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, 2022

Bringing up the past

Norma Jean and me, picture by Daddy

I looked back at previous Father's Day posts, and all of them have pictures I've used before. Maybe it would be fun to remember Daddy from another angle, looking at who he was to those two little girls when we were growing up. For the first seven years of my life, it was just the two of us, and then my sister PJ was born.

He was a big man, especially to us, who were much smaller and dependent on him and Mama for everything. Daddy would often be the one who would send us off to school with our lunch pails, with sandwiches he prepared. He often told me stories of how life was for him when he was a little girl (which of course he wasn't, but I didn't know that then. I thought I'd grow up to be a man like him.)

Daddy was very soft-hearted. He would cry at the drop of a hat and often lost his composure when reading stories to us at bedtime. I don't have any memories of Mama reading to us, but plenty of them when he did. As a child, I didn't wonder about why it was always him, because I thought that it was the same in every family. These days, I do wonder, since I remember that Daddy was a morning person, like I am, and Mama was not. Maybe she had her nose buried in a book she was reading and Daddy preferred reading bedtime stories to us. Who knows?

My parents went on to have a big family of six (seven if you count our sister who died after having been born prematurely and only lived for a few hours), but the second family didn't come along until I was a teenager. My brother Buz was born when I was sixteen, and then the next two sisters were born after I got married and left home myself. I have never been as close to them as I am to Norma Jean, since it was just the two of us for so many years. Daddy looms large in my memories of growing up, although as an officer in the Air Force, he was often absent for months at a time.

Daddy had a darkroom where he developed pictures and was a pretty good photographer. He took many pictures of his two daughters, like the one I've included here, and Mama was always nearby if not prominent in many of them. She was the one who kept us looking presentable and probably sewed those little beach outfits for us. I well remember the smell of the chemicals in the darkroom, although I was only allowed in a few times. It's a very clear memory, flat pages with the images slowly appearing as he carefully worked with them until they were developed to his satisfaction and then placed on a clothesline to dry. I suppose there are still darkrooms like his somewhere, but it's really a relic of the past for most of us. Now I take pictures with a simple click of my camera phone and if I don't like it, off it goes into the ether. No more waiting to see what you captured.

Daddy liked to read, but nothing like the way my mother did. She had reams of books from the library surrounding her, and she would read in bed, while Daddy was asleep next to her. (This was when we were older and no longer had bedtime stories read to us.) The activity never seemed to bother him, and I remember sitting and talking (quietly) to Mama at night while Daddy snored away. As a teenager, Daddy introduced me to his favorite science fiction books, some of which I have reread as an adult. I think he would have loved the way so many of his children became avid readers. He was a philosopher at heart, too. He filled my head with some amazing ideas, mostly when he'd become a little inebriated, which might explain why many of those thoughts are still so vivid in my mind. I blame Daddy for my overactive imagination.

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. My youngest siblings, 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 and moved 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 three decades that have transpired since I was that age. When I see in the obituaries that someone died at 85 (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.  
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Although my father didn't get to be very old, 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 (GD), which is now Lockheed. Although I had left home long before and wasn't around at that time, my brother saw this side of him: he often piloted his boat to work, since GD was located across Lake Worth, where my family lived. It was remarkable 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 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. 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 and giving me so many vivid memories of you. I hope that someday in one of our future lives we will again have a chance to compare notes about what we learned this time around. The bonds of love and happiness are very strong when I think about my childhood, and you are very much a central figure even today. 

If there is a heaven, I like to think my parents are together on the celestial golf course, where long drives and accurate putts are the norm. And that Daddy outdrives Mama most of the time.

And that's it, for this Father's Day remembrance, and me hoping that your week is a good one, with lots of love and laughter in whatever is just right for you. My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me as I finish up this post, and I look forward to the rest of my day ahead. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you call good things. Be well.


gigi-hawaii said...

It is always good to remember one's father with fondness. Not everyone does. Consider yourself lucky. Gigi hawaii

Far Side of Fifty said...

Nice memories of your Father! How wonderful that he read to you! :)

ApacheDug said...

A wonderful read, DJan. Of your main writing topics--hiking, skydiving, quantum physics & Buddhism--I enjoy your family memories most. And these are some great memories of your dad. Like yourself, I lost my own dad at 62 but unlike you, I had none of these memories. (On my 5th birthday, my dad told me there would be no more hugs or kisses unless I wanted to grow up to be my mom...ha!) So I read yours not with envy, but with wonder & appreciation. Thanks for sharing.

Arkansas Patti said...

Such wonderful memories you have of your Dad. Mine was a lot like yours and I only have the fondest memories of him. We were both lucky.

Marie Smith said...

How fortunate are we to have had fathers who directed us on the right path in their own gentle ways. Today I celebrate my husband too, who was and is a great father and grandfather. I feel so fortunate to have these men in my life.

John's Island said...

Truly a loving tribute to your dad. I can imagine him in heaven today smiling about his daughter’s writing to honor him. Thank you for another fine Eye on the Edge.

Elephant's Child said...

This is truly beautiful. Thank you so much for your appreciation of a special man - and for taking the time to share it.

Rita said...

Sometimes if the dad's were gone all day working they really wanted to be the one to read the bedtime stories so they could have some special time with their kids and not miss out.
Good memories. :)

Sandra said...

I enjoy reading happy memories of childhood. Your memories are beautiful and I'm so happy for you to have them.

Linda Reeder said...

I enjoyed this post very much. What a lovely childhood you describe. I don't think either of my parents ever read to us, but my Dad sang to us, and we loved that.

Galen Pearl said...

I have only one sibling, a sister, who is twelve years older than me, so we grew up in two generations, like you and your younger siblings. She remembers things about both our parents that had changed by the time I came along, so we not only grew up in different generations, but in a way in different families. I loved your description of your dad. What sweet, dear memories.

Red said...

What great memories of your dad. You look back as an adult on what you experienced and learned as a child. It seems that you come from family of readers. Reading to children is one of the best things a parent can do.

Gigi said...

What a lovely tribute to your Daddy. I've read several posts about dads in the lead up to Father's Day and they've all made me tear up a bit. Have a wonderful week, DJan.

Betsy said...

I enjoyed reading your tribute to your Father. He sounds like a wonderful man. Thank you for sharing your special memories with all of us.

Anvilcloud said...

As always, your Sunday post is very well done. You think and write very well.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

It's interesting how our perspective of our lives as children are different as adults. Lovely tribute to your dad and insight into your memories.

Glenda Beall said...

I love your descriptions of your father. My father was nothing like yours. He never read to me or hugged me. Your father is the kind of daddy most of us would love to have. Thanks for sharing him with us.