By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
Yes We Can
I gave a talk to a group of people last Thursday, invited by a longtime friend of mine. I talked about my local writing and having started my own business in the last few months. During the Q&A, one of the audience questions I received was “What is your favorite book?” The answer for me was instinctual.
“The Hobbit,” I replied. “When I was growing up, my father used to read it to me….” My throat tightened for a moment, and I continued. “….as a bedtime story when I was young.”
After my talk was over, and people milled about on break before the next speaker came in, my friend and I got on the subject of my father. She laughed as she recalled having him for government class, and his no-nonsense policy of class beginning exactly on time. Any latecomers would find a locked door if they tried to sneak in, so the hallway was often filled with people sitting and furiously writing notes because what Dad taught often was not found in the text books.
I chuckled at the story, as I had forgotten he often did that, and that was absolutely him. In many ways, my dad was a living textbook.
Two years later, I still often hear “You’re Jim Chapman’s boy, aren’t you,” as if my face didn’t give that away. As I’ve settled into middle age, I’ve often seen his face looking back at me more regularly in the bathroom mirror. We apparently looked a lot alike in our younger years. I suppose there is some resemblance.
Last Friday marked the anniversary of the day he passed. It’s been 13 years now. 2008. Since then, I wake up at the exact time we said our final good-byes to each other. Not the exact minute of course, but always within that hour. Morning looked like it did then, quiet and gray. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, poured a cup of coffee, and stared absently out into the backyard. Corsicana has a “sound” you don’t really think about in an active sense if you’ve lived here all your life. Two years later, I still admire the soundtrack after my 20-year journey into the “Big Wide World.”
I eventually dressed and began my drive over to the cemetery. On the way, another friend called, and in one of the many comforts of small towns, I invited myself over. We sat on the porch and drank wine at 10:30. “How utterly Vegas,” I noted, appreciative at the generosity of the early morning toast to Dad.
We talked for a while, and shared stories of parents. Eventually, I needed to follow through on my earlier planned visit. I choked back a sudden gasp of grief at realizing it was time.
“You don’t have to go,” my friend said. “No, it’s alright,” I said. And it was. The moment just hits me at times, and I needed my time to talk with him.
I made way way to the cemetery, and stood quietly for a while. Homecomings, especially extended ones, are strange at times. There were a lot of happy memories growing up in my hometown, perhaps one of the reasons I chose to return. I thought a lot how things have changed, and how he would be amused that I’m constantly on the go these days. I’m finally applying my writing to something productive, and he would have been proud of that.
After my visit, I stopped my Navarro College, and walked by his old office and classroom, envisioning a small group of students pressed up against the door, desperately jotting down all the notes they could hear. Those old hallways are perhaps the closest I can physically feel his presence these days.
I’ll always miss my father. I absolutely loved my mother, but Dad was around longer in my life. We evolved from a parent/child relationship into close friends as I entered adulthood. It was rare that I didn’t call him daily when I lived in California. I remember how at peace Dad seemed in conversation during my last year in San Diego, like he had done all his life’s work, and could finally enjoy the ride that remained.
I remember how cut off from everything I felt after he was gone. I’ve thought a lot about enjoying one’s personal ride in the last year.
Thirteen years gives one time to…. I don’t know if “heal” is always the right word. Perhaps “better manage.” There’s always a sense of loss, especially when wanting to tell him my biggest news, and I can’t. Being here, being home, has provided a comfort in some ways, often mixed with bittersweet nostalgia. In some ways, I’ll probably always be “Jim Chapman’s son” in living here, but it’s a legacy I’m fine with. I’ve been trying to live up to that.
Though I haven’t really tried the door locking thing on anyone. Who knows? Maybe he was on to something.