My dad’s eight kids are having a family reunion at the end of April, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks going through 500+ photographs (which need to be scanned for the images to be preserved anyway) to make a 20-minute slide show as a gift to my siblings and their families.
No less than four times, using the slide show program which is supposedly so user-friendly, I have lost my work entirely. Each heartrending, hair-tearing time had to do with an option I was supposed to choose BEFORE I could save the file, and the directions didn’t really explain that part. I’m not the world’s brightest computer user, and the nuns in Catholic school used to say I had trouble listening to directions, but I don’t usually lose stuff into which I’ve put 16 or more hours of labor, which I estimate is the amount of time I lost groping my way through this gauntlet.
ANYWAY—glass half-full, princess, glass half-full—every time I had to start over, I miraculously ended up with a slide show better, funnier, lovelier, and more characteristic of not just my dad, but all of us, our spouses, and our children. One thing I’ve come to appreciate in this tedious process is what a HUGE family we have, and that every part of this machine that started with one humble, funny, kind, brilliant, difficult, theatrical man is integral to the whole. In other words, there’s not a person I could possibly leave out without feeling his or her absence, from the littlest to the biggest. We are each cogs in the wheel, and one cannot do without the other.
Poring over the photos made me miss my dad, who died in 1971. I miss what little I remember about him, poignant details like his voice, his smile, and the raucous, creative way he played with us. I remember the coins in his pockets he would give me when he came home from work; I remember playing the piano with him, which consisted of me sitting on his knee and banging away with my sister in noisy accompaniment; I remember my mom chasing him around the bedroom because he had a threadbare pair of holey, peach-colored pajamas he wouldn’t part with, and she was determined to grab hold and rip the existing holes to the point where he wouldn’t WANT those awful pajamas anymore. I remember how hard they were laughing as she chased him and how my dad leaped like Peter Pan up on the mattress where three wide-eyed kids sat as an audience, bounced us around and flew down again, then around, up and down again, but not quite fast enough to escape Mom’s clutches. The pajamas were soon and predictably destroyed, and so were my parents—from hysteria.
I had my dad for three years. Three-year-olds retain the strangest details. I remember playing on the swing set with him, my brother, and my sister in the backyard at our new house in
. I remember him wearing his sunglasses on his head the day before he died, and that he had squinty eyes because he had a migraine. And I remember the cobalt blue Ford Pinto that took him away from me forever. Bethesda
Now I will tell you how God is good. I don’t recall the day of Dad’s accident, or anything really, until two weeks later, when Mom gave my sister and me a joint birthday party because Dad had died one day before my birthday and three before my sister’s. As a proper widow in 1971, Mom wore a simple black dress…and a bright orange ribbon in her long, red hair. She was so beautiful, so ethereal, as though she’d been lifted free of sadness, if only long enough to entertain ten little ones for her daughters’ birthdays. She was the Great Comforter, and always will be. But I wonder--who ever comforted her as she did us? I think she stood alone from the moment he died.
I also remember parts of that Christmas—like my disconcerted five-year-old sister gathering my brother and me under the baby grand piano where it felt safe to her. She’d accidentally caught Mom crying quietly in the kitchen—Mom was always so careful—but that first Christmas was especially hard. Thereafter, our mom rarely cried, except at Christmas, and only then after we, and the world, were asleep. I never knew this until years later.
This essay might be regarded as depressing, but there’s a point. Bad things happen to people. To good people. To EVERYONE. In this, the world is a family, and there is no such thing as ‘alone’. We pick ourselves up, and if we’re little, we not only do that, we GROW up, despite the dark occasions when we wonder if it’s worth it.
It’s so worth it.
Today, having finally finished the slide show, I feel blessed and uplifted, not sad. Sure, there’s always that bittersweet element stitched into my emotional make-up, and in the last few days it’s been a part of every hour. But the photos—oh, those photos! They are full of life and silliness, laughter and color and love, and the most beautiful, amazing people I’ve ever known. At times like these, when I study the beloved faces of Dad and Mom, sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews, I thank my God for the richness of my past and path. At times like these, I believe my father never really left us at all.