Today was my father's birthday.
As you might have assumed from the way that this was phrased, my father is no longer with us; and to a certain extent I suppose that you'd be right. It's certainly true that right before Thanksgiving back in 2007, after being ill for a number of years and quite literally surrounded by his family, he decided perhaps that he'd fought the good fight long enough.
This particular tale however, occurred the following year and is not mine but that of my nephew Patrick. At the time, my parents owned a house in Shawnee, KS for some years, and Patrick had been responsible for yard mowing, using a riding lawnmower that my parents already owned.
Spring came early that year, as it often does here in KC, and while my mother enjoyed doing some of the trimming around the edges, she had no interest in using the tractor. Patrick dutifully arrived therefore to resume his normal role for the larger share of the yard. Now the riding mower hadn't been run (or even started) since the previous fall's leaf pick up. Unsure of the proper settings and procedures to get it started after so long a period of idleness; his initial attempts brought no success. He asked my mother for any suggestions that she might have; and while not normally shy about sharing her opinions and being a person of amazing skills herself, the riding lawnmower was an area on which she had nothing to offer.
So Paddy returned to the garage to confront his solitary dilemma, but it wasn't long before the full-throated roar of the riding mower was heard and the task begun. While normally a hard working guy anyway, on this day he completed his task with particular alacrity (even for him), and departed with very little to say for himself afterward.
That hasty departure was explained a couple of days later, when my sister Maureen called to fill Mom in. It seems as though Patrick, standing in the garage and scratching his head over a situation to which he had no ready solution, clearly heard my father say, "Pull the choke out and start it". He did, and the mower immediately caught. Distressed and fearing my mother's sensitivity to the nature of his solution, he kept silent. It was only later after returning home that he was able to speak about it with his own parents.
Now my father was the patriarch of the Higgins clan in the truest sense of the word; and while normally a rather self-deprecating individual, was rather proud of these 'Harry the Handyman' skills. (In point of fact he was a world-recognized master of all things mechanical in the bookbinding industry, with a score of patents to his name to show for it.) He was also someone who was inclined to share that mechanical mastery (sometimes rather colorfully) with his offspring of every generation (and often without being asked). So it seemed only fitting (and hardly surprising) that he should find a way to make his presence felt when such a need arose.
When the story finally came to my attention, and knowing Patrick to be a fine man of good quality and upright character, I took it on face value. If this is the way that he believes it happened, then I too believe it. While I am not surprised however, I am singularly pleased to know that my Dad is still out there somewhere and keeping an eye on the rest of us. I for one, can use all of the help that I can get.