My Father’s Gift

June 23, 2013 at 8:15 am (Life, Memoir) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

It snowed the day we buried my/our father. The day we said goodbye. But we didn’t actually bury him; we haven’t buried him yet. He wants to be buried by his parents whose graves are 560 miles from where he lived & died.

I remember the first time I saw his mountains – the ones he loved, the place he chose to live out more than half of his life. I was prairie born and raised and had not been any further than the small town (less than an hour away) where my mother’s parents lived.  I hadn’t fallen in love with the city yet. Where I was was good enough.

April Flow

Then my father came back. I must have been around eleven or so but I always remember myself as thirteen – a teenager – everything changing, everything different.

I say I met my father for the first time when I was thirteen because that’s how it feels. Before that summer, there was only my mother, my two older sisters and my baby brother. This was my primary family. This was who was responsible for me and who I was responsible for. Yes, there were cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents from both sides. I suspect his parents always knew where my father was. I suspect my mother knew but he had left, he no longer had any right to us in her eyes.

I wish he had supported us. It’s the one thing I hate my nephews for – that they don’t support all their children. Yes, it’s hard (I’m hard-hearted) but I feel that if a child has your DNA you are obligated to provide money for their care.

I forgave my father many things before he died and this was the hardest to forgive him for – that he left us desolate.

But he came back. He gave me unexpected gifts.

And those mountains – the Rockies – the pictures I showed you two Sundays ago were one of the best.

I don’t think I would have sought them out myself. I was prairie born, use to wide spaces and forever views. You think the mountains would have felt confining.

River in April

I remember my first glimpse of the mountains. We were going to spend part of the summer with my father and his new family. My father drove down to pick us up and drive us back. A long trip. I did it twice this last April. Once to see him (cheery in his hospital bed) and then to go to the funeral less than three weeks later(unexpected although we had all been anticipating his death for years).

A long trip. Eight or so hours crammed in the van barely stopping – my father is a straight on driver like my younger brother (the one who didn’t grow up in my father’s house). When I drive, when I walk, I am a meander. I like stopping and stretching. I like to enjoy the trip and not just race to the destination.

We left early in the morning. Towards the end of the trip, I fell asleep. I awoke, lying down in the back seat, looking up into the mountains with Gordon Lightfoot singing “Alberta Bound” on the radio. I was still half-asleep. I was in awe. I was home. A home I never spent enough time at. A home so different from my other home and yet, there were so many similarities.

3 Sisters

At my father’s two most recent homes, I would awake and go out to gaze at the three sister mountains every morning (little, medium, big). It is perfect symmetry as there are six of us girls, three on each side of my father’s linage – eldest, middle, youngest (me) from my mother and him. Eldest, middle, youngest from my step-mother and him. And altogether – three boys. The nine of us, both family and too often strangers, break up into perfect symmetry.

I’ve been blessed with two homes and there is never enough time to spend at both. Never enough time to watch endless prairie sunsets or to gaze at the stars. Never enough time to explore quiet mountain lakes and caves. Never enough time to just sit and  be in the company of family.

All nine of us made it to the funeral and I worry that it will be the last time that we will all be together.

3 Sisters - home view

You see, the other best gift he gave me was family.

We are all both so alike and so different from each other. Still, we are all private. You may notice I don’t name people here.

But I notice these people. I miss these people. I worry about these people.

I notice that I have a nephew whose first choice of pop is Dr. Pepper as is mine.

My father is why I buy Cadbury’s Burnt Almond chocolate bars and my father’s father is why I love macaroons.

We pass on the smallest things to each other.

One sister wishes to draw as well as the other.

I wish I had my eldest step-brother’s courage.

All my brothers remind me of my father for different reasons.

We all have lucid dreams that we can remember in detail. I wonder if that is inherited or coincidental!

Before the rain fell!

Before the rain fell!

My eldest sister’s youngest son recently bought a house not far from where my father was raised up. He started to describe it to his granddad (my father) the last time he saw him. Dad said, “I remember that house. I think I dated one of the girls (there were four) who use to live there.” It’s a tiny house. I wonder how four girls and two parents could have fit. But they did. Families then, families now – we find a way to make do with what there is.

They teach me things I’ll never need to know. Like how many miles it is grid to grid, that is, that there is a set pattern to country roads (gravel roads) here; north-south roads are placed at one-mile intervals and east-west roads at two-mile intervals. I suppose this may come in handy if I ever get lost alone on a country road but I doubt it. I prefer to meander until I recognize something and can go “aha, here I am. I know where I am now.” A friend from university claimed you were never lost if you knew what province you were in and I like her reasoning on this!

I no longer have an excuse to visit those mountains and I worry that I may never return. Though, someday, I do plan to spend at least one night at the Banff Springs Hotel even though I wish I could travel back in time to stay at it when it was first born.

As I write this, rains devastates my mountains and the hitch in my youngest sister’s voice as she narrates video of the disaster brings tears to my eyes. This is her home and it is under threat. I wish for the rain to stop.

Home. Where is home? What is home?

Why does it seems the older I get the less I know.

Butterfly Border

A father is a complicated thing. (Emma Brockes/She Left Me the Gun:my mother’s life before me. Toronto: Penguin Press, 2013)


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