By Mimi @ Waiting For The Karma Truck
I’m a sky-gazer. It makes for some very dramatic tumbles and some slapstick recoveries to a standing position (degree of difficulty depends upon the severity of my clumsiness – but some could qualify as Olympic-level gymnastic floor routines). This need to look up and out is not folly, it’s my dad. I’ve been aiming my perspective upwards for nine years.
There’s so much written about father/daughter relationships that I hesitate to even tiptoe around this topic. I fret that my words will sound cliched and not really offer much to a potentially tired topic. But, there was nothing tired or trite about the man – and the insistent tapping of rain on the skylights in my kitchen suggests to me that he feels quite confident that there is more to say.
Dad was a weatherman during WWII. As such, it was only natural that we would receive personalized weather forecasts each morning. “See those clouds up there? Do you remember what they’re called?” “What do they mean?” “No rain today, but wear your coat it’s going to be cool later when you come home from school.” “There’s a cold front coming in.” I’d be lying if I told you that I paid attention to his commentary about the weather, wind, jet streams and stratospheres. All I really wanted to do was listen to his voice. And as we walked to school – which we did from kindergarten through high school – other thoughts would break through the forecasts…” Are you ready for your spelling test? Show me – how do you spell……?” “Do you remember what I told you about taking the Brownie badges out of Mrs. Slaughter’s desk? What are you going to say to her this morning? No, not good enough kiddo – try again.” “Mim, maybe that skirt is a little short. Are you sure you’re comfortable wearing that?” “Take some of that blush stuff off your face – you look a little like a clown. Much better – beautiful, you’re beautiful.” I wasn’t beautiful. He knew I knew it – I looked like him, which would have been great if I had been a boy. It wasn’t until years later, when I saw a little of what he saw – I have his smile, his eyes and his heart. I have his fascination with animals of all kinds, and unequivocal adoration of dogs and horses. I also have his prematurely gray, unruly hair, soft jawline and tendency to chub out. I don’t share my hurts and can b.s. better than most – just like him. I can tell jokes with the right rhythm. And I have his ability to sing. Every time I used to practice, he’d either sing with me in the living room, or sit with his eyes closed, listening and nodding.
Let’s be clear – when he got mad at me (and he did), his anger would devastate. He’d walk into my room with storm clouds in his eyes, sit down at my desk chair and say something killer like “I don’t know who you are trying to kid, but the only person you’re kidding is yourself.” He’d walk out and not speak to me for hours. The quieter he got, the more trouble I was in. I made him quiet a lot when I was a teenager. And as a young adult. His withdrawal would upend me completely, I had no sense of balance or surety. So when his anger subsided, I could breathe again – as if the skies parted, and I was on terra firma again. No surprise, as unnerving as his anger was, I respond similarly, crawling inside myself and lowering my voice until I am somewhere beyond words.
I’m not telling you all the other cool stuff – how he invented a synthetic valve that could be used in heart surgery, only to pull it after its first successful use because he freaked out at the idea that it may not work on someone and that was responsibility he couldn’t bear; how he could make M&Ms come out of your ear; the way he studied wine, opera, bridge, tennis, rock, music, etc with unparalleled enthusiasm; how he put on longjohns just to play the Prince in Swan Lake while my sister pranced as the Swan; the way I could make him laugh so hard he’d start to snort and then hiccup for minutes on end.
Later this month, it will be nine years since he passed away. I read P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Benchley to him throughout his last night. He never stirred; we were losing time. My sister and I were at the nurses’ station when he died. As my mom, sister and niece headed to the car, I went back to his room and started banging on the floor, “Damn Daddy, why didn’t you wait for me? I didn’t say goodbye!” A hospice worker came in and gently helped me up. She told me that sometimes the final decision a person can make is when to let go, when to fly away. She was sure dad had chosen to leave while we were out of the room; she had seen it happen before. A final act of love. I have no idea if that’s true or not.
I do know that I look up every morning. I interpret the occasional shooting star as a message. I scan the sky to determine what kind of weather is in the offing for the day (and I’m usually wrong – I should have listened more attentively). I talk to the air and speak my gratitude for being so loved, for keeping an eye on me and the boys. I wait until sunrise and marvel that in spite of serendipity, the one constant upon which I depend is in the beauty of the sky.
~ Mimi @ Waiting For The Karma Truck