Sunday, June 19, 2011
My daddy's knees
My earliest recollection of my father was sitting in his lap and seeing my small hand placed on top of his much larger one. I remember the difference in the color, his brown and masculine, mine creamy white and smooth. Whether I truly remember it or not, it's clear in my mind's eye. That amazing eye, it sees things as it pleases, whether or not it matches reality. But what is reality anyway, when thinking of times and people long gone? There is no objective observer to recall what once was, and my sister Norma Jean and I will recall a long-ago memory, with both of us remembering it completely differently. Time has a way of doing that.
Daddy was only 62 when he died of a heart attack, and although he seemed old to me then, he was six years younger than I am now. If he were alive today, he would be really old, almost a hundred since he was born in 1917. All six of his children were present when he died, since he lingered for a few days after a massive heart attack and we all had the chance to get to the hospital. He was on morphine for the pain, and I remember how his pupils were little pinpoints in his still-brilliant blue eyes. I was told by someone that was caused by the drugs.
He had a good life, and I know that he and Mama loved each other, even if they sometimes fought. After I became an adult, Mama would complain to me about his faults. But basically I would say they had a better than average marriage and they raised six kids together, with twenty years separating me from my youngest sister Fia. These days I know only a few people whose parents stayed together; it seemed to me during the sixties and seventies that almost everyone was leaving long-time partners, thinking somehow that life would pass them by if they didn't go out and grab it. I hope they found what they were looking for, but somehow I doubt it. One thing I've learned over the years is that I carry my illusions from one situation to the next, still intact.
Daddy had a very soft heart, he was sentimental about everything. I remember him being brought to tears over what seemed, even to me at the time, insignificant things to get teary over. He read to us when I was little, and I recall him crying when in a story some injustice was done, or someone or something died. Cinderella or Lassie moved him to tears. He hated that about himself and felt somehow that it wasn't manly behavior. It's too bad that he lived in a time when he couldn't appreciate his ability to feel things deeply. Is it still that way with men? I would hope we have grown and changed at least a little.
His voice was strong and deep. If he wanted to, he could use it to intimidate others. Norma Jean told me recently how scared her son Peter was of Daddy, who would tremble in fear when Daddy would raise his voice at him. Her daughter Allison, however, would just look at Daddy, smile and say, "Oh, Grandpa," and he would melt into smiles himself. Consequently, they have completely different memories of their grandfather.
Both of my parents were avid readers and had very large vocabularies, with an ability to express themselves fluently. When you are surrounded by something like that, you don't realize it's not that way with everybody, every family. Daddy would sometimes sit in the living room after dinner and pontificate about the world, the universe, life in general. I was enthralled, a willing audience, and believed that kind of expansive eloquence was simply the way every adult communicated. Even though he never went to college, Daddy had a natural intelligence that was obvious to anyone who held a conversation with him.
I miss him, I just realized with a shock. Writing about him makes me feel the loss of his presence, and it's been a long time since that has happened. I have been sitting here trying to get the feel of him, who he was, and darned if that's not just what I did.
Daddy, it's been a long time since we talked. If you were here, maybe you would have some words of wisdom for me today, and it's my loss that I don't know what you would tell me if you could. If there is any justice in the world, maybe the universe will channel your spirit and send it to me in a dream...