Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Days of Anniversaries

April 15 is the anniversary of my father's death, fourteen years ago. My sister and I actually begin marking the Days of Anniversaries--his death, and the anniversaries of my mother's birth and death, and Mother's Day--mid-March. That's when the joint vacation my father and I were enjoying with my sister turned into his last month. 


My father with his "map of the US" (except Texas) (because then-presidents)
(a story to be told another time) made from rocks picked up on the beach.

My book, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's, is about both of my parents, though only my mother had Alzheimer's, because ... well, because families, I guess. In it, I describe my father's other "last" vacation, the summer before he died, when he came up here to visit with family and to remember my mother. Before leaving for the airport on his last morning, he and I visited the older family camp, walked to the point, and sat on the beach.



And then my father began to talk. He stared out over the water, but I watched him, listening intently so I could hear him over the waves. 

He described the summers he came to camp with my mother, starting in 1945, when he was back from Hawaii in time for V-E day. One summer included side trips researching his Ph.D. dissertation, which he'd abandoned in 1942 to enlist in the Navy. In 1947, he and my mother didn't make the long drive from the East Coast of the U.S. to the lake because they were expecting their first child, the baby that died the following January.

He meandered through stories inspired by stories layered upon stories that branched into stories and returned to summers. 

The gull hovered above us. 

At last, he reached 1950 and the birth of my oldest brother. He checked his watch.

"Well." He stood up. It was time.

I don't remember all the stories he told that morning, and I don't think he expected me to. I think he just wanted to tell them again in that place, in the presence of those rocks and balsams and birch. And the gull. And the water. 



This is one my favourite photos of my father. It's from the time of his 90th birthday, a great occasion. He appreciated the celebration not because it was about him, but because it wasn't, really. It was about being together, laughing and teasing and talking, and he could bask in that atmosphere without being the centre of attention. 

 




This past five years especially, I've thought often of my father, who not only taught and researched history but loved it. I wonder what he'd say. I wonder what he'd counsel when I am tired of politics and pandemics and bad behaviour--lethal, murderous acts--on the part of people who have power toward those who have less. 


I happened across this prayer today in my morning reading (which isn't always religious or prayers, though it always inspires contemplation). After my mother died, any time my sister and I were together with my father--visiting Mom's grave, or in that last month with him in the hospital--he asked to hold hands and recite it. It was one he and my mother learned in the early days of their courtship, when they both sang in the church choir.

 





I wonder if, perhaps, he'd offer this prayer as hope and consolation for us, once our work is done. 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Where Else I Appear (Virtually)

 Last week, a review I wrote of a lovely book, A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About, appeared at River Street Writing:


“There is only one way this story is going to turn out.”

Everyone has parents. Everyone’s parents die. Yet the stories where parents and death intersect are unique. 

George K. Ilsley’s recent memoir tells one such story. As a young adult, George left his Nova Scotia home, heading west, eventually landing in Vancouver—as far away as he could get while remaining in North America. Then, as he turns 50, his father turns 90, and his father needs, but doesn’t especially want, Ilsley’s care. 


I enjoyed this book so much--it's honest and engaging. Go here to read the rest of my review, in which I also share a few general thoughts about memoir and creative nonfiction, and check out the book from Arsenal Pulp Press


Also! In a few weeks, I'll be appearing with two other writers from the region on an "Ask an Author" panel, hosted by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop. It's free via Zoom on Thursday, April 22, from 7 to 8:30 PM Eastern Daylight time. Bring questions! We'll have opinions (maybe). I look forward to hearing both Jean E. Pendziwol and Vera Constantineau (Sudbury's poet laureate!) read from their work and share their writing experiences. 


Meanwhile, it's raining (Spring! Never a dull moment!), which is fun to watch.