Thursday, January 09, 2014


I'm seeing him everywhere. Being reminded of him everywhere I turn, it seems. And it is hard for me. Not necessarily pleasant. Mostly because it's been a hard week, the weather has been dreadful (and this is not just me, half of the country is in the deep freeze) and my bones have been telling the tale. I am one big aching mess. My finger tips are splitting. I put ointment on them and bandage them before bed and wake up and they are better, so I lather them with my Burt's Bees almond lotion. By midday, they are cracking again.

My spirit feels a bit broken. My black dogs are hovering. I am so hungry for a garden to put my hands on. Instead, I over water the plants inside and they are not happy with me. They don't like hovering

Mostly, I just miss my Da. I only had him for 8 years. But then I went to a movie with Tinton and Liv on Sunday and suddenly he was right there with me, jumping off the screen. My Da. Colin Farrell played the part of Travers Gott and minus the alcoholism, there was my Da.

Wind's in the East, mist coming in, like something is brewing, about to begin.

My Da used to say that and while I knew it was a quote from Mary Poppins, just hearing it said in that soft male Irish voice made me go rigid in my seat. And then suddenly, there he was on the screen. My Da. Well, my Da without the drinking problem. And I sat shivering in my seat between my daughter and her father and I cried and cried. I was embarrassed and they were confused. It was not fun for any of us.

I felt him all around me, heard him, suddenly wanted to be back in his arms so badly that I could taste it. It didn't help when on the way home, Tinton and Liv, jokingly, compared me to the prickly character of P L Travers.

"You are JUST like that," they said.

Me? A cranky, pompous old lady? With a really bad perm?

A few days ago, I was catching up on blogs and came across a lovely tribute to a Father in one of my favorite ones. Read it if you get the chance. Go here.

And that got me thinking even more about Da.

I wish you could have known him, my Da. I wish everyone could have known him. He was a magical person, and to my eight year old eyes, perfection.

As I've aged, I've queried relatives about him because it has occurred to me that maybe I've gilded my memories of him since he died when I was so young. But, no. Their memories match mine well. He was quiet with strangers at first, I was told, but once he knew you, you were his and he was yours and he could be wildly funny, even boisterous at times. He loved to sing and play his guitar, mostly songs from Ireland, where he was born. One of my favorites was a Christmas song from his place of birth: Kilarney. It was called Christmas in Kilarney and he would sing it out in this happy voice. I can still hear him in my head.

How grand it feels to click your heels and join in the fun of the jigs and reels! A life you've never known is Christmas in Kilarney with all of the folks at home!

He was full of life in a body that was not. He was plagued with ailments. He had a deep scar on his left side from when he was a child and had pneumonia. The doctors said that he would die but his Mother would not give up on him and took him to a woman who was known to have healing hands. She unceremoniously declared that they needed to drain his lungs and proceeded to cut into his side with a carving knife after knocking my Da out with ether. Whatever or however, it worked. He recovered. We aren't sure if it was because of the healer or in spite of her, though.

He had type 1 diabetes, which he passed on to one of his daughters: me. He also gave me his migraines and his terrible teeth. He had dentures by the time he was 30; I don't wear dentures, but I do sport SEVEN caps. He had ulcers, so many that when he was in his mid 30's, he had to have over half of his stomach removed. If there was a cold to catch, he found it. If one of us girls brought home a cold from school, my Mother would carefully warn us to NOT GO NEAR DA. But, he caught them anyway. And took three times as long to heal. He was a slim man with jet black hair and pale blue Paul Newman eyes. He didn't give either of those to me. He gave his hair to my sister, Patrice and his eyes to my sister, Jessie.

He was ill a lot. Yet, I never once heard him complain. He was my brave, strong Da. I would swing on his arm every chance I got and he often gave me piggy back rides. He and I would sit for hours in his tool shed telling stories. We called them the stories of Maria and Da. I would start and carry on for a while, usually setting us in danger somewhere, a haunted forest or a witch's dungeon. He would take over then and save us. And then hand the story back to me and I once more would drag us into danger. And so on.

One of my best memories of him happened when I was about 5 or 6. He awakened all of his girls, his daughters when we were all in our beds, sleeping. It felt like the middle of the night but it was probably about eleven or midnight. I just remember him gently whispering to me, to us, "Get up, Lassies! You have to see the stars tonight! God shook out his blanket and they are sparklin' like diamonds!" My Mother hovered after him, scolding him for awakening us and shaking her finger at him. I remember being swept up into his arms while my sisters, Patrice and Carrie walked next to him. My Mother shamed him, saying that he needed to at least put blankets around us, put OUR SOCKS ON for the mother of GOD! Instead, he tucked my feet into the pockets of his coat while he carried me and my sisters shared a quilt from the sofa. Once outside in the cold Autumn air, the sky was indeed beautiful, alit with stars, blinding with stars. And then a few started falling and we oohed and ahhed. Eventually, my sisters tired of the beauty and cold, went inside. But Da and I sat out on the porch just watching. He leaned down and whispered into my ear that I was his true darlin', his little diamond girl, brighter than all the stars put together.

"You and me, Maria," he said, "we are kindred spirits. Gypsy souls. I love you so much."

I lay against him, smelling his scent of pipe and something else, I kept my feet tucked up in his pockets. And I begged him to never, ever leave me. He solemnly promised me that he never would. I was relieved as even then, my Mother and I were always at odds. She was impatient with my dreaminess, my ability to fall into books for hours at a time. I felt something with my Da that I've only felt a few other times with a few other people: that feeling of being totally at home with them, comfortable in silence or talk. A feeling of true belonging, as if we had known each other for centuries. 

A few years later, he would be dead of a heart attack and I would know a deep bereft that has never really let me go, not completely. Oh, I have been happy since his death, but my heart has always achingly felt the sheer lack of him in the world.

He told the best stories. He read the best stories. He made poems come alive. He told me that he loved me every single day of my life. He let me have a sip of whatever he was drinking or eating as long as it wasn't alcohol.

Everyone loved him. My Grandmother, my Mother's Mother (who I never met because she died before I was born) told my Aunts that Jack was the best catch on the planet and that her Rosie was lucky to have him.

My Da was a farmer and he could make any plant live. He could run his fingers through soil and tell you exactly what it needed, was missing or had too much of. Flowers bloomed for him easily and crops grew with little effort. He could make anyone feel as if they were special. But, his family? His girls? We WERE special, the best, the most. And that knowledge was balm.

Losing him was the hardest thing that I've ever gone through and doing it at my young age made me grow up too quickly and it also taught me to go inside myself and stay there. The worst thing that I could ever imagine happened when I was eight years old. So, nothing could get me after that, not really. I was strong in a way that most girls my age weren't and yes, damaged in a way that they weren't either.

To this day, I wonder about how he would react to me now, what he would think of his daughter, his Maria all grown up. I wonder what he would think of Liv, of Bing, of Tinton, of my life choices.

And I still miss him daily. I keep thinking that there is a reason why I keep seeing him everywhere, that he needs to tell me something. Or maybe he is just checking in. Just reaching out.  I don't know. All I know is that I miss his touch, his laugh, his arm to swing on. And when those black dogs hover around, I look around for him hoping for his protection.

Maybe that, after all, is what he is trying to tell me. Just that he is here. In a Disney movie, in the smell of cherry pipe smoke that wafts into my office at work for no reason whatsoever.

In blogs that I read about other Fathers.

And when I see those black dogs pawing the ground on the top of the hill. Maybe he is telling me that he is there after all. That I am not alone in this, even if it feels as though I am.

Maybe, after all, I am not.


the only daughter said...

heart. aching. beautiful.

Jacquelineand.... said...

With all the love he had for you? Of course you're not alone. I might not believe in much but love is one of the things I do believe in.

I didn't lose my father at such an early age but it doesn't stop me missing him every day. He was my best friend and strongest supporter, we could talk for hours about things I'd not been able to discuss again until meeting the Great Scot...

Sending gentle hugs, or whatever will help.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

The introspection in your writing never fails to amaze me :)

Anonymous said...

I always feel my mom when I see 11:11 on the clock. She used to always say "chicken legs" at bingo when B11 was called. And I can just feel her when I see that time - and I see that time so often now.

From you description in your writing of you Da, I can see how Travers would take you right to him. I hope he helps you keep the dogs away...

8thday said...

A beautiful tribute that made me smile and miss my own dad. And feel a little melancholy that my daughters will never know that feeling of curling up with a father who makes them feel safe and special.

Sending virtual hugs and warmth.

Danielle L Zecher said...

I suspect your father would be proud of the life you've built for yourself.

My dad is awesome, too, and I'm fortunate enough to still have him around. My maternal grandfather died in a car accident 26 years ago, and my mom seems to go through times when she misses him so much more than other times, though I've never been sure exactly what triggers it. I realize now that she was about the age I am now when he died, and that scares the hell out of me.

It sounds like your dad was able to pass a lot of good down to you.

Joanne Noragon said...

I believe he is there, Maria. In the songs and stories you remember. In the memories he left and the times he shared.
My father was a gardener, too. He was a fancy, schmancy engineer at Goodyear, but he believed every man should know how to change a washer or feed his family from a garden.
My heart stops when I see my grandson hold a shovel exactly as my dad did, move his shoulders exactly the same way to turn the earth.
I have stood in my garden and railed at my dad for leaving me. But I watch my grandchildren and know he didn't.
Damn good thing I don't wear mascara.

Anonymous said...

My Dad and I we're close. I talk to him at very least once a day. Whatever problem I have he's the person I call for advice. I'm supposed to see him this weekend. I will give him an extra hug or four just for you.

e said...

I'm sure he is with you, Maria. Probably all the time, but at least most of the time. And, yes, those reminders are on purpose and they come when you need them.


ChiTown Girl said...

oh, Maria...

If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times...your are a brilliant writer. This was just beautiful.

After my grandpa died, I used to smell pipe tobacco at the strangest times. I always knew that was his way of telling me he was "there." Even now, there are other signs he sends me, and every time it happens, it makes me smile.

And, I ABSOLUTELY relate to the scene at the theater. I started dating Magnum one year and one day after my grandpa died. One of our early dates was going to the show to see Nothing in Common. Eerily enough, that ALSO starred Tom Hanks. It also starred Jackie Gleason. His character in this movie reminded me SO much (I guess more so physically than anything else) of my grandpa, that I don't remember a single bit of the movie past the first 5 minutes. I sobbed through the entire thing! I just couldn't stop. Like I said, I have NO idea what the hell the movie was even about. Magnum kept asking me if I wanted to leave, but I couldn't do it. It was almost like my grandpa was "there," and I couldn't bear for it to end, even though it was breaking my heart. Does that even make sense?

Thank you for sharing this.


Karen said...

Oh that was so beautiful. You are so lucky, first to have a special father, and now to have those memories.

I know how you felt when you were sitting in that movie. My dad is 500 miles away. I miss him and my mother being a part of my life. I went to a family wedding. My parents couldn't attend but my uncle was there. Same stature as my father, same tilt of the head, same kind soft voice. My uncle hugged me and asked how I was and all I could do was look at him with tears in my eyes. It was as if my father had surprised me by showing up. Crying just thinking about it.

Thank you, Maria. Your stories touch me, every time.