Sunday, January 16, 2011

reconstructing Dad

Yes, I had a specific reason for traipsing off to Vancouver last weekend. To meet my other (half) sister, Lorene. We'd arranged online to meet at the Starbucks in the Chapters store in Metrotown--whenever possible I try to arrange meetings to take place somewhere indoors with food or books to divert whichever person has to wait. And since it seemed likelier that Lorene would have to wait, and since I knew she was another book-lover....
For a wonder, BC Ferries and BC Transit cooperated, and I made it from the 9 am sailing to the Metrotown mall just after 12:30. We'd exchanged descriptions of clothing the night before, and Lorene was already sitting down with her coffee when I reached the mock-iron railings of the Starbucks. We recognised each other easily.

The last time we'd met, I'd been in my early teens and she was a young mother, a couple of years before my (our) father died. I don't remember it very well, and she remembers it as rather a flying visit, because we weren't able to stay until her daughter got home. This was a more extensive meeting: we left Chapters about 3pm.
Some of the talk was 'catching up', though Darlene had filled us both in to some extent. Most, though, was sharing and comparing memories of our father. What term to use? Lorene began with 'our father', though as we became more comfortable, and talk became more fluent, she slid into 'my father'. I stayed with 'Dad', avoiding the pronoun issue.
Comparing notes: did our father have a webbed toe? Yes, two (I have also). Was he an atheist or agnostic (agnostic, but was confirmed Anglican the year after me, so he could serve as a warden for All Saints church).
Swapping stories he'd told: how he got the little scar on his forehead (hit with a lunchbucket in the schoolyard). The time he (very young indeed) and a friend sold tickets for a made-up show. I had more of these--although I'm bad at names and dates, my memory for narrative and dialogue is good, and Dad only had to tell me a story once for me to have it down.
Matching memories: what subjects he taught, what he'd filmed for commercials, family friends who had farms we'd visited as children. Lorene had more of these, having been older and more attentive when Dad was alive. She told me how she'd watched the changes at the film studio he'd done work for, as it went from studio to shop to restaurant, and we digressed to memories of Vancouver neon signs and when Vancouver, New Westminster, and Burnaby were separate places.

Our father was born in October of 1903. He liked to say that he was a year old when the Wright Brothers flew their airplane, and he'd lived to see the moon landing.
He also used to say that his family was the most important thing in the world to him, and that he didn't care what happened to the rest of the world as long as his family was all right. Argumentative child that I was, I would object that without the rest of the world, our family would be in a sad way. Now I wonder whether he included his other daughters when he said that? He continued to see them when he could, and Lorene remembered that when she'd hoped to attend SFU, he and my mum had offered to have her stay with us.
Lorene and I are both the older sisters. One doesn't often get to meet someone who was in the same birth order to the same parent. I think she may have been a 'daddy's girl', as I was. We both learnt to love books and value education, though she wasn't able to go for university until she retired.
Her memories of our dad, all that came up in our first meeting, are positive and fond. I've been braced, a little, to admit Dad's faults, to discover (as in fiction one does) imperfections and failings that might diminish him. That hasn't happened with either Darlene or Lorene. Maybe because my vision of him was realistic already, or maybe because he really was a good father, if not consistently a good husband.

It seems to be rare to not have unresolved issues with one's parents, and the common desire I read of is for 'closure' (a concept I don't quite believe in) and to hash out what went wrong in one's childhood. I didn't feel that either of us were looking for closure, only to fill in the spaces in our father's memory, to hear the stories he would have told us if there had been time, and if we had known to ask.


Terri-Lynne said...

Next time I see you, I want to see those toes!

It's nice, getting to see your sister. It must be kind of strange too, huh?

batgirl said...

The toes are disappointing - even as a kid, I thought 'that's it? that's not even going to help me swim!'

It's odd to be trying to remember, when I spent several years trying not to because the loss was painful. It makes me wish I'd paid more attention at the time.

Terri-Lynne said...

(((((((((B)))))))))) That's rough, opening up the hurt all over again, but good that you can put it behind you and start sort of over again.

Your webbies didn't help you swim?? NO FAIR!