I am not sure what a good memory is supposed to be.
My father passed away recently and friends have said to me that though he’s gone now, I will always have good memories.
I remember a lot of things about my dad. He wasn’t the dad like the ones I saw on tv that always had advice and nice clothes and a big car with tail fins who, in any situation, seemed to always end up on the right side of things, carrying everyone along with him. No, my dad had his faults. Sometimes those faults were the best part of him. Struggling at times just like everyone else, he was human. I think that, although maybe not a memory per se, it describes how I remember him.
He was like a cup- he never leaked, but he could be spilled…
He was human.
He did a lot of things most dads do with his kids…he went to work early and came home late from a job he sometimes didn’t like, put up a basketball hoop for us, gave us chores, yelled at us, took us to see the Pirates every summer, saved enough money to take us to Virginia Beach for a string of summers, made us mow the lawn, had us get jobs as teenagers, taught us to drive a car with a clutch, bought each of us a bicycle or two, chipped in to pay for some of our college, never told anyone of us that he wished we’d become dentist’s or doctors or rocket scientists but let us mostly figure out what we’d become by ourselves even if he wasn’t too sure of the path we chose, threw a baseball to us, and was strict with some things while giving in to other things. In general, he was just another dad blended in with all the other dads of the world doing the best he could with who he was and who we were.
Oh, he had a few sayings we’d always remember…”What are you, stupid?” sure we were, what kid isn’t at times. “Get your butts down here”, meaning come out of your rooms and down the stairs where he was waiting to either lecture us or give us good news – we could never tell until he began to speak. “Christ on a crutch”, whatever that meant I never quite figured out (ok, he wasn’t a church goer). And the ultimate ultimatum,” Go out side and play”, which in other words, was a way to say “get out of my hair”, I need a break.
And we always had enough freedom, but there were limits too. We could always use the car but it had better be in the driveway at 11:00 pm, filled with gas, and not smell like beer (although it sometimes did and he let it go)… "Sure, go out with your friends and have fun, as long as the lawn is mowed, front and back"…"you can play baseball in the front yard and tear it up as much as you want, but you better not hit the house with the ball or I’ll…."
My dad was a regular dad.
In three weeks I can’t think of every thing that we shared, good and/or bad, over the last 57 years. It’s going to take some time, and some things will stay forgotten I am sure. A lot happens in 57 years. And some things that I have forgotten, my mom or one of my brothers or my sister will remember, so collectively, most memories can be joined together for a more complete story. Those memories may not all be in one place, but they are all there.
Last night I was thinking about my dad…I was at a small concert featuring an oldie but goodie – Leon Russell. Not anyone I had paid attention to back in the day, nor do I now, but it was a night out and so my wife and I and two friends went to the theater and saw his show. He’s 74 now, and hobbled out with help of his cane from stage right and sat at his piano where he suddenly became a twenty-something again. Maybe it was the memories of the songs from my growing up years that he played, or maybe it was just because this was the first few hours I had to myself since that last hospice day in Dubois, and under the cover of rock and roll piano, I was able to be alone enough to wander aimlessly in my head. Through every song, I thought of my dad.
What I kept thinking about was one thing –Saturday and Sunday mornings as a young kid. Every Saturday morning he would pile us boys in the station wagon and haul us down “the pike” either to the YMCA or to Kennedy’s barbershop. One week it was the “Y”, and the next week it was Kennedy’s. Medicine ball one week and a hair cut the next – the “Princeton” style. At Kennedy’s someone would go next door to the Villa restaurant and get us Shirley Temples for a reason that I don’t know, but it was a tradition nonetheless. Then every Sunday morning, he would make us kids pancakes while mom slept in. He’d make them from scratch and if he was in the mood, he’d make animal pancakes. He’d ask what animal we wanted and he’d pour the mix here and there for a body, a leg, a tail, and a head. Between his imagination and ours, the pancake would come out to be the animal of our choice. Over time, animal pancakes became his trademark - to us, our cousins, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren.
But it really isn’t the medicine ball, haircuts, or pancakes that I was focusing on last night. It was the fact that these were the times that he saved each week to spend time with us kids. He gave us time. He gave us his time. Time that he will never be able to give to us again. And time I will never be able to give back.
What is that good memory I keep asking myself…what is that defining, cover every base memory that I am supposed to have? When we talked about my dad’s passing the other day, my doctor said I don’t have to have one. I quit trying for that special one. It’s better this way, because one thing can never define my dad. There are too many things.
As time goes on, I am sure I will remember many, many more of these things.