“Dad, daddy! Don’t go. Don’t leave me,” I silently cried. But he did leave. He left while I was speeding to the hospital in a taxi.
My sister was waiting at the main entrance of the hospital. Her face told me I was too late. I raced up the stairs to the intensive care ward. He was in the room, where just this morning, I had visited with him. We had been laughing as he told yet another joke, even though he was hooked up to a heart monitor and intravenous machine. My handsome, affable father. It was his idea that I go shopping for awhile and come back later. Maybe bring him a beer. Ha, ha.
The curtains were closed all around the room. The machines were silent now, as was he. Hands folded. Right over left, slender fingers with oval shaped nails. His hands, my sister’s hands. Hair with that natural part, on the right side. No amount of brylcreem could fill it in. A cow-lick he called it. His hair, my hair, my cow-lick. Long, slim body under the hospital sheet. A handsome man, at age 65. However, the ridiculous, pukey green hospital gown did not fit.
I kissed his cheek, still warm. “Good-bye Dad. You were so much fun.” What an inane statement for the moment and all he meant to me. The reality of good-bye coupled with loss would come later. I remember how we used to laugh in card stores, especially at the sympathy cards. “The rose beyond the wall” comes to mind. Wasn’t it just too funny? Now I’m reading all the cards addressed to me. They are neither humorous nor comforting.
The woman who cried the most at your funeral – poor Rose. A 50’ish spinster colleague of yours. She was hardly noticed at the office until you went to work there. With your usual ease and jocular manner, a new blouse or new hair cut was admired, and there was your gentle teasing about her “dates”, which were non-existent. Always making her feel pretty and important. Captivated and in love with you, but knowing her limitations, her days would be long now.
The young man who you had befriended and counseled as his wife had several affairs. He was overcome with grief and could not even speak, as he tried to offer condolences to me. Who would take him fishing now and listen as he poured his heart out?
After the cremation, I carried you to the car. We were taking our last ride together to the lake, your beloved place. No favourite cap, well-worn boots or plaid shirt anymore, only the rust coloured pottery urn, which now housed the remains of your body. I carefully placed you in the front passenger seat, a seat belt no longer required. You would have laughed. We were going to the lake today but I didn’t want to think about tomorrow.
Afterwards, over many years, I still talked with you, sometimes even laughing at a perceived shared joke. Always on my mind and in my heart.
Once, on a quiet country road, I was reminiscing, wishing I could be walking and talking with you, when suddenly a raven flew overhead. He was so close that I could hear his wings beating and felt the draft from them. Was it you?
On a crowded city street, there, up ahead, a slim man tipping his hat towards a woman, a gesture I had seen you do many times. I started to run towards them – wait for me! But then, it wasn’t you after all.
I remember your bologna sandwiches using white bread and mustard. The tinned beans, canned stews, Kraft dinner and wieners with ketchup. Gourmet it was not but I’d eat any of it now just to have lunch with you again.
Every Sunday morning, our weekly phone chats. For many weeks after your death, I would still think – gotta call Dad. Oh. Can’t. No longer to hear you bug me about the grand-children you wanted. I disappointed you there.
What about the time our neighbour was cooking a large turkey for Thanksgiving? You watched them leave in their car to go visiting while dinner was cooking. Then you ran over and exchanged their turkey for a Cornish game hen! Your delight (and mine) hearing the neighbour shriek when she discovered her turkey had shrunk. Wasn’t that a great Thanksgiving as their turkey, all cooked, awaited them from our oven?
I watched you riding your bicycle to work, long before it was environmentally fashionable.
Then there was the visit to Alberta, after a 30 year absence. Going door to door in the farmlands, as a Jehovah’s Witness, with me in tow. You had even collected pamphlets ahead of time to authenticate your door knocking! Having a child with you (a bonus!). The initial shock of former friends and class mates, then recognition and the uproar of laughter all around. I didn’t understand then but smiled a lot remembering in later years. Always a prankster and joker, the prairie boy became a country man. Women found you charming; men sought you as a buddy. I revered you as my father.
Returning from trips, I would meet you. Airports, bus depots, driveways, anywhere. Your arms would be outstretched in greeting and then enfold me like I was a little girl again. I can see us and feel this like it was yesterday. When does grieving end?
What I’m not missing is piling wood or scraping barnacles off the boat – hated chores!
Dad, I have my own cabin now on a lake up North. You would love it! A photo of you from the 1950’s adorns one wall. In it you are smiling and holding up the “catch of the day,” which appears to be a 20 pound Lake trout. Your trademark fishing outfit, the plaid shirt with a package of Players cigarettes topping the pocket, old brown zip-up sweater, windbreaker jacket, grey work socks in boots and always a fishing cap.
* * *
My sister and I returned to the lake after a 20 year hiatus. There is a big lodge there now, but they have retained some of the original cabins for those wanting a more rustic (and cheaper) experience. We found our old one. It was still complete with the bunk beds, wood stove and the screened in box window for food storage, which was amazing after all this time. The same outhouse is there too. We remembered how scared we were to go there in the dark, with just a flashlight. Who knew what perils awaited us? We both laughed in remembrance. Finding the old boat was a bonus. It was partly sunk behind the cabin and full of weeds. No barnacles now.
We rented a motorboat and set off for the small beach, where our father had always tied up with our picnic lunches. It is the place where we had scattered his ashes. Arriving, we sat in the boat and drank coffee from a thermos. It was a sunny day with a blue sky punctuated with clouds like huge white fluffy pillows. My sister and I smiled at each other. We held our coffee mugs aloft and saluted the beach. “Here’s looking at you, Dad. Thanks for the memories.” It was time to let go of my broken heart. I started the motor. A little way out from shore, my sister suddenly tossed her new brown corduroy cap into the water. What the hell? What was she doing?
She said, “Dad always liked a nice fishing cap.”
We watched it bob on the waves back to the beach. A mist suddenly came over the lake.
I hit full throttle back to the lodge and their dock. It was over.