Friday, March 02, 2007

Home again

Yesterday at 11 a.m. I topped a rise as I turned down the road that takes me home. Below in the distance Pikes Peak's snowy head was caught in the clouds and I knew I was home. At that same moment, back in Ohio, my dad, Jim Cornwell, slipped the bonds holding him to this earth and to his body. He had seen me safely home again after a long and difficult journey.

I didn't get home until noon. I called Beanie to let her know I had finally arrived safely home. She told me Dad died an hour before. She didn't get there in time to be with him when he died. She had been at work. Dad had been home from the hospital less than a week but at least he died with most of his family around him and he didn't have to linger through bed sores and morphine-laced consciousness.

As I called some of my friends and my father's friends, with whom I still keep in contact, many of them shared their memories of Dad. They were all similar to the ones I carefully fingered in my mind. In all the pictures and movie film we have of Dad, he is either smiling or laughing. Carmen Kennon, whose family lived above ours when we were stationed together in Panama, said that most of all she remembers Dad's laugh. "It was a soul deep kind of laugh," she said. "Whenever any of us were feeling bad or things weren't working out real good," she said, "Jim made us laugh. He was so friendly and open and likable. You're just like him," she said.

Dad never knew a stranger. People came up to him and talked and he talked to everyone he met, making them smile and laugh even through their tears, even when they were having a bad day. In movie films of Dad marching in formation he had a discreet smile on his face and his blue eyes twinkled with laughter. He didn't know how to fake smile. He smiled with his whole heart and his body. He had a wicked (some would say sick) sense of humor and he saw joy everywhere. He could pick a leaf from a tree or a flower and stick it into the ground and it would blossom into abundant and glorious growth. He talked to his plants and he was convinced they talked to him. Anyone who has seen his gardens and the plants in his house can tell he had magic in his touch. Dad was quiet in his own way and he didn't read much but you always knew when he was home. Everything seemed and felt more alive.

He had a passion for animals and he loved chickens, the chickens he gave away to one of my brother's friends last Sunday because he knew he'd never be able to feed them or nurse their eggs to hatching. Animals responded to him the way plants did, with love, giving him their best. Dad had so much love and respect for nature and he shared a special affinity with the natural world. Now he's a part of nature once more and safely home again.

James Cary Cornwell
Born: September 2, 1927
Died: March 1, 2007

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