It would be facile to say I needed a father and he fit the bill. I had a father of course, and the complex history that goes with a pretty fraught (but in the end, loving,) relationship.
But Charles was a different kind of father to his own kids and, yes, a father figure to me. Without the fraught stuff.
Set aside for a moment that he was almost my father-in-law, because, yeah, that’s facile, too. For almost 20 years he was a friend, a beloved part of my life. He was…family.
Married 70 years as of just last month, he was true blue and loyal to his love till the end. A Georgia boy, through and through, with a yen for sweet tea and ham and sunshine.
“My best times during the pandemic were sitting in the sun on your patio after a delicious lunch,” he told me not long ago.
Some of our favorite memories are of him and our senior toy poodle, Benji, dozing together in the sun —both also under our heat lamp on the patio to take the chill off their aging bones.
Did I say we got the heat lamp so Charles would be more comfortable?
I loved this man and the news that he had quietly, gently slipped away was gut-wrenching. Oh sure, there are all the platitudes: he was 92, a “good long life,” etc. But that doesn’t fill the gaping hole he left in our lives.
A member of the Greatest Generation, he was imbued with kindness you don’t expect of someone who had a 22-year career in military intelligence (Korea and two tours in Vietnam.) But kindness you WOULD expect from one whom, after retirement, spent seven years as principal of a Zuni school in New Mexico. There, he was inspired to convert to Catholicism.
I, born a Catholic, wondered why someone would convert. His response was immediate:
“Those nuns,” he said, “were the nicest, kindest people I’d ever met.”
When he left the reservation, he taught high school poetry and English in San Francisco for 28 MORE years, where he was beloved by his students as gentle, supportive and a favorite teacher.
Did I say he was a poet?
Those are all biographical details. This is how I really remember him:
Driving with his wife, my bestie, to Santa Fe when my soul dog, Riley was so ill, and telling his wife “I’m worried about Carol, because it’s clear Riley is not going to make it.”
Writing this poem for me after Riley died:
Ladies And Gentlemen: Riley!
This tiny little almost never bit of fluff,
more than enough to lift our souls this high,
wagging, weaving all for waiting friends below
has moved away to be with other guys
(up there, we think, although we will not know
until his spin in happy circles tells us so.)
Now is the time when we must all feel blessed,
although he’s moved, without his leash, to rest.
And this one after we spent a day with them eating croissants last July in San Francisco:
A friend stopped by –
a scent of roses as she came…
The day had been, until that time,
a day without a name..
An acre of good tidings –
then a settling in,
and that’s the way it always is
when roses come with friends.
– C Brady.
And how about this one, about a visit with me and M in 2021:
Me And The Lawyer
Went out walking,
dragged along a friend –
we don’t hold hands or such –
being manly men –
But we can cuss if need for such
and spit on cracks that match our moods.
I start a joke – he cracks up –
about the lonesome widow blues.
He knows them all – we’ve numbered them –
and breaks up when favorites are called.
It’s all about how a pal comes aboard
from a mystery of place and time.
(There’s a time, but not now,
– we’re walking our walk)
and Lassies in summer dresses
are flirting with us by looking away
and talking with unshaven lads.
We then turn around an head for the place
where we left our two laughing ladies….
still not holding hands
– in the way of all men
when granted an hour of grace
now and then.
– C Brady
Do you get the gist of the man, now? Maybe you understand why I write this through tear-flooded eyes. Why the hole in my heart is so big.
He was such a good man. A sweet man. Yes, a cantankerous one, too, but not usually toward me, unless I was trying to get him to do something he didn’t want to do.
Like not die.
I didn’t want him to die.
But, he was ready. His place on the other side had been made for him and he knew it was time to go.
That, I couldn’t control.
by Kai Skye
Dear, dear Charles… I know you went straight to the good place. Boom! You were there. Those pearly gates couldn’t open fast enough to welcome you in. I’m certain there was a great southern celebration with all your people: black-eyed peas and cornbread and ham. Down here though? We are deeply bereaved. I look at the New Year’s Day menu planned with all your favorite foods, the meal you never got to eat with us, and I’m glad there were so many other meals we did get to enjoy together. We look, stricken, at the sweet tea meant for you. And the peach pie. Will I ever look at your chair on the patio again without thinking of you?
So, all that is left to say is that we love you. And thank you. Thank you for being a father figure, a good friend and a kind man without peer.
We miss you, already, Charles. Terribly.
The rain is pouring down as I write, and a nephew in DC who made a point of visiting with him and my bestie every time he came to stay with us, including just last summer, has sent this beautiful text, which sums it up perfectly:
I see San Francisco is weeping today.
A telling sign from the Golden city,
knowing that it has lost one of the best
to ever call it home.