December 23rd is my father’s birthday and Christmas was his favorite holiday. Had he lived, he would’ve been 71. Since he died almost 20 years ago, it is really hard to picture him that old. I was only 25 when he passed, and even at that time, I thought he was “old.” Now that I’m slowly closing in on the last age he got to be, I realize just how young he was when he was taken from us.
When I was 10, I lost my grandmother, my father’s mother. She was the first “death in the family” I had experienced, the first “dead person” I ever saw in a casket, and her wake was my first experience in a Catholic service. I was fascinated by the kneeling thingies in the pews.
Unlike my father, my grandmother was actually “old” for those days and had been ill for many years. My dad used to say, “She’s been sick for fourteen years…” or whatever number of years it was whenever he made that statement. I have no idea what illness she had or what it was that caused her to be “sick,” but I do remember looking at her the few times I saw her and thinking to myself, “she’s sick.”
My father’s mother was referred to as “Mema Far Far Away” because she lived in Massachusetts. My immediate family and my mother’s side of the family lived in New Jersey, so my mother’s mother was just “Mema.” Because my dad was a chef, he worked through the holidays, so the only time we could visit Mema Far Far Away was after the New Year. I remember my brother and I would always miss the first week of school back from Christmas break because we went up to Massachusetts to visit my Mema Far Far Away.
|Me and Mema Far Far Away, Christmas 1970|
My memories consist of her living alone in an apartment in a small building next to Webster Lake. She had longs beads that divided her rooms from one another. She had a cuckoo clock that freaked me out, and because I had to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor, I’d just stare up at it at night. She had thick clear plastic over her couch. She had two gray cats, and one was named Sabrina. She was really small and frail and she had white hair. She made “gwamkies” or stuffed cabbage. “Gwamkies” was how it was spelled in my head – and still is. But sadly, I didn’t really knew my Mema Far Far Away very well at all, and then one cold December day, she was gone. Her name was Stacia Dupre.
It was the first time I’d ever seen my dad cry. Her funeral was on his birthday – December 23rd, 1980. The morning of her funeral, I said to my dad, “Happy Birthday.” He looked at me and said, “Not Happy. Just birthday.”
When I was a teenager, my dad and I had a deep conversation about life and death…several of those, actually, but this particular one stands out. We were sitting in his red Toyota Pick up truck and it was late. He told me that when my Mema Far Far Away was alive, and was “sick” for many years, he knew that she was living on borrowed time and would die soon. He didn’t pray very much and certainly not in selfish ways, but he did pray to God that when his mother died, she would do so at a time that he could never forget…that her death would come at a time when he would have no choice but to think of her.
And then he said, “And that was how I knew God heard people’s prayers because I had to bury her on my birthday.”
|Arthur L. Dupre, Certified Executive Chef
Treadway Inn, Princeton, New Jersey
I don’t know if that’s an answered prayer or a coincidence or a little bit of both, but I made the same kind of prayer about him. The last time I saw him or spoke to him was Father’s Day 1996. Then he died on an otherwise nondescript day. I’m glad that my answered prayer or coincidence or both gave me Father’s Day as my last hug, my last kiss, and my last “Love ya babe!”
Happy Birthday Daddy. Or just…Birthday. ❤