I've been thinking a lot about my father this Christmastide. I'm not sure why. Maybe, just maybe, even though my ideas about death are pretty vague and formless, maybe he's thinking of me.
Just today I told at least three stories about him.
I told Dean, who has work horses, about how my father talked about his childhood draft horses until he became senile. He used to take the mail from Waiteville to Gap Mills, across a mountain, on the back of a draft horse in every weather imaginable. His family had the government contract to take the mail from that tiny place in a isolated valley to the nearest real post office. Once, he told me, he got disoriented in a snow storm and got the horse to lie down and nestled against him for warmth until the storm lessened. Now that's a story. Once when Daddy was in the nursing home and I never knew who he thought I was, I came in and he asked me about the team of horses his family had owned. I'm sorry to say, I can't remember the horses names, but one was a bay and one was dappled. I remember that. Dean loves his horses and so I told him about my father's horse love.
I also told Peter, my friend, a story about my father. And one to Bea, who works with me. I only realized a few minutes ago that I've been talking about my father all day and thinking about him too.
One of the stories I told was how my father was in the Army Engineers in WW II. It was his job, along with a lot of other engineers, to build the bridges across the rivers across France and Germany so Patten could drive the tanks across. Then my father and his friends would blow the bridge up.
I dream about him from time to time. Always something soft and lovely that I can't remember the details about....
I never dream of my mother, though she dominated my childhood. Mom was a school teacher, college educated, Master's degree to boot, all earned in night classes and summers while she was already teaching first grade. My father went away to school for 8th grade--Waiteville only went to 7th--and lasted a semester before he came home to work on the farm. He always deferred to my mother because she was so much more educated. I was a dreamy, bookish kid so my mother and I seemed to share much more than I did with my father. I couldn't even help him do the manual labor because I was then, as I am now, remarkably clumsy and all thumbs.
But as I age, it is my father that I think of more and more.
Two Christmas memories: I was 6 or 7, a sickly child, asthmatic and skinny (who'd believe that these days?!) and when I came down the hall and saw the Christmas tree and all the presents, I swooned and fainted dead away. (People don't 'swoon' nearly enough these days, it seems to me. "Swooning' had a certain romanticism that 'passing out' can't match. But 'swooning' has gone the way of 'having the vapors'. More the loss. Alas.)
I woke up in my father's arms, bathed in his tears. He was crying to beat the band, holding me gently in his strong, farmer/soldier arms. The lights from the tree were reflected in the dampness on his face. I remember that moment.
When I was 13 or so, he promised me a new TV for Christmas. Of course, I expected a color TV--this would have been 1960, somewhere around there--and color TV actually sucked big time and we could only get three channels anyway. But on Christmas morning it was a Black and White TV. I went into a sulk so monumental that my father called Adrian Vance who owned the appliance store and went on Christmas morning to exchange the TV for a color one.
I was such a s*** that I never thanked him for that astonishing act of generosity and love.
I'd like to do that now.
Thank you, Daddy, for loving me enough to let me be a total asshole and ungrateful s*** to you and still being generous beyond belief and loving beyond all measure.
I only hope I was a little bit to my children the way my father was to me....
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