Sunday, November 20, 2011

The After Party

We returned to the church basement for the reception (Personally, I tend to see those as things you do after weddings, but I guess it was a reception, when you get right down to it.) and the starving hordes dug into the food that was arrayed before us. There was talk, plans for the day, discussions of who was doing what currently, how they'd all been, and how big all of the children were getting.

Time passed, pleasantly enough, and then the guests drifted away. As we wrapped up, we carted out loads of food, cards of condolences, and huge vases filled with flowers. Some were sent on to the nursing home in thanks, some went home with us. I carried an enormous vase overflowing with gorgeous flowers that were cut from someone's yard.

I didn't take any pictures of the reception, but when we got back to mom's house with our arms full of flowers, children, and food, I pulled out my camera for just a moment.

They were just so quiet and happy to be together, I couldn't resist taking the shot.

Dawn, Maddie and Emma hang out in the kitchen. 

We "adults" sat on the screened in porch and chatted. The "girls", as we refer to my cousins (Doesn't matter how old any of them will ever be, we'll always refer to them as the girls. I feel certain that my siblings and I are referred to as "the kids".), were chatting with mom about their mother when the subject of letters came up. Mom pulled out a bag filled with old letters from my paternal grandmother, Alice; letters from my father's older sister, Thelma; letters from my father to my mother.

We laughed at how Nanny and Thelma were so thrifty that they'd use every possible inch on the front and back of any postcard or letter ever sent. Words would curl around the manufacturer's name and copyright date in a clockwise manner, the crabbed handwriting getting in as much news as possible in a very limited space. They are all fascinating glimpses of times long past: the cost of stamps, the images of vacation spots here and there, the prices of common goods mentioned fleetingly.

The most amazing letters of all, though, were those from my father to my mother. Mom didn't realize that she'd handed us one of dad's letter until we started trying to read it aloud. The paper was so very thin, to keep the cost of airmail down, the paper so fragile. The script was lovely, although occasionally it was hard to decipher. Marilyn was reading the letter when she stopped abruptly. It was a private letter from my father to my mother in their year long separation from one another, after he left the island and returned to Canada at the end of his shift in Jamaica.

I'm not allowed to talk about what was in that letter. I'm also not allowed to read all the rest of those letters until my mother passes away (A million, billion years from now.), and my kid sister suggested strenuously that I shouldn't even want to read them then. I, however, look at it very differently.

This letter, the way it was written, the very formal wording used, the script displayed upon it, and the very carefully relayed feelings it talked of are the very reasons we should get to read them, way into the future. The paper was so amazingly thin, it's called onion skin. It felt almost like parchment, or a stiff tissue paper. I had never seen a sample of my father's script before. All my life I only remember his heavy printed handwriting. The letter never talked of love. It never mentioned that my father was missing my future mother. The language was so incredibly formal that it could have been in one of Jane Austen's books. It was impossibly romantic in way that I never expected. It opened my eyes to a piece of my family history that was never mentioned, never talked about. It felt beautiful, delicate, and mysterious. My parents love story.

We had heard the stories about how he serenaded my mother; how he referred to her as his wife brazenly in the bank waaaaaay before they were ever dating; how she thought he was a "stuffed shirt"; how he fell into the pool filled with icy mountain water at her house, but the time between his leaving Jamaica and sending her the engagement ring is still a mystery.

Only my mother knows what happened and she's not telling. She promised we'd get to have the letters eventually, but not now. The mystery will have to wait. Piecing together their love story, and epic love story it certainly was, will wait. I only regret that by the time I find more pieces to the puzzle, I'll just come up with more questions and there will be no one left to answer them. (Let's face it, I'm the defacto family storyteller. My curiosity trumps all others. Besides, I've learned how to continue typing while crying and that takes skill, baby!)

Setting aside the 45 year old letter, I turned back to the folks on the porch. As they started making leaving noises, it struck me that many of my cousins were leaving that very day. I was about to miss my chance at any photos if I didn't hop to it. I shook off the sleepiness that was creeping up on me, there on the sun warmed porch, and grabbed my camera.
Nancy holds the letter in her hands. The paper was so thin that the script on one side interfered with reading the other side of the letter. We had to pore over it for quite awhile to make some of the words out. Everyone exclaimed over the beauty of it.

Some of the girls pose for a picture before they take off.
Marilyn, Ruth, Dawn holding Maddie, Mom, Cindy and Nancy the Younger down in front.

I got in on the act before my opportunity was gone.

Pat (on the left) and George (on the right). 

Pat is the man that brought the engagement ring from my father in Canada to my mother in Jamaica. My dad just handed him a package in a completely unassuming manner, never revealing what was in it. Pat was stunned when my mother opened it up and found the ring tucked inside a folded piece of cardboard. He says he retroactively panicked over the fact that he hadn't taken any great care with it when carrying it, not realizing how important the contents were.

My dad was such a stinker.

My cousin Ron.

More talking and reminiscing went on after the first wave of friends and family left. Naps were had by young and older not quite as young more mature alike. The day was emotionally draining, yet uplifting at the same time. I hardly ever get to see my cousins and the stories they told that day broke my heart, made me laugh, and helped me to know my father a little more. Each one has their favorite story about my father. Each one a different perspective, another facet, holding another piece of the puzzle. They talk about sneaking in to peek at my gorgeous, exotic mother napping on the sofa in their house, in the days before the wedding. How dad would light up their mother and their whole house when he walked into it. How he'd taken them fishing and hunting. How he'd bake for them, making a huge mess in their mother's kitchen.

We wandered down into my mother's garden, filled with gorgeous blooms indifferent to the importance of the day. Peonies, roses, daylilies. Explosions of color and scent. Hummingbirds zipped along, sipping nectar.

It was a beautiful day. A day filled with warmth and sunshine; the sky clear and blue; the air warm and still. It was the day we buried my father. It was a good day to be alive and to love one another, just a little more, just a little while longer.

Life can't always be filled with pathos. Pain and suffering and illness eventually come to an end. Remember to sniff the roses. If not for yourself, then for those that have gone before.

As ever, my love to you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Into the Earth

Today would have been my parents 45th wedding anniversary. My gift may be slightly macabre, but it's been rattling around in my head and freezing my hands for months. Here's what happened on July 6th, 2011.

The day we buried my father finally dawned on us. It was sunny, clear, and warm. Considering it was early July the warmth shouldn't have been surprising, but since it had been relatively cool all of the days prior the warmth was unexpected.

We got all dressed up in our fancy clothes and headed to the church. There we met up with my passel of cousins, young and not quite as young. As happy as we were to see each other, we were a little stilted and withdrawn. Do you perk up at the sight of someone you wouldn't even be seeing if your common relative hadn't died? I do, but it came and went in waves. I was pleased to see everyone, but it was hard to continue accepting condolences. Lining up, shaking hands. Who are these people? Church members, old friends, members of the choir all shuffle into the church and greet us using sad, tender voices.

After we greet the crowd, we wait in a small room with my cousins until the witnesses? audience? attendees are all seated. I took a few pictures to keep from thinking too much. The brightest spot of the whole ordeal was right here:
Maddie was as cute as a button.

Emma was fascinated by the 7 month old Maddie and spent a lot of time holding her tiny hands and stroking her soft cheeks.
Smooches for Maddie.

One portion of my cousins. An initial serving, as it were. These are the children of my dad's eldest sister, Thelma. These are the cousins I grew up knowing and they knew all of the best stories about my dad.
Marilyn, holding Logan, Ron, my own dark self, Nancy standing next to/behind Eric, who is holding Emma and Caitlin.

In the waiting room waited another serving of cousins, my brother and his sweetheart.
Ian, Deb, Maddie in the stroller, Ruth in the background, Nancy (the younger), and Marilyn again.

The priest and the undertaker sorted out their business and stepped to the front of the procession. We fell into line behind them and solemnly walked in, all eyes on the stainless steel urn held by the man at the front of the line. We finally made it to the front row, where all of the family spread into a thin, dark line and seated ourselves.

The formalities began.

Here's the part where I will be honest with you: I really couldn't concentrate on the funeral. I wasn't crying. I'm not sure if anyone was. I felt disjointed and distant. It wasn't a mass, since dad wasn't Catholic, but it was filled with singing songs I didn't know and some readings I didn't recognize save for one. I felt twitchy, overly warm, and out of place. I don't know if it was the kind of service he would have chosen for himself if you'd asked him. It seemed way too formal, bound by odd church strictures and laws. It did, however, begin to tell me what kind of funeral that I'd like, when that day comes for me.

Imagine a garden, my garden of the future, maybe. Perhaps a gorgeous park. Somehow I'm assuming I'll die when it's warm, but that may just be because of the current circumstances. A few concentric rings of chairs and a table with my urn on it in the center.  I'd like to be flash frozen and shattered instead of cremated. I'd become instant compost. (In fact, the process is called corpse composting. Eco unto death, that's me.) The group of folks would then tell stories about me. No singing, unless someone really wanted to. No music, unless it would make the mourners feel better. Instead, a circle of friends and family, telling stories, laughing and crying. That's what I want. Outside the circles, food and drink, photos and the rare video of me. Maybe. When the party is over (and it is intended to be a party), my remaining family gets to take the package of my remains home. Put me up on the shelf with the ancient remains of my long dead cats. Put me out in the garden and let me feed a beloved tree. I don't know. I don't care. But don't bury me in a box, in a hole in the ground, and walk away from me. For some reason, that image makes me deeply sad. Plant a new tree, just for me, and bury me under it. Toss my dust out over a forest, but make use of me in some fashion that helps the Earth and the plants I love so well.

Finally, back in reality, the service is over and the majority of the family and my dad's closest friend Joan, pile into cars and head over to the grave site. Here's the plot that mom had purchased. An undistinguished section of grass with a small, rectangular hole cut into it. "Grass" carpeting covers the pile of soil next to the hole. Note that it's big enough for 6 cremains...apparently mom is planning on throwing an eternal party there in the ground. The undertaker pulls out a blue velvet bag, puts dad's cremains into it and lowers it into the hole. Then he pulls out a second bag that holds the purple cloisonne urn that contains all that remains of my maternal grandmother. Mom had her on the mantel at home and had been waiting to bury grandma with dad. There's room in this spacious plot for mom, one day far off into the future. She's planned ahead, my mother has.

The priest says a few more things. I think the line ashes to ashes comes up, but I can't remember now.

Suddenly, the first note of a bagpipe hangs in the air, and the funeral party turns, as one, in surprise to face him. I have no idea what song he's playing, but this might be a close match.

And damn! but didn't every single one of us who hadn't cried in the church and had been toughing it out, we all started to cry. Me, my cousins, my sisters, all of us. My mom turned to Joan, and they hugged and laughed through the tears. It was Joan's idea to have a piper, just as she was the one who arranged for a piper at Cindy's wedding, years before. It was beautiful, haunting, sad and just perfect. One small thing. A man alone in a graveyard, playing a haunting tune.

When it ended, we wiped our tears away and leaving my dad and grandma there in the plot meant for six, we drove off to the church.

To the after party.

Well, what else do you call the part where you get together with the other mourners and eat food at banquet tables in the basement of a church? That, my friends, is an after party.

The funny thing is that there was an after, after party back at my mom's house afterwards, but I have to run. I'll finish this post and include those pictures tomorrow. I just didn't want to break my monthly posting "streak".

My love to you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One Month Later...The Completed Living Room and a few nice touches

It took me a month to sand, prime, and paint the living room, dining room and kitchen. A month filled with going up and down ladders, getting coated in 5 different colors of paint, and discovering that when I obsess over something I have no room left for ordinary life.

I haven't baked in a month. Or made yogurt. Or dinner. I've been a little preoccupied.

It started here, with one wall.

Considering that I had paid for samples, I just kind of dove right into painting and assumed the colors I had picked were just right. Fortunately for me, the research I'd put into picking them out turned out to be dead on.

I don't have any straight "before" shots of the living room. You can just flip through random party photos and you're bound to see what the room used to look like*. I do, however, have a before shot of the new shelves we installed under the video screen, so that's a little something.
 Original wall color: Ivory Tower.

The speaker used to sit on a birch wood shelf, but I had Eric remove it when I had the idea for new shelving. The idea sprang directly from the Montessori school: everything should have its own separate place. This way the twins won't get so overwhelmed when you ask them to put their toys away and they'll be willing to do it, just like they do at school! Apparently tossing them all into a giant bin was short circuiting their brains.

Here's that same wall after painting and installing the shelves and baskets.
New wall color: Vanilla Brandy

Much nicer! Watching the twins pick up after themselves at school and put their "work" away was a major motivator for me. I'm willing to spend a little money to buy baskets (I haven't gotten around to putting little photo tags on them yet.) to sort their toys into, if it will make my house appear slightly less chaotic.

Here's the bay window wall.
New ceiling color: Honey Beige

Removing the A/V tower has made a huge difference in how this room feels. It seems a lot more open now and I like not having to look at that mess of wires anymore. The only sticking point is the fact that the projector is exactly at twin level. We have to keep them from touching the lens or they might a) burn their fingers or b) wreck the lens or c) both.

Here's the before on my fireplace and 3/4 wall.
Three quarter wall color: Pacific Pines. Note the brass accents on the fireplace. So '90s!

New 3/4 wall color: Burled Redwood. Inset accent color: Knight's Armor. Trim: Ultra White. Brass Accents: painted flat black with high heat paint. Ahhh!

I still hate the tile, but I'm not prepared to rip the walls up to install spiffy new tile or paint the old tile. Yet.


I decided that all of that Burled Redwood needed a little relief and went with the white trim color for the door instead of using the Knight's Armor grey that I'd used on the front and garage door. I thought the grey would make this wall too dark.

Up the stairs we needed to transition from the dark cinnamon color (Don't you just love how all of my paint seems food related? Num!) to the new wall color. I really didn't want my interior hallway to be miserably dark.
Note how dingy the almond colored thermostat cover looks? The doorbell cover above it used to look the same until I attacked it with fine sand paper and white satin spray paint. I'll get to the thermostat pretty soon. Details like that make you crazy the longer you have to stare at them. Or is that just me?
I read about a neat trick for perfect painted lines after I'd finished, but what I did worked well, too. I used a plumb line, snapped it to the wall to get the straight line I'd need for my tape. Placed the painter's tape right down the edge of the line and used a damp cloth to burnish the edge of the tape and "seal" it to the wall. Then I wiped away the chalk line, painted like normal, removed the tape after the 2nd coat had dried and repeated the procedure on the other side of the lovely sharp line of paint with the second color. After pulling the tape away, my edge was lovely and straight.

The funny thing about spending all of your time up ladders, painting, is you have a lot of time to think. While I was in my zen painting mode, I came up with a whole slew of ways I wanted to decorate. You know, now that the twins are apparently theoretically possibly mostly out of their smashing phase. Those three photos were the first thing that leapt to mind as a great use of that space.

Another idea was this:
Curly stems in a black and natural bamboo vase. Here's hoping the twins leave it alone!

This is just to the right of the stairs pictured above. It's been empty and bugging me for a long time. This was just the ticket to fill the space and contrast my newly painted wall.

I even painted inside the coat closet and made some perfectly sized storage boxes to hold our hats and gloves and keep them off the closet floor. You know, in an organized fashion!

Yes, I did just say that I made those boxes. I followed the tutorial listed here and using boxes I already had, material left over from a dress made for my wedding, paper, a glue gun and spray adhesive, I didn't spend any money on these boxes at all. Unless you include the cost of storing all of those materials for all this time. : ) They definitely took awhile to make, but it was a good learning experience and next time I do it, I'll be faster. Heck if I'd known how to do it sooner, I wouldn't have bought baskets for the twins' toys!

Anyway...even though I've also finished painting the dining room, since this has gotten pretty long, I think I'll end here. I know my mother is dying to see what all I've been doing (Hints on Facebook aren't enough for her anymore.), but I'll show you the dining room another day. I promise it won't be a month from now!

Heck! I still have to tell you about the twins turning FOUR! and, you know, my father's funeral and stuff. There's so much going on, I keep on doing stuff, randomly photographing it and never actually write it up.

Tunnel vision. Crafting tunnel vision.

On the bright side, I now have some breathing room now that my painting fever has abated! I think I'll finish gilding the lily in the dining room (Ooh! I need to recover the dining room chairs!) before I most upstairs and address the horror that is my bedroom. I'll be sure to take you along for the ride!

* Apparently I was a little too good at cropping the vile tower of wires out! I can't find much. Wait - here's a pretty good example. See all of that stuff behind Eric? Tower of A/V equipment, wires, DVDs, CD tower even farther back and crap all over. Bleah!

Monday, September 19, 2011

What does Hatchet do with those "extra" three hours a day?


Here it is, almost a month later from our first day of school and I haven't said a thing, have I?

Once I dropped the kids off to school, I did what comes naturally to me: immediately jumped into a gigantic project. Some women might have taken the opportunity preschool afforded them to enjoy their sudden freedom. You know, caught up on all of those books they'd put off; taken the time to pull a few weeds; signed up for a class; or done something decadent like eaten bon-bons while watching trashy TV. Or maybe even edited a few photos. No. Not me.

I started painting the living room.

Given three hours a day, I jumped into a project that would take up 6 or more hours a day, every day for weeks on end. The living room, you see, is the single largest room in my house. It has 14' high ceilings at the highest point, 12' high at the center of the room, a 3/4 wall, and is all of a piece with the kitchen and dining room which means that any changes you make in the living room you have to plan to make in the kitchen and dining room as well.

It always starts innocently enough. After having remodeled Caitlin's room, I knew that I wanted to do our master bedroom next, but I also knew that as soon as spring hit I'd have no interest in painting until the fall. I was right, of course, but the room I decided to work on first turned into the living room instead of my own. Why? Well...let me show you.

I'm warning you ahead of time, these are seriously embarrassing shots.

Here's what you would see upon entering my humble abode.
This wreck is my front entry way. Welcoming, isn't it? It says, "Welcome to chaos!" and possibly whips a shoe at your head. Watch your step!

Above is the door that leads to the garage. We deposit our keys and things on the hooks, so we don't lose them randomly around the house. This was one of the smarter things we set up in the entrance. However, with the introduction of 3 other people into our household, it just wasn't enough organization.

Here is the view looking down the stairs at the shoerack and front door. The rack was forever loaded with shoes that no one ever wore. Why is that, anyway? And papers. And bills. And hats. Large boxes that need to be recycled are regularly tossed down the stairs to wait for some kind soul to drag them out to the can. How long do you suppose that took, normally? [Shudder!]

Why yes, that is a piece of wire you see at the top of my door. It's a hack job for a wreath hanger because my actual wreath hanger went on walkabout. Can you blame it? 

Starting in early August, I changed the front entrance to this.

Suddenly, life was looking up! A storage chest for the shoes. Now they're all in there and you can't see them! Three hooks - one, two, three! - for the three children. A small ledge (from IKEA, because I had to see what all of the hoopla was all about) for bits and bobs and sunglasses. On the wall to the left is a metal file folder for mail. Ahhh!

Once the twins started school, all of this would change. My inner decorator was fired up and raring to go!

Note that I left all of the bits on the hooks so you'd see those bags. In those bags are items for several crafty projects that I can't shouldn't start until the painting is done! One birthday wreath for the twins (Unless I don't get my act together in time, in which case it will suddenly be a Halloween wreath.); the almond contact paper is to darken the window over the sofa to enhance the movie viewing experience; there are pillow forms in there that will become throw pillows for the sofa made with fabric leftover from the dining room chair re-upholster I have planned; a paint pen and clear contact paper to change out the need for mini blinds on the sidelight and yet retain privacy; high heat paint to black out the brass detail on the fireplace and metallic spray paint to change out all of the door hardware from brass to brushed nickel. My god, people! I've gone and bought a glue gun!

Fresh paint!* Painted trim! Accent colors! More hooks! A mirror! Woo!

This image doesn't do the accent wall justice. The color is called "Burled Redwood" and it's a lovely, deep, cinnamon-y red. The door is "Knight's Armor" grey, the walls are "Vanilla Brandy" and the ceiling is "Honey Beige" (Are you hungry now? I am!). Lots of earthy tones. I'm letting my inner druid drive my inner decorator's color choices.

It's a whole lot easier to keep it neat, now that there's some place for most things that come in the front door. I'm still working on getting everyone to actually put their shoes into the storage chest automatically, but it happens more often than not.

I've also been painting the rest of the living room, building a storage space for all of the toys that wander our house and making plans to finally decorate my house. You know, like grown-ups apparently do. I've only been living here for 16 years!

I've got to be honest with you: painting just this entrance way was terrifying. Imagine being 14' up in the air, with the ladder blocking the doors and looking down the flight of stairs to the basement below. Not only do you get the thrill of potentially falling down 14 feet, you'd get the extra 6' to the basement should you misstep. It was a total cardio workout, going up and down the ladder in that corner! Gaaaah!

Today I finally finished** the part of the 3/4 wall that faces the living room, updated the last bits of trim (Except for the stair risers and railings, which make me exhausted just looking at them. The mere thought of having to remove them, sand them, prime them once or twice, paint them and seal them with polyurethane just makes me want to weep with frustration, so I'm leaving them for the very last thing I do. They may wait until after the bedroom is finished, depending on just how much looking at them bugs me on a daily basis!), painted inside the coat closet and started refinishing the handrail that leads upstairs. Once I have the closet door back in place I'm calling the living room finished!

Of course, in order to do that, I have to wash, sand, prime, paint and seal the door knobs and hinges....

I'm insane.

But by gosh! By golly! By gum! This room is going to look ab-so-fricken-lutely smashing when I'm done!

You're gonna love it! I already do.

* Why, yes, I have already threatened the Destructo Twins with death when they looked like they were about to start writing on the walls. Thanks for asking!

** When I say "I" painted, I really mean it. Eric has been replacing switches and outlets and their covers from almond fixtures (soooo 1990s!) to white, handling the children and moving heavy ladders for me. Him no paint. Him cook and do laundry.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Beginning of a New Era

On Friday, August 12th we found out a single piece of information that would change the course of our family's future.

The twins will meet the cutoff for kindergarten next year by three days.

Suddenly, we leaped into overdrive getting them set up in a half day preschool program that would run five days a week. Eric called up several different local schools and we went and visited about four of them. By the time we hit the last school on our list, a Montessori, we knew we had struck gold.

  • They had not one, but two openings. This is key when you have twins, you see.
  • School started on Monday, August 15th.
  • The twins loved the school.
  • During our visit, one of the teachers sat down with the twins and started an I-Spy game of letters and toy fruits and veggies, while we talked to the administrator.

Eric promised that we'd get back to them once we had a chance to think it over. I thought it over on the trip to the car. "Call her back as soon as we get home! They're closing in 5 minutes! It's Friday!" And so he called the administrator right back and told her that we'd bring them in first thing on Monday morning.

The same day we dropped Caitlin off at school for her very first day as a Fifth Grader.
Who's ready for school? I asked as I shot the above photo. As you can see, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

 Emma is ready!

Logan is ready! And very excited about his new Lightning McQueen t-shirt.

Caitlin was ready to take on the world as a senior in elementary school.

I feel a little bad, we sort of short changed her at drop off. We whisked in with her bags of supplies and walked her to her line. After hugs and kisses goodbye, we took off, rather than wait for the grades to walk inside.

I think she was pretty OK with it, though, since she wasn't paying any attention to us at all. She was too busy greeting all of those other kids who would soon roam the halls with her.

Then we drove off, with the twins, to their very first day of preschool.

Oh the excitement!

 Emma at check-in, snuggles with her blanket.

Logan can hardly wait to run off to his classroom and play with all the new toys!

The additional benefit of this preschool was the fact that they were able to put Emma and Logan into different classrooms. This would be the very first time they had ever been separated for any real length of time. All day, every day, 5 days a week for three hours*: solo. They would finally have a chance to make friends and see what life is like solo.

They never for a moment showed fear or insecurity. They didn't even say goodbye when we brought them to the play area to leave them. Instead, they raced off and left us standing on the sidelines.

We marched over, demanded kisses and made them say goodbye to us sad sacks!
 Buh-bye! Don't let the door hit you in the back on your way out, mom!

Who are you again? You know I'm busy playin', right?

So we left them. All alone. Together.

And ran away giggling into the early morning light.

 Preschool acquired! 


Later, they looked like this after school:

Emma was exhausted after all that learnin' and stuff.

Logan was still pumped from all the educatin'.
Caitlin was psyched.

* The list of things I want to get done in those three hours is just beginning to unfurl in my head! Weeding! Photography! Painting the house! Decorating! Writing! Decluttering! Grocery shopping without short people! OMG! Squeee!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Vigil for My Father

[I'm now back in Colorado, and after a week of getting the house and garden in order, I'm ready to finish the tale.]

On Monday, July 4th, Dad was cremated.

I can honestly say I don't remember what all we must've done on Monday, but I know that one fact for certain. On Tuesday we held Visitation Hours at the funeral home for dad.

Considering that I really had no idea why we "needed" visitation hours, it turns out that the second session was the absolute best part of the whole death ritual. Even better than the funeral itself, for me at the very least.

We walked into the oddly hushed room, where the walls were lined with ancient sofas from a time long gone. Just as uncomfortable now as they were when originally purchased, no one had ever sat on them for comfort or had time to get the seat to conform to their shape. I walked in with Eric, Cindy and Jason, but without the children. We had hired a sitter to keep them from lighting the house on fire and from expiring from utter boredom at such a decidedly child-unfriendly event. Random people populated the room, random photographs were strewn across a coffee table. In the back of the room, flowers were on display; huge bouquets of flowers from friends and family members, the bank where dad worked and friends from church. The displays were lovely.

Flanked on either side by the flowers was a console table and two photos of my father.

One was from his early banking days, he was probably just 30 and looked as if he'd just stepped out of a scene from Mad Men; stiff white shirt, dark tie, sharp black suit and glasses that brooked no nonsense.

The other was from just a year ago; 77 years old and wearing one of his ubiquitous sweaters and wool driving caps.

The two photos encompassed about 47 years of his life, but couldn't even begin to express all the living that occurred between one and the next. Yet somehow they managed to capture a little something about dad. Was it the twinkle in his eye? A bit of a smirk where another might've grinned? It's hard to say just what you saw when perusing these pictures, but you definitely understood that it was my father, your uncle/cousin/friend/husband.

In the center of the console table was the urn.

It was pretty, sitting there, lit with a quiet understatement and yet a heavy presence. Here lie the ashes of a man... It suddenly struck me that all that remained of my father was in that itty bitty steel vessel and it stunned me that all of him could fit in there. A lump formed suddenly in my throat and tears leapt to my eyes. The reality of the moment settled heavily on my shoulders, reinforced by the abnormal hush, the somewhat dusty scent, the ancient sofas and striped wall hangings.

It took me a moment to collect myself, catch my breath and find my words once more. Quiet greetings murmured to people I didn't know, people I should have known and cousins I'd never known about. We took a break for dinner (and yet more doughnuts) and then returned for the final set of visiting hours and the eulogy. In the second hour, the folks I recognized began to appear. They trickled into the room in groups of two or three; cousins, old friends from dad's Jamaica days, his school friends, his nieces and nephew. My family. My parent's community. The characters that all held memories of dad that differed from mine, slices of his past, pieces of his personality.

My kid sister (fun to still call her that, at 32 and a mother of 2 children) took to the floor and read the eulogy that she had prepared and had printed out in 18 point font. It took up three pages, not because it was just that long, but because the font size was that large just in case it became a tad difficult to see. Smart girl, that one.

She told us of early morning piggyback rides down the stairs and coffee shared with a 5 year old; Christmas stockings that were never large enough and overflow candy ending up in size 13 shoe boxes beneath the stockings. She asked us to remember him as he was, not as he became and not as a victim of Alzheimer's, because dad would've wanted it that way.

When she finished, she looked me in the eye and wanted me to take the floor. I wasn't ready yet, so I had Dawn (my older sister) go up instead.

Dawn spoke of dad's years as a track star and how he could still beat her in a race back when she was in high school. How he spoke of practice and working hard at your goals. Next it was my turn.

Being me, I didn't want to regale the crowd with my memory of dad whilst standing up. It was rather like being on a stage, minus the trappings of an auditorium and the comfortable seats. Instead, I pulled up a bench, since I wasn't certain if I could stand and speak or if the formality of it would bring me to tears.

In my memory, we were somewhere in Canada on a family camping trip, deep in the woods, roughly 27 years ago. Dad and I had gone for a walk away from the family and tent, down towards a distant lake. As we walked along through the forest, we kept quiet and listened to the jays calling overhead; the sound of leaves and small branches crunching damply underfoot; smelled that rich aroma of pine and decay and fresh air that permeates a forest; felt the breeze on our cheeks and we just were there, together. Just us. Quiet. Peaceful. Serene. At the lake was a single loon, calling. I called back and it responded as it swam. We called back and forth for awhile as my father watched me, quietly amused at my antics. As the loon swam out of sight, dad took my hand and we turned to go. Just a father and a daughter. Quietly together, far from home.

As I finished and stood up, I turned to my brother whose turn had come to speak. He had chosen to speak last for reasons of his own.

He started off well enough and then the tears overtook him. Seeing him struggle, I was overwhelmed with empathy and grabbed a handful of tissues for him, then stood beside him as he collected himself and carried on. I figured he needed to say whatever it was he wanted to tell this room full of folks who had come to pay their respects. So I stood there, with my arms around my not-so-little little brother who towered over me at 6' tall and supported him as he spoke. We may have our issues, he and I, but in that moment, he needed someone and I stepped up. I don't remember what he said, exactly, but I remember he was glad when he was done and shuddered in relief.

After we 4 kids were through, a small trickle of cousins and friends stepped up to share their stories.

One of my dad's nieces, Nancy, told us a story about how dad would visit and turn their entire house upside down.
That's Nancy, standing behind Mom and Joan.

He'd bring laughter and joy with him when he came to see his eldest sister and her brood. He baked a pineapple upside-down cake, doubling the batch which spilled out of the pan in its enthusiasm and then woke the kids to come have a slice, in the middle of the night. He made them laugh. He took them camping. He had them stay with us in NY while they were visiting or in school, or just passing through. I love their memories of him, so filled with life.

The stories continued from one person to the next. Words wrapped us up together in comfort; laughter burst forth sporadically and we passed the time together, if not happily at least meaningfully and joyfully.

Dad's oldest friend, Joan, was the last person to speak.

She told us of a terribly mischievous boy, forever hounding her and leaving her bruised, who somehow turned into a perfectly bidding boy at the call of his mother. She also explained, once and for all, that she was not, nor had she ever been, his girlfriend. The room rocked with laughter and mom, who had been sitting next to Joan the whole time, laughed long and loud and tightened her grip on Joan's hand.

Mom knew all the stories. She'd heard them all again and again.Over the years, mom had turned into my father's external memory deposit. She kept all of the strands of his past together in her head, since he couldn't anymore. And while she didn't say a word or share any of her memories of dad that day, she thanked each person that spoke in turn and warmed herself with their words.
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