Musings

Father’s Day

My father was not sure what to do with children, since he had never been allowed to be one.  He spent my childhood bemused by me,  I think. One of the last stories he told my husband, for the nth time, was how, when I was four, I insisted that he was pronouncing maraschino wrong,  and that it was “ma-ra-SKEE-no.” He told my husband that I was a dickens, and my husband assured him I still was. As borne out by the maraschino story,  I was quite the handful, not the most docile child in the world.  He seems comfortable with four-month-old me in the picture above, but then again I couldn’t talk yet.

My grandparents on my father’s side were no role models for how to raise children. They seemed to have no idea of how to relate to children emotionally. My sister remembers our grandfather as a gruff, blustery fellow, and my grandmother was so upset by having a fourth boy, my father, instead of the daughter she wanted, that she ignored him once his sister was born when he was two years old. My father’s stories do not describe warm, fuzzy parents. When I was six, my father was teasing my mother at the breakfast table, telling her how smooth his freshly shaved face was, didn’t she want to feel it? I ran over to him and pressed my cheek to his. He froze as though made of stone. It is only in retrospect that I recognised how odd and sad his reaction is, and how it illuminates how bereft his own childhood must have been of hugs and affection.

As we children got older,  my father found the role of tutor suited him and made him far more comfortable with us. I delighted in his helping me with my Latin homework, and still have his Latin grammar and dictionary from his college courses. Latin was the warmup to get me to do my math.  I never came to like geometry as he did, but with his help, became proficient and even enjoyed trigonometry. My father taught me the love of words, languages, and literature, which eased topics of conversation during my turbulent teenage years. Things became even easier for my father even I became an adult. He found he could talk to me and I found that he could accept it when I told him I loved him and hugged him goodbye after a visit.  He looked shocked for a moment, then said that he loved me, too. It became the closing ritual of our weekly phone call.

I was lucky to see my father for a few days before he passed away, and although he did not speak to me, he looked straight at me when I told him I loved him. What surprised me, but should not have done, was how many people loved him. I was surrounded by people telling me how he had helped them, many just in normal course of knowing him,  but several more through a bereavement group he had unwillingly joined the year before when my mother passed away.  When he talked to me, he claimed that he never had anything to say, but the members of the group told me how eloquent he was about my mother and their 69 years of marriage, and how he had helped them with their grief.

Most notable was a man who was 18 when he met my father, while dating my sister. He told me that my father changed his life, taking him from someone who didn’t have much of a direction, encouraging him to go to college, find a career, and have a family. The man told me simply, “Your father taught me how to be a man.” I think of my father’s upbringing, and am amazed at the adult who raised some good human beings, made a lot of friends, and helped a lot of people in his life. Not a bad epitaph, and not a bad goal. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

Friday Laugh

Dogs Who Succeed at Life

I disagree with the title of this video, which is “Dogs Who Fail at Being Dogs.”  I believe the title should be “Dogs Excelling at Being Dogs,” because they all pick themselves up and move on with their mission, whether to grab the ball, jump up on the chair, or get the treat.  I adore dogs’ ability to roll with the punches, and I often think of their mental agility when I am faced with difficulties.  I will admit, however, some of these clips are very funny.

Next time life knocks you on your keister, think WWMDD–What would my dog do?

 

Garden of Steel Magnolias

Mother’s Day

One of my earliest memories is of going out the back door to the camellia bushes before going to church on Mother’s Day. My mother always cut red camellias for my sisters and me, and another for herself.  I remember the year that she cut a white one for herself. When I asked why, she answered that white was for a mother who had passed away. I remember thinking at her funeral that now I had to wear a white camellia on Mother’s Day.

My mother was an enigma when I was little. She slept from the time my brother and sisters left for school to the time they got home in the afternoon. I didn’t recognize the signs of depression for a few decades, despite being immersed in it myself since my teens. Every so often, I could rouse her to talk to me about the plants she loved, but it often made her yearn for an acre of deep, dark, earth that would respond to her touch, rather than the red clay of our Atlanta back yard. I hated to make her sad.

When I was in college, my mother convinced my father to let her take art courses at the same women’s college I attended. She bloomed there in a way I had never seen before. My mother was intelligent, with an intellectual curiosity and love of learning she passed on to me and my siblings. She excelled in art, enjoying every medium, but falling in love with textiles and pottery. I remember seeing her with her friends in the campus center, laughing and smiling, as she shared some hard-won life lessons with them.

After my mother’s death, my sister found hundreds of pictures that had been kept in the attic for decades, all dating from before my parents’ marriage. Neither she nor I had ever seen them before. The mother we knew was quiet, almost dour. She did not complain, but she did not seem to enjoy her life. These pictures showed a vibrant, laughing young woman having dinner with friends, or shockingly, posing with a young serviceman whose hat she had placed on her own head. The serviceman was not our father, either.  

In them I saw the smile from her college years. I recognized that young woman, confident and smiling with her friends, vibrant and playful. I often wonder what happened to that young woman in the intervening years. My guess is that she was forced to choose between marrying and taking care of a husband and children or staying unmarried and taking care of her parents. I think she would have chosen to live alone until her mid- or late-twenties, something that is no longer unusual. I write about women in the middle ages with limited choices about how to live their lives, yet am surprised at the lack of choices my mother had in the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps I am not the only one born in the wrong century.

 

Music

Elegy for the Arctic

My friend, Jan Dobbs, whose art is here, posted this video on Twitter, and I had to share it.  In 2013, I was lucky enough to go on a cruise through the Inside Passage in Alaska.  The park rangers in Glacier Bay National Park were eloquent in how much global warming had changed the landscape, and I find this music very evocative of both the landscape and the warning.

 

Musings

Birthday musings

Today is my birthday.  I am now old enough to add an Amtrak discount to those at the local movie theater and Denny’s. I am old enough that I haven’t been carded in two decades.  I am old enough to wake up with stiff hands and a knee that clicks as I head down the stairs to the kitchen. I am old enough to find myself in the middle of a room with no idea why I went there or what I went there to get.

I am still young enough to marvel at sunsets and to have my heart lift at the narcissus and forsythia blooming in the neighborhood this week. I am young enough to dream about what I want to be and to believe in the power of one person to change the world.

I will always root for the underdog, cry at commercials with baby humans or animals, and sing when I’m alone. I will always have the shy, misfit four-year-old in my brain, sharing space with the depressed, sarcastic teenager, and the nerdy graduate student who outlined a short story with characters speaking Anglo-Saxon.

I am old enough to take fewer things for granted, to spend less time on things I cannot change. I am old enough to feel less like a misfit,  not to voice the sarcastic thoughts I have when it is not helpful or appropriate. I’m old enough to realize that education does not make a person better, and sometimes not even smarter.

Despite all my decades, I’m still learning and evolving.  Here’s to learning more in the next year.