mom patched in the seat and shoes that were stuffed with cardboard because the soles were worn.
My heart was racing as I was about to reach for the phone to call the radio station when it happened. Dave mentioned his name, the very last name, Lorenzo Brown from his daughter… Before the sentence was completed and the selection played my phone was ringing. It was my dad, laughing that cavalier baritone laugh as if his name being mentioned on the radio was a common occurrence.
What neither of us knew that third Sunday in June, the year before, was that it would be his last Father’s Day, ten months later, just a month before his 73rd birthday dad died. Standing at the gravesite in the sweltering sun as the coarse ropes propelled his casket into the grave I felt at peace; I had done something special for my dad on his last Father’s Day.
Many decades have passed since then. I honestly can’t remember the selection or greeting from that program, but I remember the happiness in Dad’s voice as he enjoyed his last Father’s day!
Tunis grew up in a little village in Trinidad, and enjoys re-telling the stories of her childhood, and what it was like growing up with her seven brothers and sisters in Morvant. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with her family.