“Nothing’s so beautiful as the memory of it
Gathering light as glass does,
As glass does when the sundown is on it
and darkness is still a thousand miles away.” ~ Charles Wright, from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox”
My father was almost 73 when he died on November 22, 2001. His birthday would have been on December 5.
I’ve been looking for a particular poem by Len Roberts, but the name escapes me. It’s a poem about his father. Anyway, I came across this one by David Budbill, and it reminded me of all the times my father came to my house to help me, all of the things he taught me: how to change a toilet’s working parts, how to replace an electrical socket, how to fix a leaky faucet, and far too many to recount.
And I remember all of the things that I learned from him just by watching: how to squat low and weed a garden, how to find the perfect patch of sunlight on the floor and take a nap, how to sit silently and pet a dog.
Mostly, I learned the art of being still from my father, a man who was mostly quiet, and then at times, explosive.
Father’s Day is still hard for me, especially when I go to buy cards. I still pause in front of the section of cards specifically for daughter. Occasionally I will pull one from the rack and read, but only if I have sufficiently steeled my heart before hand, which is almost never.
I have no great insights on what it is about fathers and daughters, only about my own relationship, which was alternately close and then not. I will never forget the time my father, almost in tears, asked me if I remembered the last time I had said hello to him, how in being silent myself I had not realized the cost.
My father was simultaneously generous and stingy, as am I—overly generous with love and stingy about never paying the full cost.
I still have not recovered the 1966 Ford Falcon that my father told me was to go to my sons, the car that my mother gave away after his death, as if this final punitive act would close that chapter once and for all. I will reclaim that car one day.
In the end my father was tiny, the extra six inches he claimed over five feet almost entirely withered with age and pain and illness. I would have gladly given him my inches were it possible.
In the end my father died alone and afraid, and I will never be able to let go of that, how when it mattered the most, I was not there to say hello and then goodbye.
All images by Chinese artist, Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004). There was nothing in the world that my father loved more than fishing.
Music by Billy Joel, one of my favorite oldies, “Lullabye”
Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five
I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house
helping her expand their garden by at least ten times.
We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as
best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the
pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over
again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch
and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well
that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.
I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done
enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on
the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.
All this made me remember my father forty years ago
helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and
has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one
of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child,
who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching
and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.
So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation,
around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and
somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again.
~ David Budbill