I was eating prunes and cream, sitting on a kitchen chair, with my legs swinging back and forth. My Dad was standing in the kitchen by the fridge. I remember him talking, but I cannot tell you what he was saying. We lived in Australia, in a small house in Canberra. That is the first distinct memory I have of my Dad. I asked him about that memory not so long ago, when I was talking with him on the telephone. He says he doesn’t understand how I possibly could remember that, because I was only about two years old. But that memory is so vivid, I can still taste the sweetness of the prunes downplayed by the thick smooth texture of the ice cold cream and the way the vinyl on the kitchen chair stuck to the back of my legs.
The next memory I have of my father, was also in Canberra. It had snowed. From what I understand this is indeed a very rare occurrence. I honestly thought the world had come to an end. Outside all the familiar colors had been washed away, leaving only white and various tones of grey. I distinctly remember my parents being so thrilled with this unnerving apocalyptic event and I could not understand why. What I recall more than anything, were the snowballs they threw at me. They were cold, hard and stung. I was not in the least bit happy about that. Being a rather volatile little redheaded girl I stomped off to my room to pout and ponder why the world had gone completely and utterly mad.
I recall spending hours in used bookstores with my Dad, looking for strange and unusual books. My Dad is an avid reader. When he was little, he was a sickly child and spent much of his time in bed, reading heavy, intense tomes of history, tales of famous battles and anything else he could get his hands on. I read most of his library when I was a child, from Nietzsche to Kafka to books on World War II (I attempted to read War and Peace but got so confused by all the Russian names I gave up about 30 pages into it). It is because of my Dad that I have such an affinity for the written word.
There are so many other memories, so many adventures I have undertaken with my Dad. After spending three years in college in Iowa, I transferred to a university near my father, and because of this I was able to live at home and go to school. I loved that (no more dormitories). We hung out together in the evenings, watching movies. Me and my Dad had a theory that daily episodes of “vegetation” (laying on the sofas in the family room, watching movies, wrapped in warm blankets) was an absolute must and a necessity for re-charging the brain. There must have been something to that theory, because I did amazingly well at school, even in organic chemistry. My Dad is a chemist (so I had to get good grades in Chemistry), and he says stuff like “Better living through chemistry”. We even had placemats with the Periodic Table printed on them when I was a kid (Yeah – take that Big, Bang Theory). It is because he is a chemist, we moved to the United States – he came to analyze moon rocks (how many people can say that). I think he has even met some of the astronauts, which as a kid I thought was the most impressive thing – ever.
My Dad loves fast cars, and driving fast (but safely). I do too. On one rather hilly road just outside of Fairfax driving up and down those hills was very much like riding on a rollercoaster. In one particular section of that road, if we were going fast enough, it felt as though we were flying, as if were air borne. My Dad taught me to drive stick-shift and I have trained my boys to drive stick-shift. This is a must in the case of a zombie apocalyptic event – what if the only car available for escape has a manual transmission? Driving and road trips also make up a majority of my memories of my adventures with my Dad. When my son was only two weeks, I travelled from Tokyo to Indiana (after a C-section – which is nuts when I think about it now) to visit my parents. My Dad and I decided to go on a major road trip from Indiana to Fort Collins, with my oldest. We had the best time, driving along, stopping, looking at the sites and visiting with friends. We discovered during that trip, my oldest loved Country/Western music, and if he was fretful, only that type of music would calm him (don’t tell my son that, he would be horrified).
My Dad grew up in England, during World War II. He remembers the air raid sirens, the rations, the lack of necessities and the sacrifices the British people made. He was just a lad and to him it was exciting. I love to hear stories of his childhood (he has written several books about his experiences, which are fascinating). His Dad was a Constable, and walked the streets every night, with his lunch tucked up securely in his helmet. His Dad routinely carried young hooligans home to their Mums by their shirt collars. My grandfather was from Wales, and was one of the kindest, most lovely people I have ever met. When he spoke, his words faded in and out of Welsh, so half the time I never really understood what he was saying. Of course, he didn’t understand me either, with my way of slow talking, and my American accent. He used to say “Ooo, Aye”. I can still hear him as I sit here writing.
When my grandfather became ill, and could no longer live by himself in the house my Dad grew up in, he had to move into a nursing home. My father and I both flew to England to pack up his house. My Dad wanted to ship a bronze statue back to the United States and required a box with unusual dimensions. And so off we went, to find the box factory. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves down a little narrow, uneven cobblestoned alley lined with questionably stable lead paned windows, peering in doors of small factories. It was if we had be thrown right into the midst of Oliver Twist, complete with winding alleys and narrow doorways. I expected the Artful Dodger to pop out any second and relieve us of our wallets. We found the box factory, and the owner, who too looked like he might have been a character in one of Charles Dickens’ tales. He was standing in the midst of the factory, with a black apron covering his rather portly belly and those bands on his arms that hold up the sleeves. His Midland accent was so heavy, only my Dad was able to converse with him. I felt as if we had gone through a time portal into another age. Only with my Dad could make an adventure out of looking for shipping boxes.
My father took up writing years ago. He is a great writer. His vocabulary is immense (I am sure he doesn’t use Google to check the definitions of words – because he knows them, I on the other hand have Merriam-Webster online in Favorites). It is because of him, I began to write. I am certainly not as prolific a writer as he, I plod along writing my little stories. When we talk, we spend half the time discussing his current project and how I am planning my next project. He reads my blog, and he and my Mom are my most avid followers.
My Father is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating people I know. He is an enigma. I am not saying he is inscrutable or mysterious (I got that off Merriam-Webster, just so you know), but it is hard to explain how amazingly interesting and wonderful a person he really is. I would like to say my Dad is multi-faceted, but I am not completely convinced I really like that word. I can say one thing, he is brilliantly intelligent and wise. If you were to say that to him, he would deny it completely, and say it is only because he reads so much, that is why he is full of “useless bits” of information (his words, not mine). I can ask him about Ancient Chinese history and I bet you a billion dollars, he would know a little bit, if not a lot about it. But he is not the kind of guy that is just book smart. He loves music, all types of music, from Jazz to Rock. He even went to an AC/DC concert in Munich. When I was young, he played ragtime and jazz on the piano, all by ear. After he retired he took music lessons and only then did he learn to read music. During our fortnightly telephone calls, he would tell me how he had received a gold star from the week from his piano teacher. I love that about my Dad.
My husband says I don’t know how lucky I am to have a father like my Dad. He lost his father when he was only 13 years old and has very few memories of his own Dad. When we lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, and my Dad was just down the street, so to speak, we would meet up with him on Saturday evening to have dinner at Joe’s pub in Old Town. My husband and my Dad have spent many a happy hour just nattering away about everything and anything. Even today, 15 years later, my husband still speaks fondly of those Saturday evenings hanging out with my Dad.
I think I do know how lucky I am to have such an incredible Dad and I am thankful for that every single day. And very much like my Mom who has instilled in me the love of nature and gardening, my Dad has taught me the importance of “vegetating”, eating good food, road trips, enjoying all types of music, writing and the love of books. My memories of my Dad and our many adventures and experiences have made me who I am today. I like to say my family is geographically dysfunctional (we all live so far apart), but I can’t think of anyone, anywhere, who is more wonderful than my Dad (and my Mom).
Happy Father’s Day to the best Dad a person could ever wish for (I know it is a made-up holiday Daddy, but it is a gives me an opportunity to write a tribute to one of my most favorite people).
Photo credits Dickensian alley – telegraph.co.uk
Snow in Canberra – Australian National Archives
Earthrise – en.wikipedia.org