The King’s Daughter
I can gush over the way a country road crunches under my feet all day. It’s a sound that’s softer than gravel, but still loud enough to remind you that natural earth exists under the soles of your shoes.
It’s the sound I hear while walking the dirt alleys of Dana, Indiana, home to my Grandmother and Grandfather Lewman (G&GL as we called them), and the hometown of my father, Rick Lewman, known in those parts as “King.”
My father died one year ago today. I met his death with mixed emotions. We hadn’t talked since the previous December, shortly after my engagement to Fred. In the weeks following our happy news, I had determined that having my father attend my wedding would have been distressing, and I told him that. He died one month before the wedding.
I had made a difficult, courageous decision based on 29 years of carefully collected data. My conclusion was comprised of all the moments throughout my life when I felt betrayed, abandoned, manipulated, and traumatized by my father. There was enough data by age 7 for me to have severed ties forever–but I didn’t. As a young child, my family and friends told me that I was far too kind and patient with him. I kept reaching out because there’s a longing for normalcy (whatever that is) that makes children of single parents crave the balance they perceive among their contemporaries. This seems logical until one day you realize that thus-and-so’s family has challenges, too.
My father died suddenly of a heart attack. My mother was at home for my Uncle Jon’s phone call telling me the news; Fred rushed to my side soon after. They comforted me as I hid under my lavender quilt and transitioned from crying to holding it together to letting it all fall apart again. They sat with me in my pity (Why me?!), my practicality (We must book flights and take care of business), anger (Damn that man! A month before my wedding! He always had to have the last word, didn’t he?), and sadness (I miss him—why didn’t I get the chance to say goodbye?).
Two days later, Fred and I traveled to Dana, where I introduced him to the crunch of the small town streets and we buried my father. I gave Fred an emotional tour, wandering to all the places attached to memories of my teenage summers. I showed him G&GL’s place, now occupied by Grandma Shirley (my adopted grandmother since G&GL’s death), Uncle Jon and Aunt Phyllis’s home (where I had spent so many summer days in awe of my cousins, whom I found to be the most fortunate girls in the world), the downtown, and the Dana Community Bible Church that I love. Fred saw all this–plus the freshly planted corn fields that yield the Midwest’s most lucrative crop.
We also drove old highway 36 from Rockville to Dana, over the hills and through Montezuma, where Janet’s restaurant still stands. We ate at R&R Junction, where hometown folks greet over a plate of eggs with compassion because they know who you are and who you’ve lost, even though you don’t live there. I introduced him to everyone I knew, showed him the countryside I love, including the secret portion of old highway 36 that suddenly gets you to the back side of town, Tickle Top, and the nearby town of Clinton, Home of the Little Italy Festival and the best Italian food this side of the Atlantic.
We buried my father, the “King” of Vermillion County, at Bono Cemetery on Saturday, June 19, 2010. His best friends, characters named “Goat Head” and “Mouse”, among many others, flooded in. They loved my father and he loved them. He would do anything for a friend. He was a far better friend than he was a father.
The “King” now rests at Bono, surrounded by corn fields and crunchy country roads. I wish I were there with him today. I’d like to hear the comforting pebbles under my feet and be held by the warmth of the Midwestern landscape as I move through my grief.
Photo Credit: J.D. Phillips