I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My daddy's knees

Yet another picture from the bunch that Pete had gathered and which now reside on my laptop. This one was taken when I was somewhere around a year old, and I imagine Daddy balancing me on his shins, telling me to hold on tight, while he worked with the camera to get me in focus and make the picture just right. He did a good job. I wish I could remember that moment, today, on Father's Day 2011. But of course I don't.

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...

24 comments:

Gigi said...

What beautiful memories you have!

Grandmother said...

My parents were great readers as well and in that way self educated. I remember many conversations over the dinner table and beyond discussing all manner of current events. Rich kind of family life for us future writers.

Linda Reeder said...

Tom and I have been without fathers now for so long that we kind of forget about this recognition day. Your post got me to thinking about my father, not as the husband Ihave been reading about in my mother's journals, but as my dad.
I think he really enjoyed being a father to all seven of us. I know it hit him very hard when he lost one of us way too early, and his baby at that.
Your photo reminds me of riding on my dad's shins as he sang banbury Cross. He loved to sing.

Kimberly said...

Thanks for sharing about your dad. I love the picture, reminds me of when my dad would have me stand on his shoes and he would dance around the room with me. Nice memories. Thanks for helping to bring that back to my mind on this special day.

Retired English Teacher said...

I loved this portrait of the man who was your father. Memory is such an elusive treasure. It is one we wish to capture and hold in our hands so we can see it better, but it remains in our mind where it sometimes is fuzzy and at other times is quite clear. I understand how you felt as you wrote this piece. Many times, I also wish I could get the feel of being in my father's presence. I think you were blessed to have been able to clarify so much about your father and you memories of him.

gigihawaii said...

DJan, I am glad you have happy memories of your father. I don't have very many of mine.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful man your father was and how treasured he was by his daughter. There is no bond quite like it.
I do hope you get that dream, I sometimes have talks with my dad that way.
Arkansas Patti

Rita said...

It is funny how you can go over memories with a sibling or close friend and you remember things differently. Memory is subjective. (That's why people shouldn't rely on eye witness testimony--LOL!)

This was truly beautiful!

Friko said...

The way you describe your father makes him seem like a lovely man, somebody to be proud of, indeed.

Perhaps he would tell you to continue taking your illusions with you from one situation to the next. It shows a great innocence on your part, a young heart which allows itself to remain hopeful in the face of much life throws at us.

I like that. Cynicism is more my default attitude, not something I am proud of.

Trish said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dad. He was four years younger than my dad, who was born in 1913. I was lucky that my dad lived until 92 - he died in 2005. I still miss him. I will always miss him.

Bragger said...

Beautifully written. I wish I had fond memories of my father.

California Girl said...

DJan: You have channeled your father and let us know him. I remember comparing my hands to my father's hands. My father's hands were thin skinned. You could see the veins just below the surface. His palms were very wrinkly, dozens of lines. My hands are just like his. Fortune tellers love the lines on my palms.

My father loved to hold my hand. His skin was papery and dry and I remember his touch. I hope my children remember mine as well.

Red said...

You cover a lot of territory in this post.
I don't have a first memory of my DaD. He just sort of fades into my life.
I don't think men are much different today when it comes to tears...many make fun of the situation. My daughter gets married next month and I know the tears will flow. I just read What's in Ted' head on the topic of male tears.
My Dad would be 99 in Aug. We lost him in 2008. You've made me do some remembering today. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Darn blogger still isn't fixed!!!

I love the picture...what an adorable baby you were! You are fortunate to have such lovely memories and to be able to express them so well. I also find that when I write I feel connected to the past experience...a sense of loss, but also a comfort that those emotions and memories are still there.
Jann

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

It's great that you were able to bring back a sense of him even after all this time. And I'm struck by your comment that the children have very different memories of their grandfather. That's true of my dad as well... and I think a couple of my brothers didn't get quite the same attention the rest of us got, just because he and they couldn't figure out what to say to one another. Hm, now you've got me thinking....

Teresa Evangeline said...

Very true, each person has their own perspective and memories, oftentimes quite different than our own. Each is correct for that person, I suppose. I miss my father, yet still feel his presence often, perhaps that's why I just could not seem to write about him yesterday. He passed six years ago this week, right after his 84th birthday. You have nice memories of a good man. You asked, so be ready for that dream. :)

SquirrelQueen said...

Those are some wonderful memories DJan. Your father sounds a lot like mine. My dad died at the age of 57 back in 1983, just three months after I moved to Alaska.

dkzody said...

Guess it's the Father's Day thing...I too have been thinking about my dad. Went out to prune some shrubs, and channeled Daddy's voice in how to do it. Daddy worked for Welch's Farm in Arkansas, and was trained as a pruner. After he came to California, he often pruned vines for others and taught their workers, too. I could hear him telling me to hold the loppers lower, higher, here, there. I still didn't do as good a job as he would have.

Nancy said...

Wonderful tribute, DJan. He sounds like a terrific father. I've been thinking of mine lately, too. I read somewhere where the frequencies of the earth are changing and bringing us back into our past for a time. It sure feels as though this is true for me. My father's birthday was June 9th and he would have been 82, unfortunately he died when he was only 58.

Donna B said...

Precious memories of your Dad...I think if he were here today, he would have tears in his eyes for how very proud he is of you and all your many accomplishments.

Nance said...

Beautiful. We little girls do love our daddies.

I kept puzzling over the picture, unable to place what was different from the pictures I have of me and my father. Then, it clicks: Color! I have no color pictures of us in my toddler years and none in color, in fact, until I am pre-adolescent! But the picture here is wonderfully, naturally colored. And wonderful, period.

gayle said...

What a wonderful post about your father! You too have a way with words!

Linda Myers said...

My dad was a military officer, but he wanted my mother to be happy. After he retired, they moved to a second-floor condo with a view of the ocean. He had emphysema by that time. Climbing those stairs at the end of his post-military workday was the greatest gift of love he could give my mother.

But he rarely said a word.

Mel said...

I love the picture, and the words you wrote about your father. Like you, I wish I could crawl back into those old photos and remember the details, hear the laughter, feel the hugs. I miss my Dad terribly, and some days the loss of him just sneaks up on me. Like you, I wish I knew what wisdom he would share with me now, and I hope to reconnect with his spirit someday, somehow. He came to me in a dream, never speaking, just silently telling me that life goes on, refusing to dwell on death or loss. I have tried to write about it but I just can't put the experience into words yet. Our fathers had much in common, especially their intelligence, their vocabularies and their long marriages and commitment to family, not to mention their weak hearts. Thanks for this wonderful tribute, and so much to think about.