A film strip floated like a feather to the ground from the impact of the near-fumble.
It was time to sort through photos for the reception slideshow for our wedding. Can I just say, between the cleaning out of the red barn and the tree trimming leading to the poison ivy marathon and the invitation list organization, sorting through photos was the thing I dreaded the most.
Not because I have a painful past or had some birthmark at a young age that scarred my self image or even the time it entailed. I dreaded it because every time I break open that dusty Rubbermaid I get this feeling that I have a tennis ball lodged in my throat and my eyes begin to develop a strange mist. It's weird.
I sat down in a porch rocker, took a deep breath and tugged the tub to my side. Less than two weeks: it was go time.
The old screen door flew open and Dad's cracked Mason work boots punched down the brick steps. He had a bowl of boiled peanuts and a to-do list in his hands. He stopped at the base of the steps and studied what I was doing, cracking open a peanut with his teeth.
I didn't want to look up, but I did.
"What's all this, Jeany?" he asked, sucking the water out of the shell and spitting it into Momma's prized flower beds. "Stroke Material?"
His two words struck me: Stroke Material. He need not explain himself.
"Yep," I responded trying to take it lightly. "That is exactly what this stuff is."
"What are you doing with it now?" Dad inquired.
"I'm trying to find content for our wedding slideshow. So far I've found 18 photos of Laura, 8 of Luke and 1 of me. But two corners are torn off and I look like a paraplegic," I said, studying the 1987 photo.
Dad just kind of laughed. He knew I wasn't joking. The third child is lucky to have a birth certificate accounted for, let alone any visual proof that she ever existed prior to 6th-grade graduation. Dad climbed into his Ford and started the diesel engine. Within thirty seconds he had gone to the farm.
I sat back in my chair and thought about the brief interaction. It made my stomach hurt and my lips smile at the same time. That Dad...
So what is Stroke Material?
As completely sick as it sounds, Dad is convinced he's going to, one day, suffer a stroke. He told us this about 4 years ago. If you know Dad, you recognize that he only operates on two speeds: Fast and Faster. He doesn't slow down. He doesn't take vacations. His golf course is maintained with a bush hog and and somedays the longest amount of time he sits still is when he's feeding hay at the farthest farm.
When Dad first revealed this revelation to us, he asked that we bring every old photograph we could find to the hospital or nursing home to keep him company. Every. Single. Photo. we could dig up. We agreed to the Stroke Material.
Last Christmas I heeded this advice and asked (the way incredible) Nate Logston to digitalize every home movie we had on file. I figured if my Daddy was going to have this break down, the last place I wanted to be was at CVS trying to transfer files for the grumpy old man.
But he got me thinking. When it comes down to it, in his final days, my Dad knows how he wants to spend his time: Reflecting. Remembering. Reliving moments in time through photos. He chooses that.
Think about this. If you prepared yourself for final days, what would your Stroke Material be?
If I were to judge those around me, I'm convinced Cody would love nothing more than having decades of past issues of the Angus Journal to leaf through and Luke would invest his time reviewing historic registration papers and bloodlines. Momma would ambitiously look through cookbooks and plan a meal if she had the ability.
So where does that leave you? What is your Stroke Material? The things that would occupy your days and bring purpose to hours that pass like months.
Love letters from someone you tried to forget?
Hemingway who seemed to-far-out, anyhow?
Maybe even your favorite quotes and verses that got you through the impossible?
I think mine will be the box of Chrysalis letters still stored at Momma and Dad's. Letters to a naive 16-year-old from folks I never even had the grand opportunity to meet. Letters of promise and hope and love.
My hope is that you never have to decide on Stroke Material. I hope your days are filled with life and ambition and forward thinking to the life ahead.
But if you had the opportunity to pick your very best Stroke Material what would it be? Let someone know. And enjoy those things now, rather than when it is too late.
While you take care of that, I'm going to be busy changing all the "1982" on Laura's photos to "1988" to meet this deadline we call "Wedding Day" - - - I won't tell if you don't.