April 7, 1998. I was at Texas Motor Speedway for the (at that time) Winston Cup NASCAR race. I'd been there most of the week - one of my friends was/is the sports editor for a local paper. He got us in with press passes, and that year, I even got a garage pass. The press pass by itself got me into the infield, the pits, and the media center, where we were fed a catered lunch - especially during practice and qualifying days.
I was having the time of my life.
I was ostensibly there as an adviser. My friend had little NASCAR knowledge (at that time), so he truly wanted me there to help him ID people and find story leads. He found the story of Dave Marcus and the wingtip shoes he always wore, plus his gritty owner/driver status compelling. We pretty well spent the entire race hanging out in his pit stall. After the race was over, T had to post his wrap up, so we were there for a while after the race. Even so, it was quite a struggle to get back to his place, because the track was still pretty new and the roads hadn't been improved nor the local LEOs familiar with handling large amounts of traffic, unlike the situation is today. We got back pretty late.
T's babysitter cornered him when we got back, and wouldn't look at me. T delivered the bad news - I was to call my neighbor no matter the time.
She told me my father had been found immobile, and the ambulance was called. I interrupted with some inane comment like "He'll be alright, right????" but she continued - no, Jeff, I'm afraid he passed away. They thought he had slipped away in his sleep on the fifth. "My" farmer at the time, and my current farmer (the guys who lease the family ground) found him and reported it. Needless to say, they were also upset and greatly affected. They liked Dad, and it hit them hard.
I had a cell phone, but at that time, follow me roam was pretty high dollar. Sis had even had me paged at the track, but if you've ever been to a NASCAR race, you'd know how useless that is. The only time one can hear the announcer is during a yellow flag, when the cars are in the pits idling or idling around the track. When they're all out on the track floored, you can barely scream at your neighbor and be heard.
I did not get much if any sleep that night. I got up fairly early, showered and headed for home. My original plans were to stop in OKC to see my Sis, but I was going to be seeing her back home, so I drove straight through to the funeral home.
My cousin, a nurse, was the only close relative the funeral home could find on short notice, and she decided to forgo an autopsy. Heart failure was the likely culprit.
Dad had told me many different times that he wanted to be buried in blue jeans and a blue chambray work shirt - his favorite set of clothes. After perusing his selection, Sis and I chose a fairly new and comfortable looking pair of blue jeans, his usual white socks, a pair of his favorite dress boots, and since we didn't like the looks of his current selection of work shirts, purchased a new long sleeved one for him. The only ones who got to see him were the morticians - they recommended a sealed closed casket, and our memories of him would be better served if we didn't see him the way he was.
After several more late nights and early mornings, not enough sleep and too much stress, we got Dad buried. That afternoon, I bid everyone adieu for a short time - I was worn to a frazzle and took a short nap. Everyone understood and left me alone. To this day, I recommend to anyone going through burying someone close to remember to take care of themselves, too - they are gonna need some time alone, if just to take a nap.
I had a mercurial relationship with my father, but that does not mean I don't miss him, and my mother as well. I still hear him in my head in certain situations, when he tells me what he'd tell me were he there, if that makes any sense. His litany of opinionated phrases is forever etched into my memory, and requires barely any trigger at all to be activated.