After losing the Senate race and realizing that he now had five hungry kids to feed instead of the mere three from the 1992 campaign, our Dad made his reluctant way back to the law firm.
From what we kids could tell, Dad spent his days there staring out the window.
Once home, he talked a lot about the tree outside and his gratefulness for the window and the tree, considering his place on the law firm totem pole, which was not even in the vicinity of the totem’s big toe, and the tree-fort feel the tree created for him in a fixated way that made us worry about his mental health. We were 12, 10, 8, 4, and 2, but we knew about matters of the heart.
And our dad’s was hurting.
Sometimes, the tree even afforded important glimpses of the streets below.
After enough glimpses, dad determined what the Mafioso-like truck going up and down the streets was all about.
And using quick thinking to determine that, while he might not be logging billable hours staring at the streets, he could still find ways to feed his kids on the cheap, he pieced together the number on the truck and called Ference Cheese, Restaurant Bulk Delivery.
We began getting our first installments shortly thereafter.
Despite our good fortune with the Dairy Plan during those times, our farmhouse had some depressing weather coming.
The black clouds persisted for three years, almost to the point in a kid’s life when the color of such an emotional sky is nearly normal, when the memory of the dad that used to be and the mom that was free of the undercurrent of forbearance and grit as she held us or stood over the stove or kissed our dad back from work had almost joined the shadows of memory gone dark, when Dad passed out one night in the bathroom.
Seeping blood onto the tile, Dad presumably contemplated his last rites while my brother was bent on keeping his for a while. Fearlessly brandishing his pocket knife, he leaped down the stairs to confront the intruder.
Meanwhile, our mom struggled between half-dreams and hazy wakefulness. Recounting the noise and the bodily, if not completely conscious, awareness that her husband was seriously hurt on the other side of the door, our mom later told of how she could not get up. It was like forces were battling in the room, she said, and the dark force was throwing its cloak across the light one and pressing them both back into the pillows, as if to crush them, if it could.
Slumbering upstairs, us girls were not privy to the struggle of spirits taking place on the floor below. The morning after, we got a call from Mom.
Having woken up to our parents gone in what our babysitter obliquely called An Emergency, any news was a relief. Dad had not died, mom told us, but he had fallen in such a way that six of his front teeth had smashed into the sink counter top and up into his head. The dentist had found five somewhere in the neighborhood of his nose, but the six was nowhere to be found.
A bathroom tooth fairy hunt pursued.
When the search turned up toothless, the dentist kept looking at dad’s mangled mouth in wonderment.
It turned out the sixth was past his nose.
Once Dad returned home with his teeth pulled back into place but still dangerously close to denture-dom, he lay on the kitchen bench to have our mom pour revitalizing oats into the back of his throat so he could begin preaching about dehydration, which was evidently what had gotten him into such a state in the first place.
Having spent the day before his accident on our local river in the North Carolina mountains, something kept on distracting us from drinking water.
And when we got out and discovered, unsurprisingly, that all our water had become one with the river, Dad almost bought bottled water at the gas station on the way back down the mountain but held off, acting as a true believer in thrift and the superior taste of tap water.
Revisiting this decision and the mortifyingly false economy it had turned out to be, Dad took himself and his rejiggered teeth and got back into bed.
Over the course of those weeks of recuperation and watery oatmeal, I was teaching myself how to play a hymn from church.
I was an incorrigible piano player, but I loved tapping out that hymn over and over and over again, and somewhere within the successive renditions, my dad recognized the tune.
And there in the swirl of lyrics about faith and hardship and grace, he revisited his life spilling out on the bathroom floor and the way he wrestled with God in a puddle of blood over losing the Senate race and the unfairness of it all and the high and unholy pain of putting a fellow full to the bursting with ideas and zest back in the law firm of Doom and the three years of darkness that entailed, and maybe he even told God about the tree outside his window there too.
How it was looking like it might take on its leaves anytime now.
And perhaps in his drowsy, pain-seeped shifts between dreams and hymn verses, he remembered the old times:
Seeing as how we had moved from town to the farm in the middle of the Senate race, there were old times all around. The old Small Group that met at our house for prayer and politics was replaced by a new Church Plant that met at the farm and didn’t include the old figures of South Carolina political posturing like Jim DeMint and Co. and Dr. D.
The kids we caught fireflies with out back while the adults talked God and Presidents no longer came to the new house.
And the little girl reacting to the sound of the fireflies flinging themselves against the Mason Jar…
She was growing up.
Indeed, Dr. D had some ideas about that topic.
Over the years, Dr. D had become a grandfather figure, and I felt I had to honor his expectations. He featured as Church Elder, prominent member of the Inglis campaign’s Inner Circle and, of course, the Small Group that talked of God and Presidents.
In retrospect, he might have cut an odd grandfather figure.
In any case, Dad was on the mend in the new house, and there in the bedroom of dreams and drifting notes, a metamorphosis had taken place.
The old dad that wanted to get Bill Clinton impeached with all the other Republicans of the 105th Congress, the stringent politician that term limited himself to six years in Congressional office the first time around, the man of vigorous faith that was sure his Episcopalian parents were not quite saved enough had suddenly become someone who not only talked about pleasant trees outside his window, but went about writing letters asking for forgiveness from Bill Clinton and talking about this new thing called Grace.
Soon enough, the Inglis Inner Circle was reconvening, this time to strategize about a 2004 Congressional race for Dad’s old district,
As it turned out, our fundraiser experience seemed to be metamorphosing as well. BBQ was still, of course, the sacrosanct main food group, but it was beginning to come with a side of humor.
And given the extra time between the old Valentine campaign dances
and the new, we had a chance to refine our moves over the next few election cycles that Dad won fairly handily.
A few issues were beginning to simmer on the back of the stove though.
Dad was running his campaigns as a stand-up conservative, which is the only type of politician that polls slightly above a snowball’s chance in hell at getting elected in the proud state of South Carolina, but us kids were beginning to show discouragingly Democratic tendencies.
My brother was beginning to act on his life-long environmentalism by organizing drive-by laundry detergent drops on a development’s fountain going up near our house.
And when the efficacy of that soap-sudsing proved dubious, partly because the cheapest detergent on the shelves evidently didn’t have sudsing capabilities and partly because the development kept on putting up hideous houses on mountaintops despite our best efforts to discourage them, he signed up to work in Antarctica, where he acquired environmentally-minded Penguin friends, among other things.
Dad visited him there on a Congressional Delegation trip, and after listening to his son and the scientists talk, he began to question his former dismissal of climate change.
He had arrived at the Slippery Slope.
Meanwhile, even the Republican’s Women’s club mom attended was beginning to show cracks in the vanguard.
OK maybe not.
But Mom was getting a little weary of her requisite attendance.
In any case, the whole kitchen cabinet was shaken up.
Dad started his own public downward spiral towards liberalism, ahem, different values, when he showcased that he might be changing with his kids.
Our old friend was far from pleased.
Pulling on Christian theology that delineates the difference between Legalists, who believe faith must be paired with Works to gain salvation, and the Antinomians, who hold that grace is sufficient to cover all our sins and doesn’t need external law to help what will be internally motivated ethics, Dr. D got a little mad at dad for writing an op-ed in the Greenville News that suggested dad might be OK with gay marriage.
OK, maybe he was more than a little mad.
But what is being mad between old friends? Friends that have held and loved and discipled your five kids? Friends that have the power to break your political back?