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Philip Bookman: Was father's burial clothing a son's last act of revenge?

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Posted: Saturday, July 5, 2014 12:00 am

I spent part of Father’s Day reflecting on my late father. Henry died 12 years ago in the grip of dreaded dementia. Fathers and sons. Sometimes comforting, often complex.

I have a guilty conscience, one that I will carry until the bell tolls for me. Why? I buried my father in brown socks.

When the funeral director asked me to choose Henry’s last clothing, I found in his closet a lovely blue blazer, finely creased gray slacks, a freshly starched white shirt and pearl gray and light blue striped tie. Finally, I took black shoes which I polished to a bright shine. And brown socks.

They should have been black or gray, but no, I left him to spend eternity wearing brown socks. What fiend would bury his father in brown socks? That thought is as haunting as an Edgar Allen Poe poem. Only this time the raven quotes, “Evermore.”

For it was the Duke of Windsor’s tailor who proclaimed, “Gentlemen never wear brown.” So, from that time forth, I never again wore brown, no suits, shoes and certainly no brown socks.

Friends would scoff, saying, “He’ll never know.” True, but I did.

Henry was a tough guy who fought for everything he achieved in life. For many years he worked at two jobs, catching a few hours sleep between each, and certainly saving little time for family.

No nonsense. No excuses tolerated. Shed tears and he would hurl the old one, two. “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about.” And he often did.

Sept. 17, 1947. Another “can’t forget” date. Henry stood me against the wall and pounded away. Not that I didn’t deserve it. I really was a bad boy. But he could have remembered the old adage of spare the rod and spoil the child. Would that he used a rod instead of fists. I really wasn’t spoiled, honest.

We spent much of our lives without heart to hearts. Only when he could seize snatches of memories from times past did we speak. He spoke of wanting to die and I said I wished I could help, but could not.

He now lays beside my mother, his wife of 60 years, in a small cemetery, where the only sound is the occasional rattle of a train.

I recently was asked if I could relive life again, what would I do different?

I thought and answered, “I would have been kinder to people.”

Could I have been kinder to Henry? Or was burying him in brown socks a final act of revenge?

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