This Saturday will be the open house in remembrance of my dad. It will be held at my parent’s house, or I suppose I should get used to saying, my mom’s house. In a strange way I am decidedly not looking forward to it. I feel like I should though. I was raised in a small close-knit community and there will be many people coming that I know and have not seen in a long while. They want to pay their respects and share their memories of him. I should want to hear those memories and share my own, should I not?
The problem I think I am having is that the open house seems too damn open. It will be the first time that my dad’s death will be presented in a public way. Other than his obituary, I should know, I wrote it. But even his obituary, while public, was also very private for me. I chose each and every word. I typed those words on this keyboard, the one under my fingertips now. I called the newspaper to gently complain to them about changing the line returns, my line returns (I am sure your way is more grammatically correct, I told them, but it is not as pleasing to the eye as the way I typed it.) They changed it back in time for the final printing.
It is the first time that Cody and Carter will be faced with the topic of their Grandpa’s death in a public forum, casual though it may be. Carter, who usually just goes with the flow, has been the question asker while Cody, my inquisitive non-stop talker, has yet to ask a question other than “so, does Grandma have to do everything around the house that Grandpa used to do?” My dad’s death has changed the way my children play. Their vocabulary now includes the words “death” and “dying” much more then ever before. It makes me so sad.
It has been almost a month since his death and on most days I am doing alright. Or at least it seems like it on the outside. Last weekend, the boys and I waited in the car at the gas station while Husband filled the tank. When he got back in the car several minutes later I was quietly crying while holding a copy of the latest Reader’s Digest we had just picked up at the post office along with the rest of our mail. My dad got me that subscription all those years ago when I left home and headed off to college. I had made a comment once about how cheesy it was that I would miss reading the Reader’s Digest when I left home. I don’t think Reader’s Digest’s demographic much included eighteen year old girls but I was hooked and my dad knew it. I am sure my mom, who took over all the bill paying years ago, wrote the check for this current issue, but it was the significance of it that caught me off guard and lurched me sideways.
It creeps up on you, that creature we call grief. Like the time I was innocently reading to Cody from his newest issue of Ladybug Magazine. An eight page story about a little girl learning about wood frogs in the early spring from her Grandpa, “Something Strange in Grandpa’s Woods” by Jane Dauster, caused my throat to close up. The words just would not come.
I was flooded with a memory of holding my dad’s large fuzzy gloved hand as we walked out in the pasture to close the chickens in for the night. I had put off doing my chores as children are wont to do and the darkness of night had come. I was scared of the dark and did not want to go out alone. In all fairness to myself it was not just the dark I was scared of. We had a young calf at the time named Hope that fancied himself something of a bull in a bull fighting arena. He would charge you at random times but in other times he would be such a sweet love and we would scratch his ears and whisper to him how cute he was. In wariness of him we would always carry a pitchfork when walking out in the pasture and we did have to stab him in the head a couple times. Don’t get all PETA on me. It was in self defense, you understand, and his head was hard anyway. He was the cow that broke my sister’s leg by butting her up against the barn. If I remember correctly, he was quite tasty for being such a vile ill tempered beast.
My dad’s presence on the way to the chicken coop that night and many others was such a comfort, for in my mind’s eye, he was scared of nothing. He was as a dad should be. He was tough, and hardworking. He expected you to do your best. He tried to be stern and distant as his father was to him but he quite often failed at this. My sister and I rode on his back around the living room playing “cow” (I don’t know why we pretended he was a cow and not a horse) our blond hair pulled back in pigtails, peals of laughter bouncing from the ceiling. My mom has photographic evidence of this.
He took pride in his home and the land on which it sat. He was from a long line of farmers and when he was not at work, teaching junior high and high school biology, he wore overalls. The full on bib overalls one would wear over their clothes for pitching hay or slopping pigs (people still do these things, right?) Add some work boots, a John Deere hat, and those fuzzy yellow work gloves and that would be my dad.
I don’t want to share these memories with people at the open house. I can’t type these memories to share with you without crying several times over so I most certainly will not speak them out loud. To speak them out loud as if he is dead will make his death too real. I am not ready for that. Not yet. I don’t know if I will ever be. I do know that I like how I feel when I recount a story about him or see a forgotten bit of colored fabric from one of his old work flannels flash before my eyes. You are my captive audience (if you are still there) and I want to retain these pieces of my childhood, these memories I have of my dad. And so I will continue to write about them here. For me. But also a little bit for you.