Spirit Matters: When dad talks, I listen

Jerrilyn Zavada Novak

My dad has been pretty quiet lately.

This isn’t necessarily unusual. When he was alive, he could be eerily quiet or the life of the party depending on his audience.

At home, he could play solitaire and hearts on my computer for hours, with only an audible series of unrepeatable, under-his-breath curse words when a play didn’t go his way.

Or he would sit by himself in the family room in the evenings and watch reruns of “The Rifleman,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Cosby Show” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” When I wandered in for some father-daughter bonding time, I walked away with only his occasional laugh at the show.

Meanwhile, when he was with his buddies at work, he could keep everyone in stitches for hours.

Or, on holidays, Dad could be found following any warm body around the house with his collection of L.M. Boyd trivia columns from The Pantagraph, regaling them with all of his useless knowledge. (He actually had a scrapbook he made with these columns. He often thumbed through this book in the car while my mom was in the store.)

His most notorious claim was that “Americans eat enough ice cream every year to fill the Grand Canyon.”

Uh, Dad, have you ever SEEN the Grand Canyon?

He hadn’t.

But God has a sense of humor too.

Dad saw the Grand Canyon before he died, and I happened to be there with him. As we drove away, I asked him if he still believed that ridiculous claim about the ice cream.

His response?


He never lived that bit of trivia down from anyone.

Dad was buried with that trivia scrapbook. No one else wanted it.

As I was driving the Grand Ridge blacktop to Utica this morning, I was thinking about how he hasn’t checked in in a while.

Then, I thought, as Dad was in life, so he is in death.

His being quiet in death is the same as when he was alive and was, as he put it, “convalescing.”

But Dad has clearly checked in from time to time since he died 10 years ago this Dec. 22.

The first time he let us know he was still around was when we pulled up in front of the church for his funeral.

As my mom, two of my brothers, my niece and I followed the hearse, with Dad’s flag-draped casket clearly visible, my youngest brother commented, “Dad liked this song. He told me one time.”

That song was “We Built this City” by Starship, which just happened to be playing on SIRIUS 80s on 8 at that very moment.

None of the rest of us had any clue that was true. Since then, I often hear that song at weird times and in weird places, and it always makes me think of him.

Another time, not long after he died, I drove through the cemetery on a day from h-e-double hockey sticks, and asked him to just let me know he was still around.

When I got back to the office from lunch and grabbed a Snapple peach iced tea, I was bemused when I read the little tidbit under the cap that talked about how in Arizona it is illegal for a donkey to be in a bathtub. (Yes, it really said that.)

There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind who arranged for me to get THAT bottle.

I was working in the kitchen at my husband’s bakery this morning, preparing frozen appetizers for Utica’s annual Burgoo festival next week. Kind of monotonous work – perfect for quiet, mindful meditation.

As I was stuffing bags, the words “Ron Santo” flashed through my consciousness.

What the … ?

Then I remembered my drive over this morning.


Hey, Dad.

On the way home this afternoon, I thought of all this again and how it could very easily just be wishful thinking.

But when I got back to Streator and drove south through the green light by Northpoint Shopping Center, I happened to turn my head for a split second and saw a single truck in the parking lot at Anderson Fields with a license plate that read “CUBZ.”

Maybe this wasn’t wishful thinking. But I still wasn’t sure.

Then, as I pulled into the bank parking lot, I remembered – out of the blue – that we buried Dad in something else with the scrapbook.

His Cubs jersey.

When we lose loved ones – human or otherwise – it is easy to think they are gone forever, especially when we go for long periods of silence like the one my dad has recently pulled on me.

But I have found that Dad, and all my other closest loved ones, communicate with me in ways unique to them – through memories, songs, pictures, quotations – whatever it takes to remind me they really aren’t that far away after all.

Our job is to keep an open heart, fully alert senses and to trust our intuition.

And who knows?

Dad missed the Cubs’ once-a-century World Series win by just a few years.

Maybe when I was working in the kitchen, Dad and Ron Santo were sitting around talking shop, and that was his way of letting me know.

I’d sure like to think so.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada Novak at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.