Today marks one year since Dad made his transition. He died the day before Father’s Day, and thanks to Leap Year, we were allowed to skip over Father’s Day before recalling his first “heavenly birthday,” as I often hear people call it. He died on the cusp of the Summer Solstice, and today, it is the Summer Solstice again. And this year’s solstice brings the added delight of the Strawberry Moon, the June full moon noted by Native Americans as the advent of the strawberry crop. Apparently, the coinciding of these two events only happens about once in a lifetime. Dad would have enjoyed that bit of trivia. I wonder if he was aware of it in 1948 as a young sailor in the Navy? Did he see that big, beautiful Strawberry Moon appear in the darkness of the ocean sky at that Summer Solstice?
The solstice is considered a “thin” time, a time when the veil between worlds is particularly thin. I sense there are many thin times and places, and I have been fortunate enough to experience a few of them, but we are rarely still enough or unencumbered enough to fully encounter them. My almost-4-year-old nephew has been talking about Papa lately, as well as his cat who also died last year. “Is Papa at Grandma’s house?” “Can Calvin wake up now and come out and play?” The other day at my mother’s house, he was trying to ask her something and couldn’t find the words. Finally, he said, “You know, the one who used to sit in that chair.” You mean Granddad … Papa? “Yeah! He had a boo-boo, and we put water on it.” How does he remember? It was a year ago, and he was only 3. The young are so fortunate, I think. They have not had their connection to the other side warped and withered by the harshness and disappointment that sometimes accompanies us in this life. The veil is still so thin for them all the time. I am so grateful he still holds memories of Dad. I mourn the day when those may fade away.
I spent a little time this morning, reflecting on that day a year ago when we had to say goodbye, reading my blog post about Dad’s passing, looking at pictures, and embracing cherished memories. As my Mom echoed in a Facebook post this morning, I do not want to dwell on the memory of that one day, but instead reflect on a life well lived.
I have very tactile memories of my dad – the feel of his skin, his gait when we walked together, the smell of his pipe (though he gave that up when I was very young). His hands were, at once, tough and delicate – rough from working in the garden but gentle from holding a pen, pencil, or airbrush with the intimacy and precision of the artist he was. Eventually, his hands became misshapen by arthritis, but they reached out for the touch of another all the more often.
His gait was determined and steady. He walked as often as he could, finding new roads and paths to explore in search of mini-adventures. He often swung one arm briskly, while keeping the other in his pocket – a method that unnerved me when he became less steady on his feet. I hold tender memories of walking with him in the rain, holding hands as the water dripped down our noses and clung to our eyelashes. It was cleansing and peaceful. A few months before he died, I told him how much I wished we could walk in the rain again, and he said, “Me, too. Maybe someday.” But that day didn’t come. Maybe he can walk in the rain whenever he wants to, now.
When I was quite young, I remember Dad mowing our next-door neighbors’ yard. Nannie and Pappy, as they were called by everyone regardless of heredity or age, were elderly and not able to mow their 2-acre yard themselves, so my dad did it. This was in the days before grass-catchers on lawn mowers, and my dad would lay out a big, old blanket to collect the grass and carry it over to his compost pile behind our garage. I would sometimes “help” him in this endeavor. He would rake the grass onto the blanket, then gather up the corners and sling it over his shoulder like Santa Claus. I would often walk behind him with my little arms wrapped as far around the bundle of grass as I could reach to help him carry it. I remember, as clearly as anything, the feel of his gait as he walked, as well as the rough, bumpy texture of the blanket as it rubbed against my face, in concert with his steps. The smell of the fresh-cut grass and the perspiration on my Dad’s skin are as present to me now as they were 40 years ago.
There are so many memories flooding my mind and soul today. Each one could fill pages if I wrote them up. But I will savor the rest on my own for now. They live with me and support me, as I recall whirlwind vacations and lakeside walks and artistic driftwood and skipping rocks and organic gardening and funny hats and fancy toast and swimming pools and family picnics and mountain hikes and tilted troughs and side-aching laughter and worship-filled Sundays and more love than a girl could ever have hoped for.
I love you, Dad. Happy Heavenly Birthday.