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.

1 comment:

Tracee Dawn said...

Two! Two posts in one month! I love to read your words, sad as they can be( as in this case). But My heart goes to you, and I am glad you've still got something to say to us. Sometimes putting it out there( wherever that may be) helps to heal our hearts. Your family is so lucky to have you, and so are those of us who visit in this space. I love friends that we've not met yet.

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