“What have you heard about parking in Heaven?” was a question asked by a man that was fifty years my senior.
“Nothing … actually, I’ve never put any thought toward it. But, now that you bring it up, I wonder if there are meters up there, or are you thinking about valet?” I teased.
“I guess I should be thinking about self-parking. If St. Pete came to valet and saw it was me, I’m probably not going to see those Pearly Gates. Most likely, he’d give me a pair of sunglasses along with some sun tan oil while telling me that the parking lot I’m looking for is a little further down the road.”
He was born in 1903, the same year as my grandfather and for a man that was 91 years old, his wit was as sharp as a razor and his sense of humor was side-splitting. His name was Ralph and he was my wife’s father. He was 54 years old when he fathered Angela. Forget about it … don’t even ask because I don’t have a clue.
Angela told me that the few years that I had known him were his best, and after everything I’d heard, I agreed. He and his wife of over fifty years were devout Catholics; both out of Chicago. He was several years her senior and mostly Irish. She was a hundred percent Italian. A strange brew to say the least, and given the stories that I’d been told by the children born of that marriage, it’s a wonder that any of those kids are still in one piece. Truth be told, none of them escaped the repulsion of being raised in that hell-on-wheels environment. Ralph was generally a quiet man that avoided conflict while his wife managed to bring the full glory of the old-country-Italian-demeanor to the marriage. Any questions?
Many times Angela’s family would come for dinner and congregate in the kitchen while the meal was being prepared, except for her father and me. It was during these times that our friendship really grew and we became pretty good buds. It was hard to explain the relationship then and still difficult today, but there was a strong connection between us and not just because I was his daughter’s husband. Frankly, when we talked, everything was on the table, but always in sort of a private, whispering fashion. I would assist him to the living room and ask if he wanted a drink. This question was rhetorical, of course, and always brought a big smile to his face. I’d bring the drink to him and say I’d be back shortly. He’d nod his head and I’d return a few minutes later to find his glass holding only ice. I’d tease him about sucking it down, go get him another, and this is when we’d have our low voice, private discussions.
“Tell me about Tahiti,” I said.
This subject brought the biggest smile to his face, matched only by Angela telling him about her job successes. From what I gather, Tahiti, hands down, was the best time of his life as he was then a single, good looking young man surrounded by beautiful natives. He told a couple stories about his sexual escapades on the condition that I never repeat them. I agreed, and to this day I’ve never breathed a word other than to confirm his reasoning for leaving Tahiti, which was because of World War II and the onslaught of the Japanese. I can still hear him today muttering “Those dad gummed Japs … messed up my paradise for real!”
When the rest of Angela’s family would join us in the living room, her dad would ask about her work. Angela has always been shy about tooting her horn, but her dad wouldn’t allow short cuts. He wanted to hear every detail of every story. While she was telling stories, he would stop her occasionally, wanting to know where she had learned that, or that he’d never taught her this; or he’d say that he never could have done something of that sort. He always spoke of her intestinal fortitude and how amazed he was with her resilience.
The smile on his face as he tried to absorb everything she was saying was one of the most touching times for Angela, and one of the most melancholy memories I have of him. In spite of her dysfunctional life with her folks as a child, she grew to really admire her father during the last few years of his life, which was the first time he’d ever taken a positive approach to becoming a real father to her. Sometimes, we’ll reminisce about these times, and she always dons a huge smile as her eyes glisten.
It was close to Thanksgiving, 1994, and it seemed that Ralph’s health was deteriorating quickly. His eyesight and hearing had been failing him for awhile, but now other things were happening. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, every Saturday when I cranked up the car, Angela and I teased about the car knowing where it was headed. We spent hours each Saturday visiting her dad, now bedridden and staying at her brother’s. When we’d arrive, Angela would lean over and kiss his forehead, which brought forth a huge smile, and I’d lean over and whisper in his ear that his ole Texas buddy had come a-calling.
“Hey buddy … I brought my Canadian whiskey with me. Want me to make ya one?”
“That’s crazy! I don’t think you should be asking him that!” snarled Angela’s older sister.
“What’s it gonna do … kill me?” lambasted Ralph as he raised himself from the bed.
She scurried off. Ralph donned a big grin and said, “Go get it, son.”
I returned with the drink and was assisting him with a sip, when the older sister purposely nudged my arm, causing me to spill some of the drink on Ralph and his bedding.
“What the hell are you doing?” Angela snarled as I turned toward the older sister with my best ‘go to hell’ look.
“Whatta ya going to do … hit me?” she taunted my way.
“Yes, if I have to.” And this is when she left the house.
“Sorry about that, Ralph.” I said as he asked, “Is she gone now?” “Yep.” “Good.”
“Joe, who is that man you brought with you?”
“What do you mean? It’s just me and Angela,” and he replied “Well, he’s a big man, standing there in that corner with an overcoat on and wearing a fedora. Don’t you see him?”
Angela and I looked to where he was indicating and saw nothing.
“What’s he doing Ralph …just standing there in the corner? Can you see his face?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s got a smile on his face and there is warmth coming from his eyes.”
Angela and I just looked at each other. You see, she wasn’t all that religious back in those days and because of her rearing, had little patience with anything that could be framed as Godlike. Whereas, you all know me, and no doubt would understand the soft smile that rolled across my face as I peered into the corner of the room in question.
“Ya know Joe, I can only think of one thing that I don’t like about you, son … and that’s your smoking. You gotta quit that. You gotta be around for Angela … I’ll give ya a quarter to quit.”
We only had a few more visits, and then on Christmas Eve, 1994, with his wife, remaining children and me all holding hands around his bed, he took his last breath. He passed away gently, peacefully, and totally surrounded by love. I’ve always felt how blessed he was, having all those who loved him by his side when he ascended to “Heaven’s Parking Lot”. As for myself, I’ve always felt set apart, blessed, that I was in attendance. As the last breath escaped his being, I quietly said to all in the room, “He’s gone” and immediately gazed at the ceiling, whispering, “I love you”; the kind of whisper that only he and I could hear.
If memory serves, it was about a year following Ralph’s passing, that a huge clunking sound came from the master bedroom in our condo. We were in the living room and both jumped to our feet to see what caused the noise. The bedside tables of the master bedroom suit we had in those days were four feet tall. One of the items on top of the table on my side of the bed, was a large, thick-glassed ashtray housed in a brass holder that weighed at least two pounds. It hit the floor ... somehow. Angela made a big deal out of it saying, “You see, Dad came back to post notice to you about your smoking!” The funny thing was that she was serious. I said nothing, because I’m telling you, there was nothing in that room that could have slid that heavy tray off the top of that table, crashing onto the floor … at least, that I could see.
A few years later, we sold the condo and move into a larger house. But, there’s something that I need to explain that is pertinent to the rest of this story, and that is that Angela and I sleep in separate rooms. She tells me that I snore and the sound is so loud, it vibrates right through her ear plugs. On the contrary, I’ve shown her the bumps and bruises I’ve received courtesy of her wild-thrashing manner of sleeping. I mean, frankly, there’s nowhere to duck! However, for clarification, I should make clear that just because we don’t sleep in the same bed together, doesn’t mean we don’t share a bed. There … I feel better already.
About eight or nine years ago, I woke up, got dressed, then opened the blinds on the large picture window in the master bedroom. Oh … I forgot to tell you all that I get to sleep in the master … “it’s good to be King,” … just saying. Anyway, when I approached my usual place to open those blinds, I stepped right into a large, oval wet spot. Sopping wet! I thought, what the heck is this? I looked at the ceiling, went downstairs and looked up, but nothing. No signs of any leakage anywhere. I knelt down to sniff the wet spot; it had no scent. When Angela got up, I showed the spot to her. Neither of us had a clue as to what had caused it. It was a new house, so I called the builder and he came over. He informed us that there were no pipes in that part of the house and he had no clue what had caused it. In the end, the large spot dried in a couple of days and left no stain on the carpet at all. It was like it never happened. So, we just sort of wrote it off, and even though we ceased talking about it back then, didn’t mean that we forgot about it.
Fast forward to around two weeks ago. I got up in the middle of the night because Mother Nature had called. We all know the feel of our houses in the dark, so without any lights, I got out of bed, and began to walk to the master bathroom located down a short hallway from the bed. At the entrance of that hallway, I stepped right into a wet spot. I continued on to the bathroom because Mother Nature had increased the volume of her call. When my business was over, I turned on the hallway light, and discovered just how large the oval spot was. It was sopping wet and again, had no scent. I got a towel and blotted it a few times, but remember thinking ‘the heck with it’, and fell back into the bed.
The sunshine trickling through the windows woke me up a few hours later. Got up and headed to the bathroom making sure to step over the large wet spot. As I left the bathroom and walked up the small hallway back into the master bedroom area, I suddenly saw three other large wet spots right at the foot of the bed! I looked to the ceiling and saw nothing. I bent down to smell them; no scent at all. These weren’t oval like the others had been … strange shaped marks. I went over to where the other spot had been years before, just to make sure it was dry. But this is when I saw a quarter laying on the carpet at the base of the bedside table on my side of the bed. Angela and I never kept any money up stairs, at all, for any reason.
I didn’t blot the three spots at the foot of the bed. I wanted Angela to see them. She grabbed her phone and took pictures of them as well as the one in the hallway. A couple of days later, all of the spots had dried, and again, no stains were left on the carpet.
I never told Angela about the quarter; I guess it was just too weird, and frankly, a little spooky, even for me. I have the quarter in a safe place, which only I know about. I figure I may need it, sooner than later, for “Parking in Heaven.”
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