“The secret to so many artists living so long
is that every painting is a new adventure.
So, you see, they’re always looking ahead
to something new and exciting.
The secret is not to look back.”
― Norman Rockwell
“May your adventures bring you closer together,
even as they take you far away from home.”
― Trenton Lee Stewart
My dad spent the last year of his life planning a scavenger hunt.
Across the entire United States.
He’s weird like that.
Dad died on March 13, 2020, at the age of 74.
It was a Friday. He would have found that fact hilarious.
Dad didn’t have a superstitious bone in his body. He never knocked on wood or opened fortune cookies or searched for four-leaf clovers. He would intentionally walk under ladders and open umbrellas inside, and he always spilled salt on the tables of restaurants we visited. Before leaving, he would simply brush the salt into his hand and then onto his plate.
“I made the mess. I should clean it up.”
I hated being in public whenever he witnessed someone referencing a superstition, because he’d sing. A song he made up. Loudly and horribly.
Superstitions are ridiculous
They do not mean a thing
They make you look quite ludicrous
I would much rather sing.
He’s weird like that, too.
Dad’s final request was to be buried wearing jeans and a t-shirt that said, “Oxford commas save lives.”
In the funeral bulletin, Dad granted permission for people to take selfies with his corpse as long as they promised to post them online with this notice: “Ben loved his family, Batman and Harper Lee.” His hope was to go viral. I lost count of the number of people who posed for selfies.
He’s weird like that.
The service was too short and too long, and my mind was going a million different directions. So many people who wanted to tell me stories about Dad were there, and I didn’t know them or remember them. I couldn’t process everything. I felt numb and overwhelmed and suffocated by people and alone. So, so alone.
I kept a copy of the bulletin and believe his wish for postmortem fame came true.
It was just a plain, white, business-sized envelope. The plain, white, business-sized envelope was the kind Dad used to pay his bills, mailing in his carefully handwritten checks at the beginning of every month.
“Actually writing the checks helps me remember everything I have to be thankful for,” he said every single month.
Sometimes, Dad included random notes to whoever processed his payments.
Dear City Utilities,
Thank you for the water, gas, and electrical service this past month. I used it to bathe, cook my meals, and enjoy fantastic air conditioning. I did not even break a sweat during the really intense parts of my favorite reality television shows.
Keep up the stellar work!
Considering how many random people received notes of encouragement from him, it makes me somewhat angry that Dad received a note back on only one occasion. Once. Just once. It said, “Thank you. You have no idea what your words meant to me. As a small token of my appreciation, I will be paying your bill next month. I made a notation in my computer. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I found that note while cleaning out my dad’s desk.
I put the note inside the bulletin from the funeral home, keeping them both in my Bible on my nightstand.
The outside of the plain, white, business-sized envelope was addressed to me, postmarked on the date of Dad’s funeral. I recognized his handwriting immediately. I flipped it over as I choked back tears, sniffling, my hands trembling. I had to set it down and sloppy sob when I saw the simple note on the back.
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”
Dad loved going on “adventures,” whether they were thoroughly-planned family vacations or a midnight movie premiere or a last-minute detour to get ice cream on the way home from school. Dad lived for adventure, for new places and new people and creating memories for a lifetime. Adventure was more important than oxygen to my dad.
I was seven years old when Dad woke me up in the middle of the night and hurriedly helped me to get dressed.
“It doesn’t matter if it matches. You’re beautiful whatever you wear,” he said. “Jeans. T-shirt. Hoodie. Let’s go.”
He buckled me into the back seat and threw a blanket on top of me. I was snoring before we made it to the highway, which was only a couple miles away. Three hours later, Dad woke me up for the second time that day.
“The first 100 people who tour the new dinosaur exhibit today get a free membership for a year to all the museums in the city. How cool is that?”
I had no idea my dad was interested in a membership to any museum three hours away. We stood in line and he tried to engage me in fun conversation while we waited for the doors to open, but I was tired and bored and hungry and my legs hurt.
As we neared the front of the line, Dad said what he always said, “I bet we could auction off our spot and make good money!”
The people nearby laughed.
I rolled my eyes.
We paid our admission, only to learn we were four people too late. Immediately, I felt guilty for moving so slowly and complaining when he tried to wake me up. Maybe we would have been here ten minutes earlier. Those ten minutes could have made all the difference.
I was overly emotional because I was tired, and started to apologize. “I’m so sorry. It’s my fault…” but I got choked up.
Dad just laughed.
“You don’t need to apologize to me for anything. You win some. You lose some. At least we tried. Let’s go find the dinosaurs! I’ve always loved seeing triceratops.”
After seeing the triceratops and the t-rex and a few dozen other dinosaurs, we ate an early lunch, and then he took me to the art museum.
I saw original art hanging on the walls that I would later study and read about in textbooks. I saw handiwork thousands of years old, sacred pieces from cultures no longer present on Earth. With each new wing we walked into, awe washed over me again and again. That was the trip where I decided I wanted to be an artist for the rest of my life. At least once a year until I left for college, Dad and I made a trip to visit the art museum.
Before we left, Dad bought me a coffee table book of Monet paintings and a t-shirt from the gift shop as a souvenir of the trip.
“What an adventure, right, kiddo?” Dad asked.
I nodded my head and studied Monet’s masterpieces the entire drive home.