A year and two days ago we had our last phone conversation. It always started the same way with him. He'd ask where we were on our travels. I'd tell him where. Then he'd start in on me saying that I needed to come home. He followed up with telling me he still didn't understand why I would quit a high-paying, stable job with the railroad to go travelling the country and playing on the internet. (He didn't have the internet, so there was a definite gap in ideals)
This time I explained it a little different and at the time I wasn't sure why it came out like it did, but I explained myself quite clearly. I told him I was good at my railroad job, but I hated it. It wasn't a passion and no amount of money in the world was going to make me enjoy it. I followed that I was travelling with the two most important people in my world and that I got to work with my best friend every single day and that if I never made another dime I'd still be living my best life doing what fulfilled me and my family. I didn't argue with him, but spoke life to him by explaining what gave me joy.
And for once, he didn't argue either. He said, "Well as long as you're taking care of that granddaughter of mine that's what matters....now when are you coming home?"
I told him that I had a plane ticket to fly home that next weekend. "Why the hell are you flying home for?" (Dad had dementia, so conversation topics were shortened at times) I told him I had an event to go to and meet up with some buddies of mine and Taxman. "You're in trouble with the tax man?!?" he asked. "No Dad, I'm meeting some friends at Taxman Brewery to hang out and drink beer." He says, "Well if you're coming all the way home you should have a beer with your old man then!" So I told him I'd fly in late Thursday night and be at his house Friday afternoon and have that beer with him. We told each other we loved the other and said our goodbyes.
Two days later as we're driving back to camp from a long day at the Grand Canyon, my brother calls me. He said "Mike, I don't know how to tell you this, but Dad died."He had a heart attack and even though they tried their hardest, they couldn't save him. I was crushed.
We drove back to the campsite and cancelled my flight because there was no way I could wait another 24 hours to start home. We hitched up and were on the road within an hour. The next 30 hours were a miserable blur of high winds and tears.
About 300 miles from home it hit me that I'd never have that beer with Dad I promised. Immediately the song started flooding my brain, even though I didn't want it to. Cris, bless her heart, must have thought I was going crazy shaking my head and saying "No, no no! Not now!", without explanation. Finally a couple hours from home I gave in and asked her to text me the lyrics I was about to speak to her. It took a long while to get them out. By the time I had said "Daddly liked Blue Ribbon" I was a mess all over again. But by the time we were home the song was written.
I dropped off the trailer and headed straight to Mom's. From there I went with a couple of my brothers to the mortuary where they were holding his body for cremation. There he lay under a sheet. He looked like he was asleep. When it was my turn to say goodbye I asked for 5 minutes alone. I had snuck a couple Blue Ribbons in...
I placed one in his hands and cracked the other one. I told him the things that had always been on my heart but I never had the courage or the strength to say to him while he was alive. Then I told him how sorry I was that I didn't make it home in time, sobbing on his chest. The interesting thing is, as my head was laying there on his chest, he sighed. I won't go into detail, but it's a natural thing dealing with gases and dead bodies. To me, it was his final prank. He scared the living crap out of me, much like the many times he'd done when I was a kid.
Then I drank the beer...quickly. It was warm and a Blue Ribbon to boot. It was far beyond a sippin' beer at that point. As I guzzled the last swallow I remember telling him I understood then why he'd drink his beer with salt, because that stuff tasted horrible. I could imagine him telling me to drink the other one to wash the taste out of my mouth. So I did.
Over the course of that next summer I built the deck you see in the video behind me as a project to keep my mind from the grief. My best friend, Jeremy Woods, brought me into his studio to track the song and to give me a shoulder to lean on. I am forever grateful for his friendship and his musical gifts. His wife, Wendy, made the sign you see behind me which is a poem I had written for Dad one Fathers Day a few years back.
That's pretty much the story behind the song. He loved his boys and he loved his beer. And even though we all had different relationships with him, we all loved him and there ain't a one of us that wouldn't want to have one more beer with Dad.
So tonight I will drink a Blue Ribbon in memory of my daddy...with salt poured on the rim.