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 15, 2014

A day to remember and reflect

Long ago and far away
The only offspring of my parents who are missing from this picture are me and my son Chris. It was taken sometime in the mid- to early 1970s, I suspect, since Daddy died in 1979. My brother Buz (back row, far right) is surrounded by two peripheral extended family members: boys who hung out so much with the family that they were included, no doubt, because they were there. I like to think they were stand-ins for the two of us, Chris and me, who were probably involved in the middle of our own drama in California or Colorado.

Pete probably set up the picture with a self-timer and then slipped in next to Norma Jean, over there on the left. PJ and her first husband Ken stand next to Daddy and Mama. My two youngest sisters are to the right of Mama, one standing and one sitting. Those four urchins in the front row are PJ and Ken's two sons, then Norma Jean and Pete's two kids. Allison, right in front of Mama, is now a career officer in the Army.

Many of us were all together recently at PJ's Celebration of Life in February, those of us who are still alive, that is. Pete died three years ago, Daddy in 1979, and Mama in 1993. Today is Father's Day 2014, and now it's been 35 years since we lost our father. I had already lost a son, Stephen, who died in 1965 at the age of 13 months, but none of the others in this picture had yet lost a close family member.

Daddy was at the center of a bustling, active family at the time this picture was taken. Nobody had any idea what the future would bring, since we all live in the present moment and cannot take a time machine into the future to see what awaits us. But the passage of time takes everyone imperceptibly away from the present as we gradually morph into other versions of ourselves. At this time, my parents had every right to be proud of their accomplishments, their offspring, the life they had created. You can see that happy life reflected in those faces in the picture.

Daddy was only 62 when he died, and I was 36. My sister Fia was only 16. Events like these take a huge toll on us all, but at least I was an adult and had some life experience that helped me put it into perspective. Fia and Markee were just high school kids. We all suffered through, and gradually, as it always happens, we took up the threads of our lives again and went on. Mama was devastated, having lost her husband of 37 years, but she also managed to establish a good life for herself in the fourteen years she had left on the planet. Mama was only 69 when she died. It astounds me to realize she was only 55 when she became a widow. To me, at the time, she seemed much older than that.

Of course, I realize that as I grow older myself, what once seemed to be ancient is now, well, not so much. Someone who is 55 seems young as I look back at the almost two decades that have transpired since I was that age. When I see in the obituaries that someone died at 82 (for example), it feels a little premature. But it's not, is it? In the Bible (Psalm 90:10) the length of a life is supposedly 70 or 80. ("We live for 70 years, or 80 years if we're healthy, yet even in the prime years there are troubles and sorrow. They pass by quickly and we fly away.")

Although my father didn't get to live that long, he lived a very full life, filled with love and laughter, family and friends. After he retired from the Air Force, he continued to work at General Dynamics. My brother wrote, in a previous post, this comment:
Don't forget he also worked at General Dynamics (now Lockheed) for a number of years after retiring from the Air Force. GD was also across the lake, and he often piloted his boat (GiGi, pronounced "jee-jee") to work. It was cool watching him take off into a strong wind with lots of "white cap" waves on the lake, on his way to the office.
That's a memory my brother has of our father that I didn't know anything about. I had already left home and started making my own way in the world. And now, here today, many many years later, I'm taking this time to remember and reflect on a wonderful man, my father, who gave me part of my genetic makeup (along with Mama), and who counseled me over the years we had together. We are intertwined forever, and as I sit here in the dark writing this post on my laptop, I can only feel gratitude for that time. The sense of loss is gone, replaced with a deep appreciation and indebtedness for having experienced it at all.

Thanks, Daddy, for being my father. I hope that someday we will again have a chance to compare notes about what we learned this time around. And to my blogging family, Happy Father's Day!


Rian said...

Great post, DJan. You had (and have) a wonderful family. Time passes... and there are losses. But we need to remember and appreciate what we did have... and still have. Memories are one thing, but *Love* is something else. I don't think it's a memory... but a real entity that lives on with us throughout our lives (and possibly after).

Anonymous said...

If you believe in the world of the spirit, then you do know that your father is there with you in spirit. Happy Father's Day!

Far Side of Fifty said...

I enjoyed the old photo. Your parents look happy and proud...as it should be:)

Linda Reeder said...

This is a lovely post. As always, it causes me to reflect too. Thank you.

Gigi said...

What a beautiful post - as always. Happy Sunday,DJan.

Elephant's Child said...

Thought provoking - and beautiful. Sending hugs.

Linda Myers said...

Good memories you have!

Arkansas Patti said...

Lovely post Djan and how fortunate you have a picture of most of the family together. With kids scattering in modern times, that is a rare shot. Too bad you couldn't have been in it along with Chris. That would have been perfect.
I too spent the day remembering my hero--my Daddy.

Rita said...

Looking back over your life is such a magical thing. All the sorrows, pains, joys, thrills...all of it is just so precious and fleeting that when I think about it my heart wells up and it's hard to believe it all happened sometimes. I feel so blessed for this moment I have to remember it all.

Stella Jones said...

Lovely thoughts about your father and your family D-Jan and so many good memories.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, this was a lovely tribute to your father and I believe--since Oneness is part of what makes life possible for me--that in that Oneness your dad is aware not only of your words but of your deep and heartfelt gratitude for his love and care of you and for his counsel.

My mom died when she was 58, back in 1968. I was 32. Dad died 4 years later, in 1975. He was 69 and I was 39. So many questions I'd like to ask them now. So much I'd like to know of their lives and dreams and hopes and aspirations. I've lived twenty years longer than Mom did and nine years longer than dad. And in my own mind, I still seem young! Youth truly is in the eye of the beholder. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Sweet post DJan. You are in a beautiful family. Life changes as time goes.It is nice to remember our family members ever whether they are there or not!

Friko said...

How I long to be part of a large happy family like yours.
You don’t know how fortunate you are to have such memories and an idyllic childhood with lots of ready-made playmates.

We are close in age but light years away in experience, you and I.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

What an absolutely beautiful post and retrospective Djan. Very touching.

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

These are wonderful memories of your father. I enjoyed reading it. Your dad was young when he passed away, but I'm glad you have these memories of him. Beautiful posting!

amanda said...

Beautiful photo & post, DJan.
Both my mom & dad lost their fathers young, too.. My paternal grandpa just 2 weeks after we celebrated his 60th birthday.. I feel lucky to have known him for almost my first 10 years of life. My mom's dad passed on when I was just 3.. much too soon. I'm fascinated with & curious about the lives of both of these men.
I am a little late in reading your post, but I felt gratitude on Father's Day, and every day.
I'm thankful for the life Mitch gives our kids with me. He wasn't so lucky. He says our kids probably don't appreciate the "normalcy" when how could they know any different. They will in time, if they don't yet.
We were able to spend time with my dad, too, on father's day. He's one of the smartest people I've ever known, quite a character.
I love reading about your family history & wisdom attached to it.
Sometimes I feel that I'm too busy documenting the memories we're making right now, with growing kids, to document the memories I have stored away of my own childhood. I love that you share yours.

Sally Wessely said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sally Wessely said...

Beautiful post. Your family is one that created some great memories for all of us to share through your writing. You mother looks so young in this photo. And, your father is handsome and is someone I would have liked to have known. You are a product of a great family.

Sally Wessely said...

Beautiful post. Your family is one that created some great memories for all of us to share through your writing. You mother looks so young in this photo. And, your father is handsome and is someone I would have liked to have known. You are a product of a great family.