Harrison opened his eyes. It took a few moments for him to see enough of his surroundings to realize he had not, in fact, died yet. He was still here. Wherever here was because at the moment he couldn’t remember.
“Hey Pop,” his son Brian said. He held Harrison’s hand and squeezed it. “Still here.”
At this point, Harrison had no recollection of who Brian was or what he was saying. But he could feel the loving pressure on his hand and realized he was somebody he probably knew once. It made him frustrated that he couldn’t remember but there was literally nothing he could do about it.
“He’s awake,” Brian said to his sister Fran who sat at a desk at the other side of the room.
“Hey dad,” Fran said crossing the room.
Another face Harrison didn’t recognize. He blinked at her.
“Dad,” she said while sitting in a chair next to his bed, “I found this notebook in your desk. Is it okay if I read it?”
He looked at her but she could tell he wasn’t really focusing on her. His eyes shifted slightly to the right and he stared at the corner of the room near the ceiling.
“He doesn’t know what you’re asking,” Brian said.
“I know but it made me feel better that I asked him before I read it.”
Harrison closed his eyes again.
“He’s sleeping,” Brian said.
Fran flipped through the pages. “This seems to be some kind of journal dad kept.”
“Dad kept a journal?” Brian asked and sat back in his chair.
“Apparently,” Fran said. “He talks about when he met mom and how he almost missed his chance to ask her out.”
“Glad that didn’t happen,” Brian said. “We wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
She read a few lines. “It was love at first sight for him.”
“They did seem to have the perfect love story. I mean, he was always in good health until mom died. The last four years have really taken a toll on him.”
“It says he wanted to write the most beautiful story. He wasn’t sure exactly what it would say but he knew it would,” she stopped and wiped away a tear, “it would be about her.”
“Wow!” Brian said. “That is awfully romantic, isn’t it?”
“Dad was always good at romance,” Fran said thumbing through more pages. “He set the bar impossibly high. Probably why I’m still single.”
“Don’t worry,” Brian said. “I’ve married enough for both us.” He was on his second marriage. “What else does it say?”
“He loved family.”
“He demonstrated that every day.”
“Cherished being a grandpa.”
“My kids had the best grandparents, it’s true.”
She thumbed through the pages some more and stopped. “Did you know dad was arrested?
“What?” Brian scoffed. “No way!”
“Yeah, he wrote about it.”
“What could our father have possibly done to get arrested?” Brian asked looking down at the old man.
Brian stood up and walked over to her. “I don’t believe you,” he said.
“See for yourself,” she said and showed him the passage.
He read it a couple of times and handed the pages back to his sister. “I’ll be. You think you know your father of all people.” He looked back at his dad. “Nice secret, dad.”
“I thought maybe he would have told you about it. You know, since…”
“Since we have that in common?” He asked and walked back to his chair. “Didn’t mention a thing about it.” He sat down and thought for a moment. “What was he arrested for?”
Fran turned the page. “Fighting.”
“That makes sense. When he bailed me out the first thing he asked me was if it was for fighting. He seemed relieved when I told him no. Then I told him about the protest and that my college professor was part of our group.” Brian smiled. “The whole drive home he let me talk and I told him all about the tree the city wanted to cut down and how it was ridiculous. The city didn’t need more parking they needed to keep that old tree. My classmates and professor chained ourselves to that old tree. The actual charge they slapped us with was trespassing.”
“I know, mom sent me the link to the news article.”
Brian continued as if this was the first time she had heard the story. “We managed to get a stay and during that time Dad helped me draft and write letters to the city. We tried everything to save that old tree and nothing worked. They were going to cut it down anyway.”
Fran continued to thumb through the pages of her dad’s history barely listening to her brother’s voice.
“The tree was only saved when Uncle Clyde intervened. I asked him for help because of his celebrity status. He pulled through and offered to donate money to build a new library with the stipulation that the tree be saved and be on the grounds of the new building.” His voice trailed off. “Do you think dad put him up to it?”
Fran rolled her eyes. “Big brother, you are a smarty there is no doubt. And I know you have won many cases in your career as an environmental lawyer. But sometimes, you missed a few things.”
He looked at her. “Not all of us had the smarts to be a teacher like yourself. Please let me in on this great secret.”
“It’s not a great secret. Mom told me about it because she was so angry with Clyde. Of course dad put him up to it! When did Uncle Clyde do anything nice without dad’s influence? Dad knew it was important to you and asked Clyde for a favor. You know what it cost dad?” She asked holding up the notebook.
“I’m guessing you do,” Brian said.
“Dad had to do Clyde’s taxes for a couple of years. And you know, Uncle Clyde was not known for his scruples. Mom was worried that little favor was going to cost dad everything. But he managed to pay his debt and keep his integrity. Not sure how though,” she looked down at the notebook again. “Man, I hope he wrote about that.” She started thumbing through again.
Brian nodded. “Who did dad fight when he went to jail?”
Fran flipped back to that story and read a passage to herself. She looked up at her brother and smiled. “Uncle Clyde actually.”
“Really?” Brian asked.
She nodded her head. “Dad’s one and only fight and it was with Uncle Clyde.” She read a little bit more. “Apparently, before that incident they were not friends. Clyde bullied dad.”
“Whoa,” Brian said. “Dad never mentioned that.” He thought about it. “Makes sense though. I can see Clyde being a bully. Never really understood the friendship though.”
“Neither did mom,” Fran mumbled. “I don’t think dad ever forgave himself for not being there when Clyde died though. Mom said that really tore dad up.”
Brian nodded his head. Fifteen years ago, Clyde was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. Instead of waiting for the disease to take its toll he took matters into his own hands and ended his life on his own terms. “I remember it took dad quite some time to find some peace in all that.”
Fran flipped through some more pages. “I am going to take this home and read it tonight. I think there is a lot more to dad than we know.”
“I’m surprised dad wrote anything other than equations down.”
“Well, he actually wrote it with a pen. Some of it is hard to decipher with his handwriting but I am going to do my best.”
Harrison started to stir. He opened his eyes which had a glossy look. “Dad,” Brian said, “Fran and I are both here.”
Fran put the notebook down and held Harrison’s other hand. “We are here to say goodbye. It’s okay to leave. We got this.” Tears streamed from her face.
“Give mom a hug for us when you see her,” Brian said barely getting the words out.
Harrison gave each of them one last look of recognition then looked at the corner of the room again and a faint smile spread on his lips. He closed his eyes for the last time.
At his funeral, Fran, who by that time had read the whole notebook, quoted from Harrison’s final passages.
“Dad,” she said to the congregation, “kept this journal that he labeled ‘The Most Beautiful Story’. He started writing it because of a teacher he had when he was nine years old. His last entry was about a year before his death before the dementia claimed hold of his mind. I don’t think he’d mind if I shared his last words.
Ever since I was nine years old, I have been attempting to write the most beautiful story. It seems like an odd task since I am not a storyteller. But, because of the confidence of a good teacher, I have attempted to write this story for almost 70 years.
Any daunting endeavor requires research. And even at the age of nine, I realized this. So, I started my research. Somehow I determined that any story of beauty would be a story about love. My whole life I have seen a balance between what I refer to as perfect love and imperfect love.
Perfect love first came from my mother. I am not claiming she was perfect or without flaw because that would be impossible. But her love was perfect in the fact it gave me confidence. It bolstered me. It resulted in positivity and growth.
My dad, however, was my first lesson in imperfect love. Because of fear, dad could not express love in healthy ways. His love hindered me. It drained me. It made me angry at times. It resulted in negativity and destruction.
Years later, the great balance continued. I met the love of my life that provided growth and opportunity. Freedom and respect. At about the same time, I made peace with the nemesis of my youth. While we became life-long friends, his friendship came at a cost. It was always difficult to maintain. While I do consider us friends, it took a lot of work and was never easy.
It seems my whole life has been a balance between perfect love and imperfect love. I could see the difference. I learned from both. Both the perfect and imperfect added detail to my unwritten story.
When I lost my beloved Rachel, I knew the time had come to sit down and write. But I had waited too long. The words would not come. So, instead of writing the most beautiful story I am reduced to compiling my life’s journey in this journal. My apologies to Mrs Carrington, I could not write the most beautiful story because I was too busy living it. That’s when I realized. She actually never said I would write the most beautiful story only that I had it inside me.
What a wise teacher she was! Her words set in me a pattern to seek out beauty in this life. And from my limited understanding, that became a great life-long lesson on love. How to express it. How to feel it. How to recognize its fruits. Because of that, I learned to appreciate many things I would have otherwise taken for granted.
I did not have to write the most beautiful story. It was enough that I lived it.
Fran set the notebook down and looked at the congregation. “Years ago, I decided to switch careers from an accountant to teacher. When I told my parents, my dad was upset that I was quitting my job until he found out I wanted to become a teacher like mom. He smiled at me and put an arm on my shoulder. He then looked me straight in the eye and said I should never underestimate the influence I will have and to not treat it lightly.” She swallowed trying to keep her composure. “I thought I understood what he was telling me but now I think I truly know. Because of a teacher’s words 70 years ago, dad started on a journey that made him who he was. By looking for a beautiful story he created a beautiful path.” She looked at the coffin. “I will do my best to continue your story, dad.”
And Mrs Carrington’s influence continued on.
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3 thoughts on “The Most Beautiful Story – V”
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Beautiful message: “She actually never said I would write the most beautiful story only that I had it inside me.”