It's not for a lack of wanting, because I do. It is because I feel that I need to blog this chapter of my life because it is such a big part of me and my company. I feel as though I truly cannot move forward until I put this all out. And even as I type this, with tears in my eyes, in knowing what I know and where I am now, all I can say is:
I wish I could take you back to my childhood memories of him, but my mind is so flooded with them, I don't even know which one I would start with. There were endless tractor rides and days in the sun. Extra buttered toast in the morning and lettuce salads with far too much French Western dressing in the afternoons. And always too many Snickers bars in the evenings. I still remember running behind the bar (where no other kids were allowed to run) at the Silver Dollar Bar (which my family owned and operated for well over thirty years) and wrapping my arms around his waist and asking him for a Coke from the soda gun, no can. I remember always getting to sit next to him in church and giggling listening to him snore during the homily. Moments when you are a child, when everything is so simple, and you swear that moments like that will last forever.
He stepped into a father role with me and my siblings as we got older- not because he had to, but because he wanted to. If we were ever a burden or caused any strife, we never knew about it. I remember him waiting to drive us into town one morning in his beat up red farm truck, blaring on the horn because I am certain one of us were shoveling cereal in our face versus being worried about getting to school on time. It never mattered because at the rate he drove, I am sure we had gotten there early. Early summer mornings in the field walking beans and as my cousins and I were half asleep, he would whisper out loud "Did you see that mouse?" and we would all high tail it through the bean rows. Summer afternoons of rock picking and taking turns of who would get to sit on the rack versus picking a rock we couldn't cover up with dirt. Coming in from the fields, washing up for dinner, and a reward of getting to nap with him on the arm of his recliner at the end of it all. These are all memories. All vivid.
As I got older, we became closer as I was able to work at the family bar and when I graduated high school, I was most excited because I was finally able to bartend next to him. I loved coming around behind the bar, putting on my apron just like his and saying "Johnny, are you ready for tonight?" We would fly behind each other grabbing drinks, and he would poke my side jetting past me to grab a bottle of something in the back room. He was always quick to greet people at the door and what I loved most about my time with him at the Silver Dollar was that when he said "Thank you for stopping in" he meant it with his heart and soul. He loved seeing people walk into the bar and if you came in a stranger, you left as a friend. If you were a friend, you left feeling like family. That was his way. It was a huge joy in his life.
I remember the first time he held my oldest child. He used one strong arm and nestled him into the crook of it like a football, secure but still tender. I have frozen that moment in my head and have told myself over and over never to forget it.
The day he lost his soul mate, his Dottie, I have to say most of that day was a blur. I remember the day itself well, but the actions within it, a blur. I remember how he prayed by her bedside. I remember tears, in his arms. His devotion to her, I will always remember.
Time passed and we grew closer, mostly due to working together. When I had a wedding- free weekend from Minneapolis, we would close the Silver Dollar early so he could go home and slap on some cologne and we could hit up the local bar scene. We would eat at Perkins after a few of his favorite stops. He would have potato pancakes. I would have an omelet. He always put too much butter on his pancakes. And he would always lick his fingers afterward. I loved our drives home because we would talk of Dottie. Life. Loss. Crops. Music. Food. Love. Dottie. He loved her so.
When my husband and I found out we were expecting our third child, I told my husband we needed to move home. I said I wanted to raise my children where we grew up. I wanted them to know and remember him. That was important to me, to us. Friends thought I was crazy for picking up my business and starting over, but I just wanted to be home. To this day, I can't really explain it, but coming home to him was the best feeling in the world and suddenly all the noise that filled my head with sitting in traffic, fighting for a coffee at Starbucks, and what-do-you-mean-the-hot-yoga-class-is-full just went silent. My heart felt peace.
I remember the summer before last I had stopped at his house to take a look at his garden. Any Bride who has had a bouquet by Johnny and Dottie with a peony in it should know that those came from his garden. As we walked through his vegetable garden to the peonies and over to the iris's, we walked back to my car and there he stood, trying to read something on my car. He rubbed his eyes a few times. It was then I realized that I had my new logo on the car and had not told him I had changed my company name to Johnny and Dottie. I told him I wanted to name it after something that was meant to last a lifetime; something true. I remember the look in his eyes and how his voice quivered when he said "Well, we would be so honored. Thank you so much." He wasn't a man of many words, but when he spoke, it mattered.
I remember last December sitting in the hospital room watching the sun touch his skin as he rested. I thought about all the gifts he had given me, and none of them material. I ran my fingers through his silver hair.
What I prayed for in that moment was more time.
We made the choice as a family to bring him home and care for him there. We started a calendar and took shifts. My mother packed up her life in the city and came home to be his caregiver during most days, and the rest of us split up nights and weekends and the occasional day so my mom could rest. Some days were good. Some were filled with laughter and a few jokes from him when he was up for it. That glimmer in his eye, even if just for five seconds, was worth all of the pain our hearts felt. Some days were harder. And some were heartbreaking. I simply cannot bring myself to tell anyone of those. But I will tell you this: you find your greatest strength you never knew you had in the moments where your heart breaks the deepest.
I took nightshifts and weekends because we loved to watch Wheel of Fortune back in our days at the bar together and he always enjoyed ice cream and maybe a spoon or two of pie at the end of the night. But if I am being honest, I wanted nights with him because I wanted to pray with him... and I wanted to make sure he would be there in the morning. Sleeping next to his hospice bed on the floor was as close as I could get and that was where I wanted to be. I would kiss his forehead each morning and tell him how glad I was that I had another day with him and that I loved him. I always wanted him to know that I loved him.
My husband and kids picked up where I had to leave off and never once complained. They only wanted to know how he was doing and if they could see him. My amazing clients would email me and ask how he was, what they could do, and that they were thinking of me and him. My friends would text me daily to say they were thinking of us. I basically kept a Facebook journal of my time with him so people would know, or that I could remember, or so I could somehow figure it all out. I am now convinced that being on Facebook to share the journey saved my sanity in a way because all the support and love was so amazing. All of this, and his love, is what got me through.
I cannot talk about the day I lost my Johnny. I have tried to type it out, even with all the time that has passed and I just cannot give detail. What I can say is that the moments that we had with him that day were not short of I love you's or hugs or prayer. There aren't any regrets because everything that needed to be said was said. He looked in my eyes when I told him how much I loved him. He told me he loved me too. No regrets. Not a single one. Just a lot of tears. A lot of tears. And so much heartache.
I picked out all of his flowers for his casket and helped to put them together. I wanted it to have a feel of nostalgia and simplicity and charisma. It was the most handsome arrangement I had ever seen and I know that he would have loved it.
I made it through an incredible wedding season for 2014 with some of the most beautiful work I have ever done, but the process was so very different. His head didn't pop around the corner as I was loading things in. He didn't bring me peonies. Instead, I would drive to the place where he rests and I would tell him about all the details while the corn would blow in the breeze in the field behind his resting place. I have spent hours out there talking to him, because that is what it is now. I turn on Tony Bennett in the studio so I can hear our favorite music, so his presence is still there. I look at his photos every single day. I pray to him a lot. A lot.
I have heard in several business classes that you should keep your professional life and your personal life separate. I have to say I disagree. My business came to flourish because of my love for my grandparent's love story and in turn, my love for my relationship with him. He made me a better designer, a better listener for my clients, a harder worker. He made me determined and a go getter and a romantic. He made me a believer, even when I thought there was nothing to believe in anymore. He was my mentor, my cheerleader, my aspiration, my heart. He was my dancing partner and my peony cutter and my late night pie snacker. He was my best friend, my dearest love, and I will love and miss him for forever.
This is the story of me and my Johnny.
I am blessed by his love and his legacy. All I can say is that I will keep giving that to everything in my life, my business, and my being. That's what my Johnny would want.
And I want to make him proud.
Photo Credit:: Red Bird Hills