Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Your 91st, Dad.

Today would have been my father’s 91st birthday. 

George L. Thurston was an investigative journalist and a pioneer in broadcast journalism in Florida. 

He was the first reporter in Florida to cover the Florida Legislature full time, year-round. He also frequently covered the Democratic and Republican national conventions back in the day. If he were here today, he would be horrified by our state and national government and deeply disturbed by the presidential campaign. And really, who the hell could blame him? 

To quote some of my brother Lee’s recent Facebook post, my dad often shared stories about truth and justice, or the lack thereof. Dad spent many days and nights following leads and paper trails of corruption in law enforcement, the judicial system, and in politics. 

He was a brilliant journalist who was unapologetic when his stories exposed systems, businesses and people to be unjust, unfair and/or untrue. In the '70s, he unearthed a racist speech by Judge G. Harrold Carswell. My father's story eventually cost Carswell his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The investigative work my father did before his death in 2001 helped lead to the conviction in 2003 of Dr. William Sybers, the former medical examiner for the 14th Judicial Circuit, for murdering his wife, Kay.

He followed trail after trail of corruption in Calhoun County, including the suspicious deaths of the Burke brothers, who allegedly just laid down in the road in the middle of the night and died. He exposed another murder cover-up in which a man allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the brain and then shooting himself again. An independent autopsy showed the first bullet killed him. 

Dad also exposed the influence of money in politics in a story -- “Florida’s Shadow Government” -- published in the Floridian magazine in 1970.

Those were the kinds of stories that kept my father up at night. 

He was notorious in the halls of Florida’s Capitol. He frequently pushed his camera cart around, pulling right up to gaggles of lawmakers quietly discussing some piece of legislation. He'd stick his microphone in their faces and whip out his laminated card he kept in his wallet that explained Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

He was known as a prankster at the Capitol, too. He once threw a string of firecrackers into his intern's bathroom stall as the man was doing his business!

While covering a story about city government, Dad’s editor told him to back off, that he was making the city commission look bad, to which my dad replied, "The commission is doing a great job of that; I'm just reporting the facts."

George was a great man, wildly intelligent, incredibly funny, a first-rate investigator and an exceptional writer. 

And although it wasn't always obvious, he was a great father, too. Patient, kind, compassionate, wise, and so accepting.

My teenage years all but destroyed our relationship. In my early 20s, my father stumbled across an essay I had written about our troubles and how I wished for a stronger bond. He read it all and wrote responses to all the things I'd questioned and wondered about. That was the start of a beautiful friendship. 

Our new relationship was rooted in honesty, mutual respect, deep admiration, quirky humor, our shared love of journalism and writing, and a willingness to let go of past transgressions and move ahead to savor the years we had left as father and daughter. 

As it turned out, we had 12 more years. I had the privilege of caring for him at home in his final days, and to hold his hand as he took his last breath. 

I miss my father. Frankly, I miss both my parents. The hole is always there now, and on some days, like today -- what would have been my dad's 91st birthday -- the void is intense. 

Today, like most days lately, I’ll reminisce about Dad and Mom and try to honor their lives by working harder to be the person they raised me to be. 

Thanks, Pops, for being the father and the man that you were. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Father Visited Me…18 Months After He Died

What would have been my father’s 77th birthday in 2002 was hard. It came 18 months after he’d died. I’d already been through one of his birthdays without him, so it was strange to me that this one was more difficult than the first.

But then, I’d been in a crummy mood anyway. I had a raging case of PMS. My then-only son was not feeling well. My beloved spaniel, Raven, was sick, too, with what we thought was pneumonia, but turned out to be advanced-stage lung cancer. It was all-around a very bad day.

After the veterinarian called and gave us the news about Raven, we went to pick her up from the vet’s office. We then went to Oakland Cemetery, where my father is buried, to take him his gladiolus and chocolate bar. Raven went along, too. As we approached Dad’s grave, she immediately sniffed hard right over his name on the headstone. It was weird, but I also thought, well, at least somebody’s up there who’ll take care of her.

That evening, at bedtime, I lay on the floor with Raven and watched and listened to her struggle to breathe. She was down to 23 pounds, from her usual robust 35 pounds. Her chest rose and fell fast and shallow, and I thought about how similar Dad looked in those last days when he’d sleep.

I crawled into bed but barely slept. I woke up every hour to check on Raven. I’d think about Dad. I’d turn over onto the opposite hip. I got up at 2 a.m. and took half a Benadryl. I finally fell into a dream sleep, and that’s when it happened.

Dad visited me.

It was the first time I'd dreamt about him. I was in a post office. There was a long counter in the front, and tables at the back of the waiting area. I was at the back area, filling out some kind of paperwork. My back was turned away from the front counter.

Then I heard it – whistling, pitch-perfect whistling. I heard a man cracking corny jokes with a clerk at the counter. The man was quoting a limerick I knew I’d heard a thousand times before. I immediately stopped filling out papers. I stood there, frozen.

No, I thought. He can’t be here. He’s dead.

I slowly turned, and looked toward the counter.

There was my father, leaning on his left elbow, turned halfway toward the clerk, halfway toward me. He wore a blue-and-brown-striped Oxford shirt with countless pens and mechanical pencils stuck in the front pocket, and dark blue “Mr. Goodwrench” pants, both of which I’d bought him for his birthday one year. My father was pink and plump, like he was before his open-heart surgery in 1995 for quadruple bypass and an aortic valve replacement.

Dad looked at me, smiled and chuckled. He scared the buhjeezus out of me. I gasped and cried out. I thought, my God, I’m seeing a ghost! Joaquin woke me up. He said I was crying.

I thought about my dream all day long, and wondered why my father just stood there, looking at me and laughing. And then it came to me – that man loved sneaking up behind us and scaring us out of our skin. No doubt, he was laughing because he knew he’d just pulled off the mother of all pranks from beyond the grave. That is so George.

It was no ordinary dream. And, as in life, my father is no ordinary spirit.

Pops, on No. 13.

Pops, it's been 13 years, but even so, you're still here.

Martin, who was only 5 when you died, turns a funny phrase or makes a ridiculous pun and I reply, “Ooooooh, good one, George.” He writes a beautiful, well-composed story for class and I tell him that talent is a gift from me because of you, and your father, and four more generations back.

William, who didn’t arrive until three years after you died, lets out one of his pane-breaking belches, and I reply, “Really, George?” Then I grin and challenge him with “I’ll fight ya’ for the green pieces.”

William has your eyes – round and full of mischief. Martin has your mouth, in more ways than one. Your photos grace our walls and tabletops. We have your scrapbook. I talk about you often.

I want my boys to know you as much as they can, even though you aren’t here. Not only because you’re my father and their grandfather, but because you were so full of integrity, objectivity, honesty, clarity … because you always did the right thing, no matter what.

From me, they’ll learn what an absent-minded, impossible, fallible, funny, brilliant father you were. From the stories that others wrote about you, they’ll learn what a curious, ethical, steadfast, veracious man you were.

We miss you down here, Dad. Don’t be a stranger. 

Here are the stories that ran about my father, George L. Thurston III, in January and March of 2001 in the Tallahassee Democrat:

Saturday, January 4, 2014

New Year, fresh start! Again. But I really mean it this time!

It's the first week of January, and like millions of others, I have vowed to make changes in 2014. Blah, blah, blah. Whatevs.

I almost hate to put it out here because Lord (and a dozen friends) know I've been vowing the past several years to make changes, and while I've succeeded at a few (I have a fabulous job doing what I really love doing, to name one), the one that keeps eluding me is to eat less and move more. Consistently. You know, like, until I've achieved a healthier weight and better level of fitness.

Each year for the past two years, I've even said to myself, "Oh, but this time, it feels different." Blah, blah, blah. What. Evs.

The only things that feel different right now are the way my clothes fit and the way I feel after climbing the 13 stairs in my two-story house. Neither of which are good!

In mid-2012, I started noticing that while I was exercising, my left arm would ache, my chest would hurt, and my heart would pound. If I slowed down or rested, it went away. I chalked it up to being too heavy and very out of shape. But it persisted.

It's a long story, but ultimately, I saw a wonderful local cardiologist (it takes a special kind of physician to earn that description from me), who diagnosed me with "epithelial dysfunction." I was relieved to know I didn't have any coronary artery blockages, but the coronary spasms I do have landed me on two heart medications.

I'm super-excited that this is a completely reversible condition. I could just wait and see if the medications make it happen within the next six months. Orrrrrrr, I could help things along by improving my nutrition and activity level.

So, while I can't say that my desire or commitment to doing this "feels different" this year, I can say that I have started out this commitment differently in at least five ways:

  1. I watched three documentaries designed to educate me about America's food and pharmacy systems (Food Inc., Forks Over Knives and American Addict). I think it's important to note that I also watched The Conjuring, about a family plagued by a super-demonic spirit, and the food and pharmacy documentaries scared me more than the scary movie!
  2. I joined a gym for the first time in six years.
  3. I've committed to a whole-foods/plant-focused diet. I've also committed to being more particular about where our food comes from -- namely, it must come from within about a 300-mile radius. What meat we do eat must be organic, grass-fed and/or raised and slaughtered in the most humane way possible. (Food Inc. left me horrified by the conditions in which major food distributors raise, kill and process chickens, cows and pigs.) HORR.IFF.IED.
  4. I've actually put my goals, tactics and overall plan on paper! Woohoo!
  5. I'm writing about it. My blog has been mostly idle for a couple of years now. I've decided to use it to chronicle this new journey I'm on. 
So. That's it. I'm really looking forward to seeing ... not what 2014 brings to me, but what I bring to 2014.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

To My Mother, on Mother's Day

To My Mother
on Mother's Day

 “A mother is the truest friend we have,
when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon us;
when adversity takes the place of prosperity;
when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine,
desert us when troubles thicken around us,
still will she cling to us,
and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels
to dissipate the clouds of darkness,
and cause peace to return to our hearts.”  
 ~ Washington Irving

Children, look in those eyes, listen to that dear voice,
notice the feeling of even a single touch
that is bestowed upon you by that gentle hand!
Make much of it while yet you have that
most precious of all good gifts, a loving mother.
Read the unfathomable love of those eyes;
the kind anxiety of that tone and look,
however slight your pain.
In after life you may have friends, fond, dear friends,
but never will you have again
the inexpressible love and gentleness
lavished upon you, which none but a mother bestows.

~ Thomas B. Macaulay

That is my mother.
Then. Now. And every day in between.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.
I love you with all my heart.