Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Don't Sweat the Small Stuff"

*A Father's Day Tribute to Dad*

The earliest memory of my father that I could dig out of the archives of my 43-year-old brain, is one of mohair and stubble. It was dark. I had had a bad dream, and Dad came into my room, brought me out to the living room, and cuddled me in the big (egglplant color?) mohair chair we had back then. I want to say I was about three years old. I remember running my small fingers over the prickly-yet-soft fabric of the chair, feeling Dad's warm stubble on my own cheek, and the deep timbre of his voice as he hummed and comforted me. It's a good memory--the basis of many more memories of Dad that fill up the archives of my life as the third of four daughters.

Dad worked a lot and traveled quite a bit when we were kids, so most of my memories revolve around the dinner table, and weekends. The dinner table was where we all sat and shared our stories from our day, and was most definitely our best "family time." My mother told me once that when she had asked me to share something about MY day, I said "It's OK, Mom. I'd rather listen." THOSE days are Now you can't shut me up!

I digress. Our dinner table conversations would be comprised, more often than not, of wild imagined alligators in creeks, and "purple stuff", all conjured up in the imagination of my little sister Margaret (to the great surprise, consternation, and/or delight of us all), or of long run-on- sentence stories held together with endless strings of "and...." and "so...." from my sister Ann. Dad's stories were of his childhood, and all of us would beg to hear them over and over again. "Tell us the one about the..." and off he would go, telling us about growing up in his parents' boarding house, and the characters that came through town, the girls he liked (or who liked him), passing out in gym class during the tumbling lesson, listening to old radio shows, and stories about his brothers and uncles. I wish I could remember more detail from these stories, but I do remember the feeling of time travel I would get while listening to them. Dad's a good story-teller. I feel like I got a good picture of who he was as a little boy from those stories.

Speaking of story-telling, I also remember our nightly routine of reading before bed. Mom and Dad would take turns reading chapters each night. Now that my mother has passed (sorry, Mom!), I can admit to you all that my father definitely wins the reading prize. He would read the Paddington Bear series to Margaret and I while we were all tucked in our bunk beds, and would embellish and gesticulate, and make the story come to life. He wasn't just reading. He was telling the story. He would also "close the ceiling" when he was know--to keep the monsters and the rain out. We asked my poor mother to do it for us once while Dad was away, and we were sadly disappointed. My mother always remembered that--I STILL feel badly about complaining to her about her inability to "do it like Daddy does!" Ah, well...the trials of motherhood--that's a whole other blog....

Since he was stuck with four girls and nary a boy in sight, my father made the best of it. To this day I am grateful to have been raised as a capable woman who feels that nothing is impossible--that I can do whatever I put my mind to. We gardened, weeded, planted, roto-tilled, felled trees (an adventure in itself), hauled wood for the wood stove, burned creosote from the wood st0ve pipes, mowed lawns, and did whatever else needed to be done to keep life moving forward on a three acre property with a 100+ year old house on it.

I watched him put a new muffler on our old Honda. I helped him install bamboo fencing as a privacy screen for our pool. I helped him hang ceiling tiles in the "back room"--a job I was apparently better equipped to do because I have good spatial relations skills (for fitting the tongue and groove tiles together), where Dad was lacking. We made a good team. My earliest gardening memory is from when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and Dad showed me how to pop a pansy plant out of a six-pack, break apart the roots, and put it in the ground. It's another simple memory, but one that has stuck with me all these years probably because it was quality time with Dad.

With gardening, came the harvest. We pulled the hulls from hundreds of strawberries to make strawberry preserves, and peeled and sliced peaches for canning. We also ate more corn, zucchini and green beans than any child should have to endure in their lifetime. Of course, now that I'm an adult, I understand the beauty and delight in a fresh ripe tomato--something I could never quite grasp as a kid.

My father taught me how to change a flat one cold winter morning in the front yard. He went out one morning to discover his car had a flat tire, and he looked upon it as an opportunity to teach. (Teaching is in his blood--his mother was a teacher. It was a stepping stone in his career, and a skill that never left him.) We froze our fingers off that morning! Luckily, I've only needed the tire-changing skill once since then, but I'm never worried about getting a flat. I feel prepared. Who needs AAA?

Speaking of cars, my father was there when I bought my first car (used Honda civic). Well, ok, he was there to make the down payment and get me all set up to make payments--I was young, broke, and in college! He was also there for my second car purchase (a NEW Honda civic), in which I dragged him along for advice. He pretty much kept his mouth shut, and to this day, he won't let me live down the fact that I picked a stereo instead of air conditioning in that car. He says "at least you had TUNES!" Ha ha. Very funny, Dad. Every car I've owned since then has had air conditioning.

I have camping stories, trips to New York City stories, "my first computer" stories, and cooking stories, too, but rather than bore you with what's starting to feel like my life story here, I'll leave you with this one truism that my father said to me many years ago, and which I try to live my life by: "Don't sweat the small stuff, Sharon Marie." This, after my little sister had just smashed up his brand new Nissan Pulsar at a four-way stop. I was incredulous that he wasn't more angry. He said "Well, at least she wasn't hurt. It's just a car." And of course, after my sister died many years later at the hands of a drunk driver, I thought just that about EVERYTHING else--it's ALL small stuff. "Things" aren't what matters. People are. Family is. I cherish my family, and as crazy and disfunctional as we all are, I've always known that I was loved. There was never any question of that. And that's all anyone can ask for.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day.


Rose - The Center of My Self said...

I so enjoyed these stories! It sounds like you're as fascinated as I've always been by family lore. I'm totally on board with your dad's "Don't sweat the small stuff." Several times a day, I remind myself "It's not important." When we know what is really important - family, cherished friends, love, forgiveness - it makes it easier to let go and move on with love.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories
Of things we’ve said and done, some sad but much more fun
The sights we’ve seen, that family team, It’s been a wild run
So thank you so much

Linda at Lime in the Coconut! said...

Sweet stories and memories Sharon...Happy Fathers day to your dad!

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