The most magical night of the year…

24 12 2013

It’s silly, I know it. I mean, I’m a grown up, Santa Claus is very busy with the young ones and can’t be expected to come my way, me, a round grey-haired weary parent of three grown children.
And yet, some part of me clings to the belief in a Santa Claus, not the jolly red-suited Coca Cola one, but the innate spirit of goodness that springs from somewhere.
I believed in the red-suited guy for way longer than most kids, thanks to an acutely accurate dream of him in our living room. I can still conjure up that dream (and another less sweet one of being chased along the kitchen cabinets by giant robots, but never mind), and I held onto it until my older brother in a fit of cruel to be kindness demonstrated that my violet doll was actually in the laundry room well before the day. It stopped the mockery at school, anyway.
But it didn’t stop my belief in goodness. The surprise goodness of strangers, the more familiar yet still delightful goodness of friends.
The source of that goodness, whether a deity or the part of ourselves that craves the lift that doing good brings, I don’t know.
But in a corner of my heart, I have a belief in angels I can’t square with my scientific mind.
Many years ago, when I was in university, I came home to the notice that my mother had urgently been trying to reach me – when I contacted the university authorities, they told me my father was in the ICU, not expected to live. He’d been undergoing cancer treatment and was overwhelmed with infection.
I panicked, arranged to take the night bus through Montreal where I would meet my brother and travel through the wee hours to Boston and Mass General. I was glad he’d be travelling with me because I was terrified at the thought of losing my dad, and didn’t want to spend eight nighttime hours obsessing over things. I knew I’d be needed once I got home.
But when I arrived in Montreal, it turned out my brother was on duty and couldn’t get free til the next day, so I boarded the greyhound alone.
I plopped into a seat near the window so I could look out and hide my tears and pulled out a book so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Meanwhile I watched the others boarding the bus, hoping no one would sit near me.
A man wearing a patch cap and aged hippie vest and coat stepped onto the bus. He has a drooping moustache and looked like a talker. I dropped my head, urgently praying, “Not him! Not him!”
But sure enough, he sat down beside me. And started to talk.
And he talked and we talked and we talked.
I don’t remember the conversation, except that anytime it turned toward my dad, he steered it away. He never let me say why I was going to Boston or anything about my family at all. I don’t remember him shutting me down, or being rude. He merely redirected.
At White River Junction, he bought me a coffee and that simple kindness was almost my undoing.
We re boarded the bus and the conversation continued. He was never inappropriate or flirtatious, was kind without being solicitous, funny without being bawdy. We talked the night through.
Finally we arrived at Haymarket station just as the sun was rising. I stood up and gathered my things, realizing that I didn’t feel at all tired, that my mood was light, that I was ready to greet the day and all it could hold. As I stepped off the bus, I looked for my companion to thank him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
The bus station was almost empty at that time. I should have been able to spot him.
My family picked me up and we raced to Mass General, where I saw my father, on a ventilator and scarily pale. He was both happy and alarmed to see me. I stepped into my family persona, swallowed my tears, and joked with him. He laughed, as well as he could on a ventilator. The mood lightened, as it was meant to do. He drew me back little jokes on a scratch pad. Because I was able to laugh, so was everyone else.
And I was only able to laugh thanks to the kindness of my bus companion, whoever/whatever he was.
My dad survived that scare. I went on to become a nurse. I try to pay back some of the good that was done for me and my family that awful day.
And always I am on the lookout for an oddly dressed man with a patched cap, and always believe in that spirit of goodness. Red suit or no.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Be grateful.

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Dear Dad….

18 06 2011

I don’t have many photos of my dad. He was always the one behind the camera, capturing out smiles and foolishness and big events and small ones. But I can see him in my mind’s eye, alas, all that I have left, since he’s been gone  25 years now and for some reason it still feels fresh. So, I thought, in honour of Father’s Day, I’d write him a wee note. He only wrote me one letter, but I still have it.  I hope wherever he is, he gets this one.

 

Dear Dad –

Thanks.

Thanks for teaching me that it’s okay to be silly, like all those times you’d hide behind bushes with one finger held out, trying to tempt a bird to alight. Or walk new pants around the store on their hangers to see how they walked. Or drink peppermint schnapps with me to help us get through another party.

Thanks for teaching me that Goethe’s belief that whatever you can dream you should just start isn’t just words. You taught me, us, so much – things you also taught to yourself.  Photography, pottery, canoeing, painting, gardening, drawing, birdwatching, building model boats, creating pendulums (pendulii?), making pyramids, playing the piano and guitar and recorder and clarinet, designing the AWACS systems.  You would think about something, and then make it so. I tried to follow, but your skills outflanked mine so that I’d become discouraged – but the lesson remained.  Now I throw myself into things that I think about and try them, not afraid.  Sometimes they work out better than other times, but at least I don’t hang back. You taught me that, and I love you for it. I’m still recovering from your confident sailing trip, though.  Won’t see me in a sailboat on Lake Washington anytime soon, especially in a gale.

Thanks for teaching me that a sense of humour is a must. From endless punning sessions to jokes around the dinner table or in front of unamused laughing gulls, you made me laugh. I remember short-sheeting your bed as a joke when you and the family came back from camping.  I didn’t know my sister had dropped the camper on your toe and broken it…. After the shouting when you pushed your toe against the folded sheet, you laughed – we laughed together. (I got you a bunch of times. I remember putting the “Sexy Senior Citizen” license plate on the front of the car, replacing the one with crossed Canadian and US flags. You didn’t figure it out til you were bragging about your classy license plate to colleagues and they were singularly unimpressed. )(you got me, too.)

You’d come home with tales of woe, told in sorrowful tones, specifically so we could laugh together. You honed my wit. You made me funny and quick and thoughtful.

Thank you for not dying that first time you almost did. I still need you now, but then, we would all have been shattered even more. You fought, though, taking on doses of chemotherapy that would have “killed a lesser man”.  You were brave beyond imagining. I still will never forgive you for blaming me for driving you and your collapsing spine deliberately over potholes – but I probably deserved it for all the other times I teased you.

Thank you too, for always getting my sister the things I wanted for Christmas. Yes, seems cruel. But by doing that, you taught me to take pleasure in the things that life did give me, to find pleasures and gifts in the everyday, and to be grateful that you knew me well enough to know what I truly needed and wanted. And you made me tough, so that when I didn’t get what I wanted out of life sometimes, I could grin and bear it. And I still get a chuckle at the look on my brother’s face when he realized his present would only work if he gave away something to his younger siblings in trade for something they unwrapped. Ah, Christmas. I’m still in therapy.

I am your daughter, dad. Strangely, though I felt you always liked my siblings best, you became a part of me. Yeah, I’d make myself scarce when you wanted to show me how to fix a toaster – and I still regret that, 14 toasters later! – but I was watching and learning.  As my kids will tell you, some things I learned almost too well. They’re coping.  But we don’t discuss marshmallows much. Don’t ask. I have at least 10 minutes in hell for that one.

Every Father’s Day, I wish I’d had longer with you.  Then I go try something new or paint something or laugh, and I realize you are here always. And that’s the best gift you could give me.  Best thing of all? You gave it to all we kids, each in our own way.  No fighting. Well, not much, anyway.

Love always,

DA

 

 





The pearl

19 06 2010

I have a sweet pearl necklace that my dad gave me way back when I was a young teenager.  It’s a single, perfectly round pearl, with a gold holder and a thin 14 carat gold chain. Every time I wear it I am afraid I’ll lose it, but it holds on. The chain tangles, but it always untangles.

My dad gave me a few pearls – I have a ring he gave me also.  I don’t know why pearls – my birth stone was the yucky pee coloured Topaz. Perhaps he mixed me up with my sister, or perhaps he just knew me better than that.

The pearl is a live thing. Like amber, it comes from a slow, natural process.  And it has to be worn to keep its luster.  Other gems stay, cooly glinting, not caring whether you wear them – in fact probably preferring to be left alone to shine on their own. A pearl, though – it rubs against your skin, and it becomes warmer, more alive.  It takes on your body oils, becomes part of you as you become part of it.  Perhaps my dad knew that sort of ornament would be more me than any other.

My dad and I did pottery together, taking earth and forming it with our hands. We drew together, taking charcoal from the ash and sketching.  We gardened together, and he taught me how to grow foods in a small plot of land, taught me the immense pleasure of eating vegetables right off the plant. He taught me to see the world, taking all of us to canyons and mountains and caves and seashores, sharing their marvels with us, always finding something to wonder about, learn about. He made kites out of scraps of paper, built sand castles, carved boats and Kachina dolls and walking sticks, taking what was there and adding his touch. He taught me to see, to smell, to feel. To relish the world and all that was in it.

I still wander around, touching stone and sensing its roughness, feeling objects in stores, disobeying the look but don’t touch warnings we all heard from parents. The sensory world is my favorite, and one of my favorite things to sense is the slight insignificant weight of my father’s pearl around my neck as it warms to meet my body temperature.

My dad’s been gone 24 years now and it is so hard when I realize he’s been gone almost half of my life. He is still such a large part of me.  As with my pearl, we were able to rub against one another enough through the experiences he shared with me that some of him has seeped into my skin.  Tomorrow, for Father’s Day, I’ll put on the pearl, and remember him from when he gave it to me – crazy funny, laughing, finger outstretched to attract birds, always interested, often challenging, endlessly interesting, warm and wonderful.








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