Books by Laura Chester
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SCRAPS: a charmed yet secret life

See the a charmed yet secret life scrapbook photo album

On the morning of my father's death, my mother called our house eight times to tell me I was not to come to Scottsdale—  I was not wanted, my father was fine, I was not allowed in Intensive Care, he could not be disturbed, he was stable, no problem, he needed to rest, I would only be in the way.  The message could not have been louder or more clear, at least from her perspective.

Mason thought I shouldn't go. We had houseguests. Maybe I should wait and respect my mother's wishes. But I had respected those wishes for the past three months, staying away, even though we were living only hours south, in the little town of Patagonia. Various siblings, nieces and nephews had flown in to see my father in his failing state, but when I wanted to visit, I was told, "Why don't you wait until you're asked."

I called Mayo's  to check on my father's condition, and the nurse said, "He's expecting you."

As I pulled out of the driveway, our neighbor, Jim Harrison, was driving up Salero Road on his way to work. He stopped for a moment, and I told him my father was in Intensive Care. All he said was, "Godspeed," and that one word carried me swiftly northward.  I didn't even stop for lunch, but drove straight through.

Luckily I had my cell phone, and was able to get directions as I entered Phoenix. I was listening to a new CD by Beth Orten, plaintive, mournful music. When I spotted Mayo's across the barren desert fields, it looked like some sort of enormous Jack-in-the Box, a monument to illness.

Carrying my plastic container of white, meringue cookies (Popi liked them because they melted on the tongue, not difficult to swallow), I dashed up to Intensive Care. Moments later a doctor greeted me at the security door, escorting me into a windowless anteroom.  We sat down. A nervous grind in my stomach.

"About twenty minutes ago," he began, very tentative, not knowing how I would take this, "your father turned a corner. This morning, he seemed stable. We thought he was doing well."


Just twenty minutes before my arrival, he had been talking and joking with his doctors, and then suddenly something changed. Part of him slipped away.

I took this news in blankly. "May I see him?" I asked.

"Of course."

The doctor led me to a nearby room where Popi was laid out on a table, tipped at a disconcerting angle, so that his head was lower than his feet. He was hooked up to various machines with flashing, changing numbers. Doctors from around the world stood in a semi-circle around him—one Indian doctor wore a turban, and propped a fist against his mouth.  It was as if representatives of healing from all over the globe had flown in like angels to be in attendance. They were silent, respectful, watching their patient.

I went down on my knees, taking his hand. "Dad," I said, "I'm here. It's Laura."

No response.

Mom was at home in bed. She had just received a phone call, telling her to come.

Moments before the phone rang, a bobcat had slowly sauntered past her bedroom window, right next to the huge plate glass, peering in. I couldn't help but think that my father, the prankster, had chosen the body of a bobcat to make his last farewell, all the while enjoying the fun of startling my mother out of bed.

But now, as I spoke to him, it was as if we were talking by cell phone, not knowing if we were still connected. The circle of doctors quietly slipped away. When I looked up, only one remained. I asked him—"What do those numbers mean?"  They were steadily falling from 113, to 110, 98, 97…

"His heart is slowing down."

I asked if we should try to keep him alive until my mother and siblings could be there, and he said that my father had requested just that morning, "No heroic measures."

His hand was still warm, still alive, and I said the Lord's Prayer, hoping that he could hear me. I told him how much we all loved him, how he had been the very best father, that we would take care of Mom and his horses. "Go, Dad, go. Don't hold on. It's ok. We love you very,very much."

And then just as easily, as a fountain clicks off, from a steady rising and falling motion to sudden silence, the water of his life became still. Peacefully, without any pain or even a gasp, as simple as that, it was over. The numbers rested at zero.

Without thinking, I wet my thumb with my tongue, and made the sign of the cross on his forehead. The nurse, who was the only one left in the room with me now, nodded yes.

And then my mother walked in.

The first words out of her mouth were—"What are you doing here? I told you not to come!" And then a little weeping intake of breath as she went to him, her husband.

I left the room, as Wanda backed out, her hand batting her open mouth. "Oh no!" Shaking her head in disbelief. "What are we going to do now?!"

I went to call Mason, and then my siblings, David, Cia and George. Mason felt trapped at home with our houseguests. He didn't feel like entertaining anyone. Left there without a car.

When I went back into Popi's room, Mom was whimpering. I sat down on the edge of the bed beside his body, and said to her, "Our relationship is going to be different now."

She answered simply, "Yes."

The rivalry was over. We were allies now in death...