Earlier this year I was asked to write about a photograph containing myself and one or more of my family members. Having never found the time to organize all those bits and pieces, I sat at the table with a stack of white, open at the top, picture holding envelope things looking through the history of my life. By the way, I am glad I’ve never organized all my pictures. Chronological order is great for understanding historical events, but I prefer to think of people as they are in the moment.
The photo was of me and my Dad in 1982. I don’t think I’d seen it since. I’m glad I found it. I hope you are too.
Looking at the young woman sitting on the arm of the vinyl covered recliner as she leans back on the ample stomach of a smiling silver-haired man, his arm around her and their hands clasped; memories start to flood my mind. It was Christmas in 1983 at my paternal grandmother’s apartment, a small one bedroom close to the bus stop, she loved taking the bus and refused, despite her entire family’s urging, to ever learn to drive. She lived many years of her life in NY during the depression, she and my grandfather came to America in the early 1930’s, he was a barber with a little shop next to Yankee Stadium. There was a room in the back and that’s where they lived when my father was born. For the rest of her life, she stayed in little apartments and used public transportation even though she left NY and moved to Virginia, I guess it just seemed natural to her. She and my Grandfather divorced before I was born, I was the only kid I knew with divorced grandparents; I thought it was weird but my grandmother seemed very happy with her life. She worked at an insurance company and took the bus to and from work her entire career; she was strong and independent and 100% granny all at the same time. At Christmas we used to buy long plastic candy canes filled with Hersey Kisses, remove all the candy and fill them with quarters so she would always have change for the bus. She was my favorite grandparent warm and kind with twinkley eyes and a cigarette scarred laugh. Her tiny kitchen produced wonderful meals of cheese covered lasagna and giant meatballs; she kept homemade cannoli shells on wall pegs next to the counter. The whole family would gather there at holidays, crammed around card tables, coffee tables and anywhere else you could set a plate, laughing and eating, it was simple and wonderful. I loved it.
A TV with a picture just fuzzy enough to make it interesting would play quietly in the background as we gathered in the living room to rest after every family feast. My picture was taken there and the silver-haired man was my father; I was 20 years old. I don’t see anything of the woman I am now reflected in her, this seems almost impossible but it is true. Her short brown hair is neatly combed and cut just like the late Princess Diana. She is wearing a teal ruffled sweater, a pale wool skirt of the same hue with her legs encased in panty hose and on her feet are a pair of conservative taupe heels. There is little if no make-up on her young skin and her earrings are tiny dots, there is no hint of the creative young woman who lived in that body. I wonder what in the world I was thinking or who I was trying to please. This could not be the same girl who dreamed one day she would change the world; the girl who wanted to join Green Peace and save the whales. But, my father always looked the same; he was dressed in plain brown pants and a short-sleeved shirt buttoned down the front. His cheeks pushed up on his eyes as he smiled giving them a funny half-moon shape and his free hand was resting on his stomach. Our satisfied smiles told me we had already eaten.
My father died at the age of 70 on Christmas Eve in 2003. I see our hands interlocked in the photo, mine is over his and the pain of losing him comes back. I remember holding his hand when he died, I remember telling him it would be all right, I remember watching his blood drain from his body in big gushes from his bowels and I remember seeing him scared, then in 15 minutes he was gone. I remember my mother taking his wedding ring off…pushing his hair back and kissing his blue forehead. I remember hearing her say, “there is just never enough time with someone you love.” I remember sitting in a tiny room while some doctor person told us he was dead…like we couldn’t tell. I remember them asking us if we wanted a Valium. What a frigging Valium?! You mean my dad just bled to death on Christmas Eve and you want to know if I want a Valium!! Hell NO…I don’t want a freaking pill…I want my dad. I want to eat meatballs and laugh. I want this not to be happening. I want you to shut up! I remember the anger, the overwhelming raging inconsolable anger. I remember telling my children their grandfather died on Christmas morning. I remember my youngest son looking at me. I remember seeing him try to comprehend what I was saying. I remember him asking what he should do with the present he had for his grandpa. I remember someone brushing my hair and trying to make me eat soup. I remember standing up two days later and talking to a room full of people. I remember being told I wrote a beautiful service and being congratulated for doing such a wonderful job. I remember wishing they would all just shut up and go home, I remember thinking why are you here? Is it fun for you to watch our pain? I hated everyone and mostly I remember hating God for his cruel ironic sense of humor.
It’s been almost 10 years, we don’t have those little apartment Christmases anymore. I remember those magical happy times when we were all together, so I know they were real. I remember my dad and I hope wherever he is…there’s a girl who likes to hold hands.