Lydia knew it couldn’t be good news because the call came in the middle of the night. And it was from her cousin Tiffany, the family member who only called Lydia when one of their relatives was about to die, or a relative’s funeral had already been scheduled. Lydia knew her daddy was in the hospital. She’d talked to him earlier in the week. He was getting out Monday. Was someone else sick? Not wanting to disturb Simon’s sleep, she rolled out of bed to take the call in his office.
“Hey, Tiffany,” she whispered.
“Lyd, I got bad news.”
“It’s your daddy, Lyd. He’s about to pass. You need to get here.”
“What happened? I thought he was getting out Monday morning?”
“He was sicker than he told you. He didn’t want you to know. How soon can you get here?”
Lydia hadn’t noticed Simon follow her from the bedroom. He’d heard Tiffany’s every word loudly and clearly as they broke the typically serene quiet found only in the hours of pre-dawn.
He touched Lydia’s shoulder and said softly, “Babe, I’ll buy you a ticket right now. You can be on a first flight out of JFK.”
“I’m on my way, Tiff,” she cried into the phone. “Can someone pick me up at the airport?”
“We’ll get you, Lydia. Just get here.”
Simon called American Airlines as Lydia packed her things, panicking. Why didn’t her dad tell her he was so sick? He used to tell her when he was bad off. She was the first one he called. How could he not tell her? Why didn’t her grandparents tell her? Would Simon come with her? Would he miss a weekend at his club to meet her daddy before he died?
She was on the 5:30 AM flight to Chicago, which didn’t leave the runway until 6:47 AM because of snow, so she missed her connecting flight to Charlotte. Her rebooked flight from Charlotte was delayed three hours with a technical issue. By the time she reached the hospital with Tiffany and her husband, who drove five and a half hours round trip to get Lydia to her daddy, he was gone. She never got to say goodbye.
But it seemed the whole town stopped by her grandparents’ house to tell Lydia, “Hello”, hug her, and let her know how much they’d miss him, too. Her father was one of the most popular kids in high school. He had a lot of friends. Folks from miles around came to pay their respects – and drop off food. Lydia sat in the parlor receiving guest after guest after guest, and pot of shrimp etouffee after bag of Zapp’s potato chips after pan of jambalaya. The tears Lydia cried all weekend weren’t salty so much as they were spicy.
Grammaw assailed visitors with her “company’s calling” trying-to-be-fancy-dainty-way-higher-than-natural-more-lady-like-in-her-own-mind-than-reality-voice that Lydia recognized as the grating octave Grammaw used whenever they had neighbors in the parlor. Grammaw used that icky sweet voice to try to hide her nasty. She didn’t like having company in her house, but visitors did give her a chance to get her gossip on.
“Hey, Inez, come in, baby, come in! Is this that etouffee you make, girl? Mais non, darlin’, you shouldn’t have! Thank you, oh, you brought the whole family, that is so nice, ya’ll come on inside. Lydia! Oh, where is she now? Oh, there she is, there’s Lydia! Lydia, when is the last time you saw Mizz Inez? Lydia, tell Mizz Inez and them ‘thank you’ for bringing over this etouffee! Give Mizz Inez a kiss and say, thank you, don’t be rude. Inez, girrrrrrl, the Michauds came by, you should see how fat Nanette’s ass got since she had them twins.”
Guests made small talk as they visited, asking Lydia how she was doing up in New York City. Grandpaw gruffly interrupted each time with, “Awwwwwww, who cares how she’s doing?! It don’t matter, she ain’t never going to be on no comedy T.V. channel! She oughta just come home.”
Grammaw would employ her best parlor falsetto, tag-teaming her husband’s slam with, “Well if she ever does get on T.V., let’s hope she does something good with that hair.”
Lydia had spent a lot of time in her grandparents’ home as a child. It was exactly as she remembered it. But since Tiff and her husband had a new baby in their guest room, she was stuck at Grammaw and Grandpaw’s House of Burns until the day after Daddy’s service. She should have swiped some of Simon’s Oxy.
Tiffany came by without her kids and with a couple bottles of wine. Once the house wound down, the cousins uncorked and settled into the most comfortable chairs on the back porch, where Tiff told Lydia why her father had kept the truth about his health from her.
“He felt guilty about all those times he called and worried you, Lyd.”
Lydia’s father used to call her freaking out, scared he was about to die. The first three times he sang his swan song, she dropped everything and got a bus ticket home. As time passed, they both decided he was being worrisome, and he’d get better.
“He wanted you to focus on what you were doing in New York. He saw you perform at that club in Times Square, Lydia, and that was it for him. He came back and he said how good you did, and how much the audience loved you, and he said his little girl was too talented. He was so proud he was crying. For real, he sat in the parlor, bawlin’ from how proud of you he was. Your grandparents called him a fag for it.”
They laughed. Lydia’s grandparents could be total dicks. Their whole family knew it. The whole town knew it. Funny dicks, good-hearted dicks at times, but none the less, a big ole bag of dicks. Lydia shook her head and poured another glass of wine.
“Did they tell you he left you his pick-up truck, Lyd?”
“Yeah. He said you always told him you could get more work if you had a car. So, he said you get his truck. And if Grandpaw tries to claim Uncle A.J. left that truck to him, me and Jayson are witnesses that ain’t what your daddy wanted.”
Lydia thought of the conversation she’d had with her father about six months ago. Too sick to take care for himself, he’d sold his home and moved back in with his parents. His voice was strained. He sounded raspy and faint.
“Lydia, it’s your daddy.”
“Hey, Daddy. How are you?”
“I’m back at your grandparents, Lyd. Good Lord, are these two fucked up. The fights never stop, the screamin’ goes sun-up to sundown. Momma bangs her pots on the stove every mealtime, yellin’ at Papa. Your granddad keeps shooting at squirrels from the back door ‘cuz they eat the seeds he sets out for the birds. They get sick of fighting with each other, and shootin’ at shit, they start screamin’ at me.”
“Yeah, Dad. That’s what they do.”
There was a long pause on the line.
“I grew up in complete dysfunction, didn’t I?
“And then I married into dysfunction, Lydia. Didn’t I? And then I raised you and your brother in dysfunction, baby, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, dad. All of that happened. But you did your best.”
“I’m so sorry, Lydia.”
And while he cried, Lydia tried really hard to muffle her own tears.
“Daddy, you did your best.”
Tiffany raised her glass up for a toast, “To your daddy, Lyd. May he rest in peace.”
Lydia lifted her glass as she said, “Mais oui.”