Today is the day that society says we are to celebrate our fathers. Let him put his feet up, have the remote, and give him special gifts. We are to tell him how much he means to us with sentiments … Continue reading
Someone asked me a question earlier this evening that prompted this, my first post in months. The question:
‘WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY?’
I had an amazing childhood. I had a backyard full of madness – dogs, raccoons, a tire swing, a trampoline, bb guns, a go-cart, a garden, little popup pools in the summer and a ‘clubhouse’ on stilts. All the kids in the neighborhood flocked to our house. Kids weren’t allowed through the back gate without a note from their parents. I have not exaggerated one word. It was pretty incredible.
My favorite childhood memory could have been behind that chainlink fence or at the park across the street. It could have been one of the many camping excursions, the trips we took as a family to the hill country or my first sleepover. No, my favorite memory is simple and precious. It’s also so vivid that I can recall the sensory experience, as if it had just happened, although it was twenty-seven years ago this summer.
The summer I turned eight years old, my dad taught me how to swim at Lake Somerville. I remember following him out to the water. I remember carefully putting my feet where he had just left indentions in the muddy bank. I remember how he firmly told me not to be afraid. I remember him turning my little hands into ‘boats’. I remember him teaching me the kicks. I do not remember feeling afraid, doubtful or inferior because I didn’t know what to do. I felt safe and sure.
I remember the way the lake water smelled on him mixed with his Sure deodorant and how it got all caught up on his furry chest (he was super fuzzy!). I remember the way the sun looked; dipping into its final performance of the day and sending shimmery, red, late-July light across the surface of the muddy lake. I remember his assuring voice guiding me through the steps and patiently waiting for me to pick up the skill. I remember how it felt the first time I soared away from him and surprised myself with my strength.
I have subconsciously conjured this precious recollection hundreds of times over. Until recently I had not realized that it is definitely the most dear to my heart out of all the unforgettable moments of a childhood like mine. The brilliance of the recall might be part of why I favor it so much. However, being able to bring back who I was and who he was so realistically is just extra goodness.
I love this memory so much because it exemplifies who my daddy was to me and who I was to him. I was his to protect, lead, care for, reassure, admonish, make strong and prepared for the world. He was all those things to me and more.
So in my own life, in my own time, I have learned again how to step where he stepped, to not be afraid, to use my hands and the tools I had been given. I have remembered his assuring wisdom, referenced his guidance and learned from the skills he lived out in front of me. I have, more times than I had ever imagined that I could, surprised myself with my strength – but I never would have known it had it not been for him.
I have loved the holidays for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my perception of the holidays began on Halloween and ended on Valentine’s Day. Not too much has changed in my adult years – except for maybe my levels of excitement.
I am not the crazy person that puts up decor for everything and shops months in advance and crafts until her fingers bleed…no. My love for the holidays is found in an intangible place.
It’s a feeling I get when the first northern wind blows in (*term used loosely, author lives in Texas) and the neighbors sport the ridiculousness of carved gourds on their porches. People eat creamy things and buttery things and they drink more than they should and – even if it’s a bit put on – they seem happy.
I understand the need to fake it, really I do. A few years ago something happened that I thought would blow out that little intangible candle forever. My father died.
He was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2007 and after many years of a very hard battle that I will not pretend to understand, he died. It was December 21st, 2011 and he was gone. Just days before Christmas. We held his funeral on the 23rd and then we tried to go on and I thought then, I cannot. I cannot go on. This will never be the same. I will always have to pretend, from now on, that this is a happy time.
I spend a lot of time inside my head and inside of my memories, trying to make my future better than my past and find meaning in the hurtful disappointments that life dishes out. There has never been a hurt like seeing my father lose his life to cancer. There has never been a disappointment like catching myself looking around a room for him, still, after three years.
However, that courageous, strong, funny, brilliant man in the photo above would be so frustrated with me if he knew I still had to convince myself that there was joy to be had in this time of year. If he knew how I have had to muster the merry, year after year, he would be so sad. So this year…I have tried to embrace the creeping bit of holiday sparkle, the rekindling that has found its way back to my heart.
I bought a few new holiday albums. I even have an ugly sweater. And a holiday cat shirt, because OF COURSE.
I plan on accepting invitations to parties (I’m not full blown cat lady just yet) and actually attending
some of them. I will decorate the house. I will wrap presents some time prior to 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve. I will revel in the fact that there is a true spark of happy budding in me where I thought it had long been forever lost.
When December 21st comes I will remember my father. I know I will feel so much sadness and loss. I will spend time alone, wishing for his presence and tearfully recalling him. I will visit his graveside, with winter white roses for his children, a red one for his wife and yellow ones for his grandchildren. I will gather with my family and remember him on that day. I will not ignore the anniversary of his death.
I’m not sure what this means for me right now…or how it will change how I see the holiday season. But it feels like progress toward healing up from such a still gaping wound.
I know this much is true…struggling through the holidays, just dreading the march of Thanksgiving through Christmas and allowing his memory to soak it all in sadness and grief would be something he would never have condoned. HE would be hurt by that attitude. HE would be disappointed in my behavior.
So I will make as merry as I can and I will remember the years past, when he was here and beautiful and healthy and whole. I will embrace the good things he gave me, like my resilience and my sense of humor and my love.
And just because this post didn’t have much to do with my normal theme of cats, doesn’t mean that there isn’t still opportunity to see a bit of priceless humor in it – because finding a little joy in life is as simple as opening your eyes a little wider to it.