Sunday, January 11, 2009

IMMORTALIZING DAD

I'm wading through old photograph albums in the hope that one day I'll scan them onto DVDs. Other than for obvious reasons, I'm hoping they'll spark some lost memories of my childhood, stuff I can share with my sons and my grandchildren. I have journals, but they're mostly dark thoughts that lead me to write equally dark suspense thrillers; the mind of a writer is a strange thing. By sharing stories of my youth, I'll be immortalized. The way I wish my parents and grandparents had been. Who are we really, but the legacy of our pasts?

This is a photograph of my dad visiting in the late spring of 1983. They'd recently made a trek to Manitoba. It was a sad time for my dad. He'd buried his mother. He and his sister Joyce had also gone through my grandmother's house deciding which grandchild should get what. Which grandchild should receive which crocheted dollies, etc. I'd already received a beautiful crocheted tablecloth as a wedding gift years earlier.

My dad's experience was blessed by the fact he adored his kid sister and she him. He was stationed in Victoria, B.C. after the war, married and raised his family in Maple Ridge. It was a long way from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. I understand now how homesick he must have been for his mum and sister. Our youngest has been stationed in Gagetown, New Brunswick for over ten years. Dad made it back to Manitoba as often as he could, but it's not the same.

His picture has a prominent spot on my wall of photos. I may not look at it everyday, but I doubt a day goes by that I don't think of him. Six feet three and a half, over two hundred pounds, he was larger than life. His resemblance to Robert Mitchim and Nick Nolte was uncanny. He had the singing voice of Dean Martin mixed with Ray Price. The women among the couples they chummed with said he had bedroom blues eyes. I remembered being perplexed over that description for years. What did the colour of eyes have to do with bedrooms? Duh.

The day I took the photograph of him sitting at our kitchen table, he was telling us stories of their trip to Manitoba. Adventures, really. Most of Dad's stories had Mum doing something embarrassing. Like the time she was daydreaming and drove into an eighteen wheeler waiting at a stop sign. Somebody nicknamed her "Crash" after that. It was probably Dad.

There was the story of how they met. 1947 or thereabouts, Mum was chaperoning her younger sisters at a dance in Winnipeg. The way Dad tells its: When she spotted Dad, she immediately abandoned the girls and dragged him onto the dance floor. Afterward she dragged him home and took advantage of him. Mum always laughed when he told that story. It was twenty years before I understood why. He was a charmer. My mother was brought up by a strict French Roman Catholic mother who freaked if any of us kids undressed our dolls.

One of Dad's best stories was of their trip to my grandmother's funeral. Mum's bladder was never very strong. She was good for two or three hours. Hence, trying to convince Dad to stop was a chore. After the third warning, she'd threaten to pee her pants. Their trip from B.C. across the Prairies to Portage usually took two days. When he was finally convinced that she did indeed need to go, they were somewhere east of the Rockies, in Alberta or Saskatchewan. There were no buildings. No gas stations. Nothing. Mum had a blanket in the backseat of their Ford 250. She pulled it out and handed it to him. Dad held it up and was supposed to be standing guard. He was wearing his favourite moccasins slippers, comfortable for driving. A semi was approaching from the east, but a safe distance away. Satisfied, Mum dropped her drawers.

"It's hard to pee on command," she told us later.

What she'd failed to do was to trust Dad to look to the west. A very long semi was approaching. You can imagine: big truck drives by. Wind flies up. Picks up blanket. And there's our very ladylike mother peeing freely, unable to cut it short, bare bum to the breeze. But hey that's not the all of it. The wind picked up her pee too and sprayed all over Dad's slippers.

He's yelling, "Hey! You're peeing on my slippers!" while she's laughing, unable to stop or cover her butt, but watching in sheer horror as the semi from the west motors on by. She swears the truck driver waved and gave her a big smile. Mum thinks Dad's soaked slippers was God's gift.


The story sticks in my mind because it was the last one he told me. I never saw him again. Eight days after I took this photo, he passed on. He left a lot of great stories behind though. I just need to make the time to jot them all down.

2 comments :

  1. My mom died much too young, back in 1983. That was the year our family had two weddings and a funeral in less than four months. Then my dad died in 2003, twenty years later. And that was the year we had two more weddings and a funeral within three months!

    Whenever I used to ask my mom questions about our family she would say I should have asked my grandmother. In later years my dad answered the same question by saying I should have asked my mother. As a result there aren't a lot of first- or second-hand memories that I can pass along to our children and I certainly regret that now. Fortunately an uncle wrote his memoirs before he died and they include a glimpse into my grandparents' lives that we wouldn't otherwise have.

    There is so much wisdom in your comment that we are the legacy of our pasts. Family histories are such treasures!

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  2. I feel bad that I didn't ask more questions while my mum was still alive. I have an aunt in Manitoba, but her memories are bad. I guess the responsibility lies with us. We have an obligation to take up the pen and make sure our grandchildren receive as much of information on our lives as we feel comfortable supplying. I know I'd cherish a journal from my grandmother now. Maybe not when I was a teenager or a young mother. But her words would be a comfort today.

    Thanks, Careann.

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