For Dad

I wrote this for my brothers and sisters last July when we gathered at my sister’s cottage in Ontario to spread our father’s ashes. He had died the previous October and this was to be our final, group farewell to the man we called Dad. Like him, it isn’t perfect, but I think it captured who he was pretty well.

Here goes:

Dad
he loved licorice all-sorts
and off-coloured jokes.
he loved a girl named Sheila.
and his eight brothers and sisters,
though he did once tie them to chairs.
he liked crossword puzzles, Tim Hortons coffee and McDonalds.
he said things
like “pass the salt and pecker” at the dinner table and
we’d snicker and giggle
while mom gave him ‘the look’.
he loved walking and riding his bike.
he was an explorer.
he took us through abandoned farm houses when we were kids;
loved getting us all in the car just to go for a ride.
to this day I love doing that, too — going
for a ride with no real destination in mind.
it’s the journey and the togetherness that matters;
that was his lesson.
oh, and it’s okay to share a bag of chips and a pop
with your brother or sister.
he told stories — some true, some half-true and
some just plain fantasy — but they were all enthralling.
he loved people, and though he pretended to hate
some of them some of the times,
his big heart always betrayed him.
he could be infuriating, embarrassing,
and exasperating.
he never apologized
for who he was,
and that is a rare and noble thing.
not many in this world are strong enough
to be who they are.
he loved the eight of us — Kathy, Tracy,
Duane, Scott,
Shawn, Lori,
Carey and Jennifer.
and though he could, at times,
be tough on us, he could also
be incredibly soft.
he never had much
in the way of material things,
I remember a pair of alligator skin cowboy boots,
and he loved the 12 string guitar his brother Stewart
made for him,
but, really, that was about it.
in the end, and yes, this is a cliche,
it’s not about how much stuff you have,
it’s about how much love you have
and how much love you’ve given.
Dad,
we miss you.
I wish I had told you that more when you were with us,
but, there’s no sense in having regret,
something else you taught us.
I only hope you know how much you are loved
and that to us
you are everything.

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Ginger Shampoo

woman taking a shower
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

by Kathy Larson
© 2019

 

I am in the shower, at my parents’ place. I left in such a hurry to get here that I forgot all the essential stuff — shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant — all of it. There hasn’t been time yet to get out and buy replacements, so I’m going to have to use theirs. Through the water running over my face and in my eyes I scan the shower caddy in the corner of the tub looking for shampoo.

Mom’s got some Vo5 that’s supposed to smell like green apples. Pass. There’s another bottle, nearly empty, of some dollar store brand I’ve never heard of, and then, I see it. Body Shop Ginger shampoo. Ah, that’s what I want.

It’s dad’s shampoo. He uses it because of his psoriasis. I remember telling him about it years ago.

I’ve got sensitive skin and an especially sensitive scalp, so I’m kind of picky about the products I use. When I told him about it, I remember, he was dismissive like I was trying to lay some kind of quackery on him. He was like that. You’d tell him about something you liked, or something you’d heard about that was a bit different and he’d say something like: “There’s probably no damn ginger in there. Just a load of bs. I like my _________, thank you.” And then, like with the ginger shampoo, you’d find that he tried it. And liked it. That was dad.

It makes me remember Neil Diamond and his album Hot August Night. I was fifteen or sixteen and was upstairs in my room listening to said album for about the zillionth time. Like most moody teenagers I spent as much time as I could shut up in my room whenever I could get it to myself. With seven brothers and sisters we all had to share a room with a sibling. I shared with my sister who was a year younger than me.

Dad usually gave me grief about whatever I happened to be listening to. He particularly hated Queen, couldn’t stand Joni Mitchell and just generally despised anything that wasn’t country music. And I mean country like Charlie Pride and George Jones. To this day I can’t stand either of them. When The Snakes Crawl at Night. Please!

So, when Dad came pounding on my bedroom door I readied myself for another fight about my music. When I opened the door he surprised me by asking what it was I was listening to. Being all prepared for an argument I didn’t know what to say right away. I guess I just gave him a blank look. This was confusing — he never showed any interest in anything that I liked; I just didn’t know how to react. Then I managed to collect myself and told him who it was and showed him the album. He stood there looking at the pictures of a wild-looking Neil Diamond and reading the liner notes for quite a while. We listened to that amazing record together and I played him a couple of my favourite songs. I really like this, he said. And I felt ridiculously, incredibly happy and proud.

Why am I remembering this now? While I dance around in a shower that refuses to stay one temperature — it either blasts me with cold water or scalds my boobs with hot. I want to scream. My heart hurts. It’s been an exhausting three days since we found out my mother fractured her leg. And that both she and my father are in the hospital.

I’ve come home because he is dying. He has end-stage kidney cancer. The man who was once larger than life, who in turns terrified me, frustrated me and, who, more than anything, I wanted to make proud is small and frail and frightened. He needs me and I’ll be here until he no longer does.

I pour his ginger shampoo into the palm of my hand and as I rub it into my hair begin to cry.

A new year, same as the old year

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I was going to write “Wow, 2019 – a new year” and then I stopped because, really, it happens every year. No surprise there. 2019 came in for us without pomp or ceremony. A quiet evening at home with my Mom and my husband. We played cards, had a couple of drinks, watched It’s a Wonderful Life and then counted down the last hour of 2018 by watching Canada Celebrates, or something titled along those lines.

Tim put out his ‘fireworks’ — a patch of sparklers lit up on the front step and we giggled, sipped our Prosecco, gave each other a hug and then went to bed. Whoot! Whoot!

Once upon a time having New Year’s plans was a big deal. If you didn’t have tickets for a party or a show, or weren’t invited to someone’s house for a big bash then you were essentially a social misfit. Going out for New Year meant buying an expensive outfit, having dinner reservations, maybe even booking an over-priced hotel room. Partying until the wee hours of the New Year meant something.

What, exactly, I don’t know.

Years ago, twenty-nine of them to be exact, we moved out to a small rural community about thirty minutes drive from the city. Suddenly, going out for New Year became a bit more inconvenient. Also, as we had a young son, partying until the wee hours was no longer very attractive — to me, at least. Nothing could stop my husband from that particular enjoyment.

Our New Year’s celebrations changed to having a few friends and/or family in, or going to their place for the night. We would drink, eat, ring in the New Year and play endless games of Risk, Poker or Stock Ticker. And I found that I rather preferred this low-key way of ringing out the old and ringing in the new.

Everyone was in a safe place, there were no huge costs involved, the food and entertainment was enjoyable and our children were close at hand to share in the fun. I found I did not miss, not one tiny little iota, the pomp and ceremony of those fussy New Year’s Eves of my younger days.

Having lunch with a friend today, we talked about many, many things, one of them being how time changes how we perceive things and how accepting that things change is, generally, not simply okay, but also necessary.

There is value in everything we do, and joy in the remembrance of those things.

Maybe the heralding of a New Year each and every year does become routine, but without that opportunity for annual introspection how could we look back on our lives and appreciate all that we’ve done and all the distance we’ve covered?

Happy New Year.

Getting ready for Christmas

I am sitting with my grand kids tonight while their parents are out shopping. I just spent an hour watching the youngest play Fortnite. Now I know what I’m not missing.

I finally made an ultimatum – no more games, let’s watch a Christmas movie instead. That suggestion was not met with enthusiasm. We are watching Gnome Alone, instead. So far it’s cute.

Back to getting ready for Christmas. This year I’m by myself while my husband stays working up in Fort Mac.

Yeah, that Fort Mac. Oil sands, big fire, protests, ridiculous house prices.

This year, for the first time in a long time, I actually am enjoying getting ready for the holidays. My tree has been up since the beginning of December, the decorations were up shortly after, and I’ve done most of my baking and treat prep.

My mother is coming and I’ve been cleaning and getting the house in ship-shape.

Today, I went and watched my middle grandson play trumpet in his school Christmas concert. The song they played was unrecognisable, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Next week I’ll take in the youngest in his Grade 4 concert. It won’t be too many more years when these concerts will be a thing of the past. I’ll take advantage of these moments for as long as I can.

I’ve been doing the best I can to catch up with friends in between cooking, cleaning and spending time with my grand kids. I’m trying not to feel pressured, but it can get overwhelming.

All in all, though, I’ve been enjoying this time of preparation and readiness for Christmas. At 60 years of age I am all to aware that time goes by far more quickly than it once did.

Christmas is going to evolve and change til one day it’s just going to be my husband and me. Up til now I’ve been extremely fortunate to always have my son and his family to share our Christmas with.

I look back now that my father is no longer with us and I recall that there weren’t many family Christmases spent with him and Mom after I left home and especially after I had a family of my own.

That makes me sad.

You can’t make up for lost time, but you can make the most of what time you do have. I’m doing the best I can this year to do just that.

Happy holidays!

Wouldn’t it be nice

 

I woke this morning with my demons gleefully doing their best to destroy me. I tried for about 15 minutes to silence them, but today they were pretty fierce in their attack — so, I got up and made coffee.

Then, I went — don’t ask me why — in search of my old journals. Started reading some stuff I’d written over 20 years ago. Needless to say that was embarrassing.

And that’s when the Beach Boys made their appearance. Wouldn’t it be nice, they sang, and then I filled in the rest.

Wouldn’t it be nice to go back and tell that younger version of yourself to not be so fucking self-indulgent, self-centred and selfish? Most of what I read that I’d written those long years ago I didn’t even remember — and it made me embarrassed that I’d bothered to write it at all.

So that makes me wonder if, perhaps, I’ve completely misunderstood the purpose of journaling. While I always thought it was a way of expressing your innermost thoughts, the stuff you don’t tell even your best friend, and a way of purging the mind and soul of your darkest secrets, it turns out that reading that stuff later on is a tad unsettling.

I read about troubles in my marriage, parenting faux-pas on a grand scale, and bitter arguments with friends. I read about how I had handled these events, and I was appalled at how badly I had actually mishandled them.

Now, here I sit, sipping coffee that is too weak, because, when your demons send you tilting you forget how much coffee to put in the filter, feeling like the world’s worst human being. All because of some words I wrote a long time ago.

These feelings will pass. The immediate urge I had to pick up my phone and call or text apologies to those I felt I had harmed is passing. Can you imagine the surprise and discomfort following through on that would have caused. More angst!

What should I do with all those old journals? The first thought to come to mind is to burn them. I sure as hell don’t want another visit in those fraught pages. Do I want anyone reading those thoughts after I’ve died? What if I were to drop dead today?

I know that not everything I put in my journals was sad, bad or depressing, it just happened that that is what I stumbled upon today. Still, revisiting the past like that is a severe jolt.

In a way, I suppose, it’s a good thing.

Looking back on that younger version of myself I can see that despite my mistakes, my vanities, my frailties I was trying. Trying to understand myself and those I love and trying, most of all to do the right thing.

Hopefully, those that matter most in my life know that, and hopefully it is enough.

And, hopefully, the next time my demons come to visit I can tell them to take a flying leap. The past is in the past; my journals are proof of that.