Monday, March 02, 2009

Splinter memories

I was fine until she called and asked me if I knew what day it was. "March 1st. Dad died two years ago today." There was no hesitation in the answer. It had been lurking under the surface of my day like a wooden splinter I was reluctant to dig out, silent, waiting, not painful unless I moved the wrong way. "It seems like yesterday and like it happened a long time ago," she said, and she was right. I moved the wrong way and the splinter reminded me it was there.

Dad's picture is on the end table. He's smiling and young and wearing his Army uniform. I see it every day and take a moment to smile with him no matter what is happening. It always makes me feel good the way he made me feel when he was telling me a story of his childhood or regaling me with his chickens' or pigeons' antics or telling me about the trees, flowers and plants he was growing. He sometimes gave me an update on the avocado pit I sprouted in a glass in the window of my apartment in Columbus about 30 years ago and how tall and leafy it is. Ohio is too cold for it to set fruit, but it's still alive and growing for him. He kept all the plants I started or sprouted, caring for them as he cared for me when I was a child, talking to them, singing, playing music and tending them with loving care. Those plants were his connection with me, his wandering daughter, as other plants were his connection to all of his children and grandchildren.

Every winter he'd tell me when the Christmas cactus bloomed, the one Eddie deflowered when Dad first got it. The flowers were yellow and my 18-month-old son made a bouquet for me out of them. Dad never forgot or forgave him for that and every year Dad was sure the cactus wouldn't bloom again, but it did. That cactus is over 30 years old and the blooms are still yellow.

I told John about the second anniversary of Dad's death and he reminded me that Dad loved me and that I loved him and, although the memories were sometimes painful, they would give way in time and all that would remain were happy memories of phone calls and conversations, letters and time spent together. He was wrong about one thing. Dad left a few holes in me, too. The holes aren't big ones, but they're there, holes Dad couldn't fill, failures and silences that I don't probe too often. They're like that splinter, quiescent and quiet unless I move the wrong way. They're not as big as the holes other fathers left in their children, holes so big they swallow up the good times and the smiles and happiness and holidays and vacations, holes so big they feel like a vast emptiness or hot needles searing memory into painful twisting scars. The holes Dad left are much smaller than that and beginning to fill with memories of love and caring and big callused hands twisting fine dark hair around into perfect curls on a little girl's head and dancing while holding those same hands in the golden light of California evenings before television and school work, boyfriends and dating were even distant thoughts.

In the bright morning sunshine, in a picture on the end table, Dad wears his Army uniform and smiles his eternal smile and the memories are good ones.

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