Funny, loyal, creative
Wishes to buy and fix up old houses
Dreams of going to a Blazer game
Wants to travel to distant places
Who wonders what lies ahead
Who fears nothing
Who is afraid of diseases
Who likes preaching
Who believes in God
Who loves Sunshine Pizza
Who loves reading
Who loves my family
Who loves raspberry yogurt
Who plans to turn 42 soon
Who plans to go to the beach
Who plans to have a nice Father’s Day!
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Father’s day began with rummaging through my chest of Papa artifacts, for the pile of cards he kept through all the years of birthdays and Father’s days. It began with a good chuckle as I pulled out the poem above, my ten-year old cursive scrawled across a background of watercolor. Who fears nothing. Who is afraid of diseases. Oh my, Papa must have gotten a kick out of this one.
It brought back memories of pizza buffets after church in the small town where we lived, where Papa was the preacher. Of photo albums of vacations, half filled with pictures of old victorian houses and cottages at the beach that we didn’t stay in, right out of a Thomas Kincaid painting. Memories of our fixer-upper-turned-dream-house on McPherson Street in Richland, two tall sycamores in the front yard with a tire swing hanging motionless. We moved from this home to a church parsonage half its size, with a view out the living room window of a sloping field, where hawks occasionally soared, barn owls perched on fence posts and deer roamed through.
I remembered his preaching, his gentle intensity, his laughter at his own jokes. I remembered his love of raspberry pies but not of yogurt. Our trips to the Oregon Coast, trying to reserve our favorite room with a balcony, where Papa cooked too many pancakes and we’d toss the leftovers in pieces to a circling band of seagulls. I remembered he’d sit with me in the hot tub, since I was under fourteen years, and I’d lather his face with bubbles and pretend to shave him.
* * * * *Today we walked down along the lake path, sitting on a bench to watch a tern flapping in circles, hovering then diving below the water in search of fish, again and again and again. And I thought of him, how he helped me to slow down and observe the world around me, like my husband seated beside me. But all those years, I still preferred moving too fast to standing in place, eyes wide open.
We stopped at a busy Vietnamese bakery for Bánh mì, savoring fresh crusty bread rolls stuffed with barbeque pork or marinated tofu, pickled carrot and cucumber, cilantro and crisp jalapenos. Watching the people come and go, filling bags with bread fresh from the back ovens, I thought of him. He loved people watching and bargain meals. Our sandwiches cost us three dollars and we left with a bag of rolls for thirty cents each. My husband pulled out of our tight parking spot with the same finesse as my Papa had, maneuvering around a delivery truck parked right behind us.
At home, we planted tomatoes and tomatillos, made salsa, talked to my father-in-law in Mexico through the car speakers while the rain pelted outside. And I thought of my Papa, how long it's been since I heard his voice on the other end of the line, and I’m so glad Ricardo’s dad is still with us, even a country away. I call my father-in-law Pa and he calls me mija - or mi hija. My daughter.
We shopped online for a ‘new’ used car in the evening, and I thought of him. The last time I bought a car he was alive and I was fresh out of college. He went with me to Honda and co-signed papers and I drove away with him in the passenger seat of a brand new Civic, feeling the weight and thrill of this passage into adulthood.
Wherever I turned, he was at the corner of my thoughts, a beautiful, sorrowful, distant echo.
* * * * *
At nine-thirty, we turned on the radio and laid down on the bed with the lights off and my red star lamp glowing above, listening to the music of the Compline service broadcast live. The sound of the men’s voices singing the last liturgy of the day haunted me as I stared at the star, how it illuminated the framed wedding photo of Ricardo and I surrounded by signatures of our guests. I stared at the photo, feeling the ache that settles in every now and then of Papa’s absence at our wedding. The ache of the passage of time and seasons, of lines in my face and events in our lives that he was not here to witness. The most recent photo I have of him and I was at my grad school graduation, six years ago. I look at the girl in the photo and she is almost unrecognizable to me, not in features as much as internally, while Papa hasn’t aged. He’s forever fixed at this age in my memory.
My husband snored lightly beside me as the music drew out the emotions kept at bay by distant memories all day long, sliding down my face.
When all was finished, I turned off the light and lay on my side, my eyes shut like a wooden door trying not to give way to the floodwaters pushing out from within. In a matter of moments, I succombed, gulping for breaths between sobs I didn’t want to release. My husband leaned over and rubbed my back, silent, and I didn’t say a word during or after the tears. The only thing running through my mind, this - Who plans to turn 42 soon. The indifference of time, this one short life, the realization that Papa was only eight years older than I am now, when I gave him that poem. He lived another seventeen years, and then I sat by his hospital bed until his final breath, until I was completely spent of life, still alive and him gone. And it’s been so long, I felt my body heave in remembrance, no longer a distant bystander. So long since I felt Papa’s arms, since I was a daughter hugged by her father.
And I just wanted to remember what that feels like, without the flood. But even six years later, the flood occasionally presses in and I cannot fight it. It wells up and crashes over and then, as quickly as it comes, it’s gone. And I’m left with the memory of Papa’s hand in mine, resting on those hospital sheets, paint flecks on his skin.
* * * * *
Friends, I want you to know, I'm doing fine today. I hesitate to continue writing out grief reflections, sometimes, when I know many who have been able to recall mostly happy times in the remembrances of their loved ones. I admire them. But my experience has been that, while I have moved on with my life and am thankful for the sweet memories and life of my Papa, it has continued to bring up sadness in me, for numerous reasons, through the years. I write to try to be true to my grief experience.
Linking up with Unforced Rhythms