First written August 11, 2011 at Katy Lake – reposted here in tribute to Vernie.
We never finish crying over the loss of our parents. We only stop.
The first morning here at the lake, with Vicki’s parents having just finished fixing us a full breakfast of eggs, bacon and homemade chocolate cookies, I found myself weeping with bittersweet memories of my farmhouse, my parents, my own morning-time-family-time that has now been gone for around a dozen years. The weeping that started with telling Les how good it felt to hug Mr. McWhirter this morning ramped up to unbridled tears as I expressed both the awe and the sadness in being a part of a family again – with parents as elders who are still in charge and in care of the children.
To have a mother figure cooking, doting, even at times obsessively concerning herself with my food needs and choices; to have a father figure still healthy enough to be the captain (literally) of the ship (well, slow moving barge) with shoulders broad enough to brace us against frightening things of nature (thunderstorms) while also providing a small, tender, safe place to coddle a new baby at the community fish fry.
I wept. I cried.
To again be, albeit with borrowed histories and home, one of the younger generation protected for a spell by the buffering of an older generation of parents.
But, because I am in my mid-50’s, along not only comes the longing to revisit being cared for as the “child”, but also a haunting awareness that lays just beneath this murky surface of reminiscing. The reality of things as they really were; not only as how I want to cloak these precious memories in half-truths. In this delicate balance of gratitudes and longing for my own parents and childhood, while trying to hold to a true accounting of my experiences, I suspect some of these tears to be of things lost, and things never received.
How can one selfless act by Vicki’s father spark this tinderbox of feelings! Igniting a time and sadness of my father being gone, and my father being emotionally absent when we sat at our own farmhouse table. What was the act that tipped the scale into this tipsy grief of loss?
We as a family-plus gathering, over the course of a weekend, collectively assemble a 1,000-piece jig saw puzzle. The casual coming and going of puzzlers and pieces serves as an undercurrent connecting the days, the moods; a network of family and traditions, and guest; holding us together without words or excursions.
When Mr. McWhirter eases into the circle and steadily places a piece into place, he also, from time to time, places one near my fingers, then points to the open cranny. No words. No discussions. Place. Point. Waits with arms easily crossed against his broad and weathered chest. The first time I take it as encouragement with a dash of pity. The second time? Kindness to a guest. The third? Team and affection.
We are in the final stretch of closing all the gaps – bridging from left to right, top to bottom, corner to corner; yellow and white patches made whole leaving only a handful of unmatched nearly-solid reds. The pace of the final pieces and of our own little final four (well, five) picks up as the voids become quickly and easily filled. Down to four. Then to three. 998 jigs and jags in place; then on to the last and final cardboard s-n-a-p. Mr. McWhirter again crosses his arms, leans back, looks to his right and in a soft, nearly inaudible voice says to me, “It’s yours. You finish it.”
Seriously, my mind races. Flashing through possible scenarios: we leave it open so the puzzle, the weekend never ends? Mr. McWhirter, in a position of host and with respect due from all of us in our many respective roles, completes the puzzle?
No one else was reaching. I knew it was between he and I, and this time I know it is about mutual respect. And mutual caring, and quite frankly, in that short moment I was an equal and a child.
That is the cinder that glowed again in my heart – where the feelings of being a daughter had long since gone cold. I was remembering the loving part of my own father who, when he was healthy and strong and a leader too, deferred in self-sacrifice for my happiness. Aiding my accomplishments. And I was remembering that the most potent communication we had shared was the act of silence. In my more rebellious and recovering years, with the therapies and the books, I gathered resentments for words not said and words not heard from my father. Those, both the grudges and the words, have been long gone.
I turn to my right; I look at my nephew and say, “G.B., you do it.” By his haste and total lack of hesitance, it is evident that it is his secret wish too.
And it was done.