The narrator has two dreams about her father after he dies. First, she dreams that she has put his limp body on a swing, tying his arms to the chains to hold him in place. She is a kid, and he is wearing a robe and slippers. People pass by and tell her that she is sick and should not be holding onto the dead. She insists repeatedly that he is not dead. Eventually, they all go away, and when she and her father are alone, he lifts his head and winks at her, saying “ You’re right . . . I am not dead The narrator’s final recollection is of her grandfather and his collie, Bruno, and how they walked to the corner store every afternoon. “This is how I remember your father. Small and neat with a hat he politely tipped at everyone he passed.” He held her hand while crossing the street. He had the same blue-grey eyes as his son. In the second dream, the narrator sees her father in a mirror. He cannot speak to her because he is using all of his energy just to be visible. Her mother and sister join her in the room. The three of them are reflected in the mirror along with her father’s image, briefly making them a whole family once more. He tells her in her dream, as he did before he died: “You are my heart; that’s all that there is.”
The narrator’s father finds out he is dying at the relatively young age of sixty-four. This story of his last days is narrated by the younger of his two daughters. He is the son of a butcher whose family fell on hard times, possibly because of his father’s alcoholism. He is the youngest of five, having two sisters and two brothers. As a child, he felt that his partner was missing because of a stillborn baby boy born the year before he was. He also worried that he would die because he was somehow linked to the dead baby. Despite a sad beginning to his life, he overcame pneumonia at the age of two and continued to be courageous into adulthood: saving his cat, taking care of his father, venturing into water and onto an airplane for his daughter, and finally, facing death without flinching. He never let his phobias get the best of him although these fears were not permanently overcome. The narrator’s father was not perfect, though. He suffered from depression and was eventually hospitalized for this condition, and his long absences were painful to his family. But when he finally came home and was feeling better, the narrator remembers, “it felt like life was starting again.” The end of his life is filled with family, love,and memory. The remembrances of his daughter keep his spirit alive even as his body dies. Readers see his spirit in the almost otherworldly dreams the narrator has after her father dies. His voiceless communication with her implies that she and he understand something that no one else does.
The narrator’s paternal grandfather was a butcher by trade. He had a drinking problem that may or may not have been the cause of his family’s financial hardship. The narrator hints at an uneasy relationship between father and son and even recalls a story about her father carrying home her drunken grandfather when he made a public scene at a high school football game. The narrator’s memories of her grandfather are gentle and loving despite the man’s troubled life. She recalls with fondness how he held her hand when crossing the street; how he smelled of bourbon and cigarette ash; how he tipped his hat to people as he passed them on the street; how he walked to the corner store every day with his old collie, Bruno. He did not know how to talk to his son about his son’s depression, but he came to see him nonetheless because there was love between them. The grandfather died not long after his son came home from the hospital after being treated for depression. He suffered a paralyzing stroke but died from throat cancer, his voice cut off.
Jeannie is the narrator’s older sister. She has an eleven-year-old son and possibly other children. She is present with the rest of the family while their father is dying. One of the narrator’s memories of her sister is of a summer vacation at the beach in South Carolina. Jeannie was nine years old, and the narrator was five. Jeannie wrote a note about who they were and their vacation, and the two girls swore that when they were older they would come back and dig it up. Jeannie’s dream for their future is of Cadillac convertibles, mansions, and handsome husbands. Now an adult, she attends her father in his last days along with her sister and mother, wrapped in love and a reality that does not include mansions and convertibles.
Jeannie’s son is eleven years old, the eldest of the grandchildren. He and his grandfather share a special bond through the stories his grandfather made up for him when he was a small boy. Now, while his grandfather is on his deathbed, Jeannie’s son quietly tells these stories back him as if he can keep his beloved relative alive by keeping his stories, his words, alive.
The narrator’s mother figures very little in the story. Her husband is dying, and she is present, helping her daughters care for him in his last days. With her daughters, she sings her husband’s favorite songs to him, hoping to make a connection, to communicate her love when he is beyond physical communication.
The narrator is the second daughter of a man who suddenly learns he is dying at the relatively young age of sixty-four. She has a baby boy, whom her father asks to see while on his deathbed. She was once married, but it did not work out, and her father helped her leave her husband by flying out to where she was (despite his fear of flying), packing up a rental car with her belongings, and driving straight home. She also remembers, from when she was five years old, the beach cottage that her family rented in South Carolina, although those memories are somewhat disjointed and formed of vibrant sensations: the red Play-Doh smashed into the rug; the neighbor singing “Red Red Robin” continuously; the time-capsule note. Her father used to take her swimming, although he stayed by the edge because of his fear of water. One particularly poignant memory concerns a time when they were fly-fishing, and her father helped cut loose a fish that had swallowed the hook. She could see his veiled melancholy, an echo of the fish’s fate. As the narrator, her sister, and her mother help to ease his dying, the narrator gathers these memories together as a way to keep her father close even after he is gone. She loves her father deeply.
Very Old Woman
The very old woman comes to visit the dying father. She once nursed him back to health from pneumonia when he was two years old. Now she can do nothing for him except give him comfort.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Jill McCorkle, Published by Gale Group, 2006