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.

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Musings, Renegade Reflections

Adirondack Yearnings

Lake Placid Village and Mirror Lake from Crowne Plaza Wednesday

As my father grew more frail in his last few years, I found myself taking on some of his bucket list so that I could at least share my experiences with him, telling him in person with pictures in hand, if I could, or by writing him.  The latter involved pen and paper, as he steadfastly refused to have anything to do with computers.

My father grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, and his childhood memories of the area gave rise to several of his bucket list items.  Since I now live only an hour and a half away from his childhood home, his bucket list items tied to this area have become mine.

The Berkshires were a favorite topic of my father’s, and familiar to me from story and personal experience. However much my father cherished memories of the Berkshires, revisiting them was not part of his bucket list.  The Adirondacks were. I never learned how my father came to yearn for a chance to spend time in the Adirondacks, but he did visit his brother at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute when he was about ten years old, and may have seen them off in the distance, or traveled through them when he took the train from New Haven to Seattle in 1942 after officer training school. Whatever the genesis, my father always loved mountains. When I was growing up in Atlanta, my family ended up vacationing in Florida, but once we children were older, my father’s preferences were clear. He always drove north when he had time off, to northern Georgia or western North Carolina, drawn to lakes and brooks cradled by mountains.  I share that attraction, fostered by trips to state parks when I was the last child at home, staying in lakeside cabins in the crook of a line of ridges.   

In the summer of 2014, my husband and I planned a small family reunion in the Adirondacks, near Lake George.  We had all four kids, two sons-in-law, and most of the seven grandkids all together for the best part of a week.  My father was delighted that we had revived his practice of small family get-togethers, and listened attentively to my descriptions of the cabin, the beauty of the wilderness in the mountains, and the trip to the “civilization” of Lake George Village, with its visit to Fort William Henry.  

Last October, I attended a conference in Lake Placid, in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Driving into Lake Placid, I realized how much my father would have loved the surrounding mountains, the calm lake. Well, he would have loved it in the summertime or in the spectacle of its autumn colors.  My father was no friend to snow, so the snow veiling the high peaks would have detracted from his enjoyment of the view, but I know he would have felt he could relax, breathe deeply, and take in the view stretching miles to the distant mountains.

Although I was four months too late to tell my dad about this part of the Adirondacks, or to show him any of the pictures, I knew why he had always wanted to see the Adirondacks, as clearly as if we had spoken about it. Although more worn than the Rockies, the mountains shake free of the deciduous trees first, then shake the evergreens off their granite shoulders, reaching respectable heights of three thousand to over five thousand feet. Lakes melted from glacial ice reflect the sky, mountains and trees, witnessing the truth of names like Mirror and Placid, while rivers pound through granite gauntlets, frothing white, throwing mist into rainbows above the water.  

At night, the stars spread across the sky, glistening in the clear, crisp, air.  Villages dot the scenery, small lines of lights delineating the streets, but disappearing quickly in the stony, wooded wilderness that marches to the edges of lakes and roads. It seems impossible that one is in the 21st century, especially when night hides the accoutrements of recent civilization.

EM

 

 

From Here to Eventually, WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday Bucket List

 

Lake Placid Village and Mirror Lake from Crowne Plaza Wednesday

I’m not sure what this writing is part of, whether it will lead to a longer piece or just take up a few more pages than it does here.  It is part of a piece on how I have taken on part of my father’ bucket list, left on the list when he passed away in June, two weeks past his 93rd birthday.  I offer 11 sentences for the day, or the month:

Last month, I attended a conference in Lake Placid, further north in the Adirondacks. I am five  months too late to tell my dad about this part of the Adirondacks, or to show him any of the pictures, but I can share them here.  When we were young, he ended up vacationing in Florida, but once we were older, his own preferences were clear. He always drove north when he had time off, to northern Georgia or western North Carolina, drawn to lakes and brooks cradled by mountains.  I share that attraction, fostered by trips to state parks when I was the last child home, staying in lakeside cabins in the crook of a line of ridges. Driving into Lake Placid, I realized how much he would have loved the surrounding mountains, the calm lake. Well, in the summertime or in the spectacle of its autumn colors.  My father was no friend to snow, so the snow veiling the high peaks would have detracted from his enjoyment of the view.

I knew why he had always wanted to see the Adirondacks, as clearly as if we had spoken about it. Although more worn than the Rockies, the mountains shake free of the deciduous trees first, then shake the evergreens off their granite shoulders, reaching respectable heights of three thousand to five thousand feet. Lakes melted from glacial ice reflect the sky, mountains and trees, witnessing the truth of names like Mirror and Placid, while rivers pound through granite gauntlets, frothing white, throwing mist into rainbows above the water.

 

WIPpet Wednesday is the brainchild of K.L. Schwengel and newly hosted by A Keyboard and an Open Mind. If you want to join in, or read other WIPpeteers, go here.

EM