November 29th would have been my father’s 71st birthday. He was thirty-three years old when he died, thirty-eight years ago, so he’s now been dead several years longer than he lived. In my lifetime, those numbers are even more skewed: I had him in my life for ten years and have not for thirty-eight. I’ve spoken of him before in this blog (see Death and All His Friends and Me in the Key Of); he was killed in a car accident when I was ten. My life has been defined as much by the time before that event as the years that followed.
In my mind he is young, just as I am. My memories are of a father who was playful and adventurous. He taught me to whistle through a blade of grass, how to fly a kite, why any day in the woods is a special day. I remember him pushing us to pedal our bikes as my brother and I rode across the vast Stockton valley of farms to watch the boat races on the Delta. We stopped to eat a watermelon from a field by the road. At the time, I recall my legs aching and my wondering why we were going so far for something he wanted to do, not us… now the whole day stands in my memories as a very special day with my father. He was thoughtful and a good friend. Affectionate with us and joyful. He was handsome. He was a free spirit, who dropped in without calling and loved to play. He loved riding a motorcycle because of the sense of freedom he felt on the bike, his best friend, Eric once told me. I aspire to be like him in many ways.
<– My parent’s wedding day. No doubt, my maternal grandmother wanted a picture of her children: My uncle on the L, my Dad and Mom. The little girl is my aunt Pam- Mom’s sister- who was 5 years older than me. She died of Huntington’s 3 yrs ago, at 49.)
My memories of our time as a family are misty and veiled. My parents were both very young when they married (he was 22, she was 19) and they had me shortly after. I remember my parents laughing. I remember my brother and I jumping on the bed while they lay in there; the sheets a big pile and my mom and dad laughing. I remember them arguing, my brother and I going outside to stay out of the fray. I remember spending time as a family with my grandparents, by the sea and in the forests of northern California. I remember the homes we lived in (too many). I remember being a family and then not being one. I still see my father as handsome and magical in a young life that was transitioning even as I missed the signs. In short order, we were dividing time between our parents’ residences and then he was hit while riding his motorcycle (killing him instantly) and the rest is “after my Dad.” He was far too young to die. (We were happy with our Mom and Dad, grandparents, aunt and balloons –>)
(<– In this shot, my parents are looking at their wedding gifts… Oh, a waffle iron! Dad on the far right, Mom seated)
It is inconceivable to me that he would be an older man now, if he had lived. Of those who lived longer, my father’s family ages well. I imagine his face would be creased, but he would retain the beautiful, olive complexion of his youth. Like my great-grandmother, I think his face would be smooth and dignified. I can still hear is voice in my mind, but have no way of knowing whether I have completely created that voice as an amalgamation of the voices of other men in my life who I’ve loved, or whether those fleeting sound bites are really him. Would he have have stopped smoking by now? Or would his voice have that gravely, husky tone that older smokers have? I would give anything to sit with him even once and talk with him now. There are so many things I would ask: What made you happy and what did not? I would want to hear about how he felt when his children were born and what did he love most about my mother. What were his regrets and what brought him joy? What would he think of my siblings and I? Doesn’t every girl want to know what their father thinks of them? I have often wondered how many of the things that I’ve been told about him are accurate and how many are colored by people’s grief and their remembrances. Tell me Dad; I would ask. In reality, if I had that moment alone with him… I might forget what to say, the joy of it too much to speak. (My Dad just six months before his death. You can’t see the tree, but it’s Christmas 1972)
(<– Eric and Dad, age three, eating cookies on the stoop)
His best friend Eric has spent years fleshing out the man I never really knew. He has told me about my Dad as a young boy, a teen and later as a father, husband and man. It helps to hear what Eric shares as he loved him very much, knew him his whole life and is honest in his memories. They are not all flattering, but that is the flesh and blood of the myth. Eric and I spoke tonight, and I felt as I always do, like I am close for a moment to the Dad who has been gone for so long. Had my father lived, he would have been 72 years old and I would hope that we would get along, respect each other and share good memories. Instead, I have good memories that are my own. Happy Birthday Dad, whoever you might have been and all that you were.
I’ve been reading a bit more again. After months of write, write, writing, to get the manuscript ready for editing, I finally have time again to read other people’s writing. After 9 years, the book group I started came to an end. While I miss the structure and the wonderful women who were part of the group, it was time for it to end. Still the void had left me a bit adrift in the reading department, initially. For 9 years there was always a book waiting to be read, and others if I had time. Added to the dilemma was my Mom’s failing health. My attentions were spread all over the place and my focus limited. Mostly, I read People each week and not much else. Don’t judge me; it got me through. Now, as I sit for hours each day with my Mom, I often read. With no prescribed reading list, I can read what I want, when I want. There are piles of books that I’ve purchased or have been given, just sitting on my night stand and in my office, waiting to be read. I finished The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai. It was filled with references to other books and the love of reading. Without the book group list, I can create any list I want; I just need to pick one and start it. However, what I find is that the more I read, the more I want to write.
In addition to magazines and novels, I’m reading other blogs and finding myself wanting to do better with my own. I read some blogs and aspire to see mine be sharper, better written… bring in more readers. I want to see it read, and watch it grow. I write to have it read. I read to write better and find inspiration. I read when I can, when I’m motivated, but I think about writing every day. Every. Day. I miss when I was editing and re-writing all the time. I read others’ work and I think of ways to improve my own, to switch it up and get more creative. I aspire to seeing my manuscript come back with a thumbs up and then sending it to a publisher… dare I dream beyond that? I do, I do!
All of this remembering and aspiring is happening as we zoom into The Holiday Season… the mother of all shake downs. Each year, no matter how I prepare (or say I’m going to prepare) it takes me by surprise and spins me upside down and sideways. It’s when my mind wanders the most, to holidays past and people missed. In addition to my father, I miss my grandparents, my mother in law, the friends that aren’t here. It is the season when I so appreciate those I’m with, even as I miss those I’m not with. It’s when I aspire to the best, but often feel the most overwhelmed and nostalgic. It’s when I set myself up the biggest and baddest to be all the things I want to be, all at once. AAUGH! After writing a full blown Holiday letter for twenty-five years (before they were common mind you), I’ve blown it the last two years in a row. Instead, we sent… nothing. Oh I know, I can hear you: But isn’t that the perfect place to put all that writing energy? Well yes, except that my manuscript will be coming back edited, right in the middle of The Holiday season… translation: more rewrites to do, with a deadline of December 31st for submitting it to the publisher I’m submitting to. And, my mind is on my Mom 24/7 right now. I’m at hospice every day and I barely remember to do the things on my to do list that have nothing to do with holidays. Whether I like it or not, there is no predicting what or when something will happen with Mom. Makes for an extra sticky ball of emotional stuff. The holiday letter is just one more thing, one more holiday thing, hanging over me.
This weekend we went out to the tree farm and cut our tree. This is the earliest we’ve ever done it and any other year I’d brag that I was on my game, way ahead of the twinkly lights, hordes of shoppers, get it to the post office, get it wrapped, cook the latkes, roast the roast, pine scented Holiday monster. However, this year it was only done early because Hubby is leaving for Chile until December 23rd, to climb Ojos del Salado. He will arrive home, horribly jet lagged, just in time to do… nothing to help this year. So I demanded that we get the tree now. He managed to get the beast up yesterday, but it is quite distinctly crooked. After a few tries to make it right, he gave up and all my pleading got me no where. That tree is staying tipsy. Hubby assures me that it is in fact secure, but it’s not straight, despite whatever rational he uses. Getting the tree and putting it up is at least a dent in all the rest of The Holiday stuff that needs to be done. I will put lights on it when I can, and pull out the big ladder to put the lights on our house. I’m the only one who has ever been willing to sidle up our roof to do it anyway. The ornaments will come on the 21st when Principessa and Middle Man are both home. I have waited for my college kids to come each year to deck that tree, and I will not give up yet. But all the rest: the packages, the cards, the bows, the lights, the food, the traditions, The Holidays are on me. (^^ Say what you want– please don’t— but that tree is crooked. All 10′ of it… leaning distinctly back and to the left!)
(<– Separate but equal. Tree up there and menorah here… Our favorite menorah.)
Perhaps not that many of you may have noticed, other than those of you who, like us, celebrate both, but Christmas and Hanukkah fall right on top of each other this year. Is this beginning to sound a bit like the Perfect Storm to you too? I will be cooking latkes at the Senior Center on the 20th (first day of Hanukkah) as I have for several years. I will be planning our usual Hanukkah party at the same time that I’m planning Christmas Eve and Christmas night dinner. All of the wonderful, generous, kind to the bone friends who have offered to bring some meals for me, while I care for my Mom and my hubby is off, watch out! Now that I’ve discovered this idea of accepting help, not trying to do it all myself (Hello Universe, do you hear that? I am not doing it all myself anymore! Please forward to…) I may just ask one of these kind souls to prepare one of those holiday meals for the whole kit and kaboodle. Just kidding… mostly. I can handle that. After convincing hundreds (probably not an exaggeration) of local school children, over ten years, that “I make the worlds best latkes,” I may be checking out boxed versions this year… Ok, never mind. That won’t happen either. (It’s not looking good for not taking it all on myself, here.) I will in fact hit the internet up for some of the gifts that I’ve always bought in the stores and wrapped myself, barring that they can provide proper paper and bows. I’m sure you get my point though: The fact that our beautiful Christmas tree is crooked is the least of it.
(<– My brain, on The Holidays… and then some.)
So where is the Mashup you ask? How does any of this have anything to do with mashups? (And oh yes, that word does not have a hyphen; it’s one crazy-ass word indeed.) The whole idea of a mashup first occurred to me because I wanted to find a way to make last week’s Glee mashup fit, but it doesn’t. (Ha! Slick, eh? I may be sick of Glee, but I did like this one and I guess Adele fits under remembrances… Or, pathetically sad: watch this SNL skit if Adele just bugs you.) Well, this post is an emotional mashup. It’s the big tangled mess that is my brain right now. If it’s not clear from the words themselves, simply note the over-use of parenthesis, asides, and other run-ons here, to demonstrate that my brain is on over-drive. I might also have you note that I did in fact work remembrances, aspirations and a tree into each section: mashup writing I could claim. Go ahead back and you’ll see; it’s all there. If I could mix it in music, I would (it might include: The Cure, Jim Croce, Arcade Fire, and Bing Crosby… go figure), but it’s a mental thing. I miss my Dad; I’m grieving my Mom; I love Christmas and Hanukkah and want to make them both separate but equally special. I’m overwhelmed, anticipatory, anxious, hopeful, ready, unprepared, grateful and blessed. This is my mental mashup of remembrances and aspirations, with a crooked tree on the side.
What are your fondest aspirations? What do you love about the holidays and what makes you crazy? Do you miss people this time of year, or are in an in the moment being? Does Adele bug you? Seriously? Throw me a comment; share your thoughts.
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It’s a BEAUTIFUL tangled mess of emotion, though — you definitely got me thinking this morning!
I was reading your story, and thinking of my own life…and how different it would be if my father had passed away at such a young age. He’s 69 now, and while he’s always been a bit emotionally distant, his very presence in my life has had such a profound influence on who I am. It makes me sad to think of not having that presence, as you have experienced…
I’m glad to hear you’ll be surrounded by family this holiday season, though. Keep writing, too – it helps, doesn’t it? I can’t imagine how different my personal journey through my devastating divorce would have been without the ability to write…
Virtual hugs to you! 🙂
Thanks Mikalee. One of these days, maybe our paths will cross outside the virtual world and we can share a drink and few laughs. I appreciate your kind words each time and glad that my posts move you. Yours always make my day as well. 🙂
As for your Dad, maybe it’s time to bridge the distance? I truly believe that it’s worth working on those relationships, until it’s absolutely clear that you can do no more.
Writing is what I do now and I can’t imagine how I would get through any of this without it. That the writing touches anyone else, is icing baby. Sweet, rich icing.
Reblogged this on The Huntington's Chronicles and commented:
Of got these out of order, inadvertently. As Mom struggled, and faltered, my mind wandered constantly, to my past with her. Without her. With my family. The weeks just went by in a blur of loss, and me trying to find sense in all of it.