Friday, August 31, 2012


The tweedy browns and maroons of the paneling and patterned carpet already weigh my eyelids as we file in.  Mrs. Jansta, the organist, plays a peppy enough tune, but for her instrument.  The sound of any note, in any succession at any speed has a drowse-inducing impact when wrung from a church organ.  Maybe it was a childhood in catholic school with additional church every Sunday that lulled me, a sense of home and comfort that made me sink into myself back then.  Or as I think now, many years later, maybe it's that I had long since stopped listening, even as a 4th grader, to the stories told again and again, with the same moral at the end that had felt more like common sense than revolutionary information for many years, even at that tender age.  Whatever the reason, Sunday mornings were the week's tranquilizer.

We were marched in.  We didn't have a regular pew, but a general area on the right side of the alter where we took over.  My dad, my mom and my siblings. Twelve altogether.  Though rare is the time when all 10 kids attended Sunday mass with our parents.  But always enough of us to evoke knowing nods as we passed.  Three boys and seven girls, under the command of my mother.  All the girls had thick locks rarely cut, the front few strands pulled primly to the back of our heads, fastened tightly with plain barrettes.  Though I could not have articulated this then, I now refer to our presentation as pious pagentry. 

The suddenly louder tones of Mrs. Jansta's organ announced the official beginning of the ceremony.  And then, to me, it changed from public display to something private and personal.  We all jockeyed for position. I don't recall if we had a regular order in our pew. 

What I do recall is this.

The smell of that morning's apple pipe tobacco pulling me to my right.  Finding the widest, flattest part of the thatched woolen suit jacket shoulder quickly with a glance.  I would not have much time - until I was visibly entrenched, I might be unseated by another pressing need - valid or otherwise - at any moment.  I needed to tuck in quickly to ward off the disturbance of reprioritization - I was the youngest girl and was bloody well going make that work for me.  Here, anyway.  It'd worked against me enough - in the area of shoes and clothing of my own, for example: someone had always broken my things in before I got them. So on certain Sundays I rallied and found the coveted spot, breathed deeply the old smoke and spicy dad-scent, and leaned my right cheek onto the tweed.  Even before I had decided to let the full weight of my head drop, my eyelids fell one more degree.  My cheek already felt a bit clammy and hot, but this would be it, the spot. 

My dad - it's hard to say my dad because he was our dad - shared in all aspects, with so many others, at all times - didn't really make a move of any kind.  He bore the lean and that was all I needed.  I felt more cozy than if I were under my pink sheets at home.  It was home.  Church sounds and the sharp, earthy wafts of incense, with a gaggle of relatives around me, and one square, solid shoulder for just me to burrough into for 40 minutes until the sign of peace and then communion. 

Though I liken it to home, I didn't have many of those Sundays.  I was probably 9 years old the last time I let go into the warmed shoulder tweed.  My Addie is 9 now.  My dad died of pancreatic cancer on September 1, 1978, 34 years ago tomorrow.  I was 10 years old.  My dad was 46 years old.

I think though, that today I got a glimpse of myself on those Sundays.  It did not register at the time, but there was something about this flash that kept me both present while also yanking me back to another past me, simultaneously. 

And, yes.  Snappy snapperson here got a photo.

As I said, Addie is 9 here.  Her dad is 45 (see figures above).  We'd spent the afternoon in our own ritual, being thankful in our own ways: enjoying outdoors, satisfying curiosity, listening for what is old - what we know, and listening for what is new - what we don't know.

The sound of an amped acoustic guitar with accompanying paint-bucket percussion was something we didn't know.  It was nothing like Mrs. Jansta's organ, but something comforting drew us just the same. We stopped to learn and fortify the cardboard-labeled other bucket declaring a welcoming of support.

Michael will not likely be thrilled with the expression on his face.  But I am.  He was talking to Addie about the music, adding another aspect to what he knew she was already absorbing.  She didn't need to focus on what he was saying, she just dropped into the cottony feel over his shoulder and the sounds around her, the scent of lake air.  You can see that she has let go fully into him - her arms are slack, her fingers so rarely unclenched. She cared only that her foundation, her rock, her mirror of her greatness bore her weight in full while she turned into herself.

And that has always been my defintion of "dad."

I sort of miss you, pop, but mostly I wonder what it would be like if you were here - what you'd be like, who I'd be, if I had had that tweedy foundation to lean into for a few more years.

Michael has an 19 mile training run tomorrow, on the anniversary of the day you died, for a project he's been working on for a few years - he runs marathons for himself, but he's found a way to also make it about fathers and daughters, about families doing the best they can for each other.  You'd like him, pops.  You have a lot in common.

1 comment:

Pal said...

Forgot to let you know that I shared this with Cate on one of the walks we took with Badu over the weekend. She cried, of course, but it was a sincere cry and actually one with a bit of a smile too. I asked why she was crying and she said "Mom just knows so well how to write about what she's feeling. I really feel like I know Pop-pop and I miss him."

The girl recognizes talent - well done.

Love you, Michael.