John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Why I keep my cell phone ringer on on Sunday mornings

John W. Chidley-HillIt took a while, but eventually I learned to turn on my cell phone ringer every Sunday morning.

I can’t remember when it started, but you got into the habit of going to the antiques and collectibles market on Sundays. It was the perfect place for you.

Some weeks you’d find depression glassware. Other weeks it’d be books on chess. I’ll never forget how proud you were when you were able to use your rusty Grade 13 Spanish to get a deal on pre-Castro Cuban League baseball cards.

Every so often you’d find comic books for sale at the market and call to ask if I needed them for my collection or if they were a fair price. Unfortunately, I usually keep my cell phone on silent. Between all the texts I receive and my insomnia, I keep the ringer off so I can sleep undisturbed.

But Dad, you were always so disappointed when you couldn’t get a hold of me those mornings. Sometimes I think you were more than disappointed. Sometimes you seemed upset, even angry, when I didn’t answer because you were so keen to get a good deal on the comics.

To get a good deal on comics for me, so you could relate to me and my interests.

Eventually I took the hint. I started turning the ringer on before bed on Saturday nights.

You bought me special comic book database software so I could keep track of my collection and you asked me for a list of comics I needed. In particular, we were on the hunt for John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad and Denny O’Neill’s The Question.

Every week you’d tell me about the things you’d see at the market, something you’d bought or an interesting piece you'd describe for me.

The last time we went out to dinner together you told me about one of those auction shows on the History Channel or Discovery Channel. A guy was trying to sell an entire skid of baseball cards. Hundreds of thousands of baseball cards stacked in a six-foot high cube. If he sold each card individually, or even a hundred at a time, it would be worth millions.

I was shocked and couldn’t stop laughing when you told me it had sold for $3,000. Three grand! What a tool.

The morning I found you my first call was to 911. They started giving me instructions on how to give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t. I knew you were already gone.

Even then, I didn’t start crying until a paramedic told me you were dead. For some reason I needed someone official to tell me. I wanted to believe there was still a chance. That maybe I had saved you.

Then I called Mom to tell her you were gone. She couldn't recognize my voice because I was so upset. She left work immediately and drove out to my condo that night to be with me. You’d been divorced for almost a decade, but in some ways I think she was more upset than me.

My next call was to our minister Steve. He drove down from Richmond Hill to sit in my ZipCar with me on your driveway. The police didn’t want me to leave until they’d completed their investigation, so I had to stay there. They needed me to answer the coroner’s questions about your heart medication and arrange storage for your body.

While he and I sat in the car I made phone calls to family and friends. We sat there in the driveway for nearly six hours and talked. Talked about me and my divorce, about you and your divorce and even Steve's divorce.

He said that as he was getting divorced you’d told him about our weekly dinners. Rain or shine we’d get together to catch up and talk about what we were doing.

You'd told Steve about searching for comic books so we’d have more in common. How the comics had been your bridge to me as our little family split up.

You suggested he do the same with his kids, so that they would find a similar bond through his divorce. He said you’d brought him and his kids closer, that’d he’d always be grateful to you.

That’s the bittersweet thing about your death, Dad.

Somehow, you dying has helped me understand you better. We were always close. You were my best friend, someone I could always count on. To chat with or to help me move or to give me a lift. You even offered to play dodgeball when my team was short players. You were always there.

But as I sorted and cleaned out your house, I really came to understand you as a person. I read letters from your friends when you were in university, read notes you’d kept for yourself, saw pictures you’d held on to. Every birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas card I’d ever given you. I even found an angry letter you’d written to a video distributor in California in the early 1990s. You’d bought a Three Stooges tape hoping to show me one of your favourite routines, but the distributor had cut out the crucial pie fight.

I got a better sense of the real you, your strengths and weaknesses, by cleaning out that house.

And, of course, I went through all those antiques and collectibles you’d bought at St. Lawrence Market. Record albums, baseball cards, chess books, the depression glass and, of course, my comics.

The last room I emptied in your house was the baseball card room in the basement. While I was packing binders and John Farrellboxes of cards, a Donruss 1991 fell to the ground. It was John Farrell, planting his foot down on the mound as he pitched for the Cleveland Indians. He looked so young and skinny with his eyebrows dominating his face. We were both mixed on his performance as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, so I laughed and set it aside to show you later.

It was only as I took one last survey of the house that I realized my mistake.

There was no point in keeping that baseball card on the kitchen counter for our weekly dinner. There would be no weekly dinner.

That’s a feeling I just haven’t been able to shake. It still feels like you’re not dead, that you’re not gone.

It just seems like we’ve been too busy to see each other. Our schedules haven’t quite lined up so we’ve fallen out of touch. I still watch the Leafs and think, “I wonder what Dad thought of that play?” before realizing I’ll never know. It’s not as acute as it was for those first few months, but it’s a feeling that still lingers a year later.

And that’s why I turn my ringer on every Sunday morning. Because I wish you’d call just one last time.

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