Papa. Part three. On what would have been his 74th birthday.

When Jaime and I were little our parents dragged us to Hawaii on what was a bad enough trip that I hope to never return there. But there were two things I remember fondly. I remember being in a traditional jewelry store and I that we actually got pooka shell necklaces. We NEVER got gifts unless it was a birthday or Christmas. So this was huge. I think there was something to do with leaves dipped in gold, too, but that’s murky. But the best part was when dad rented a catamaran and took us girls out alone. We got going so fast and I remember having my feet overboard and dragging through the water as we sped through it. That was actually fun. And I hate water.

When we got back I got him a window sticker of a sailing ship that he put on the sliding glass door of his bedroom. The song ‘Sailing’ by Christopher Cross was popular and he loved that song. And for me it took me back to the catamaran. After we lost dad, Jaime and I got part of that song tattooed on us in his favorite color. “Just a dream and the wind to carry me, and soon I will be free…” I just asked Alexa to play it for me so I can hear it as I write this. It makes me smile. It was the perfect choice to represent the best parts of our dad. At times he was truly amazing. What a great sense of humor he used to have. Irreverent and quick and sarcastic. And sometimes so very bad that all you could do was groan. He did an excellent imitation of Inspector Clouseau- the Peter Sellers one. God he loved those movies. I more enjoyed him enjoying them. I could never really get there myself. But we all liked Steve Martin’s reboot which was a great thing. When answering machines were a thing he could do a great Clouseau outgoing message. It’s weird to think that’s all gone now. From answering machines to Alexa. Wow.

Dad loved camping and outdoor hikes. And because he knew so much about plants and rocks he was always teaching us about them. I’ll be damned if I remember any of it. But I love that he taught us anyway. He was so passionate about those things. It was just great to listen to him talk even if you knew you’d never remember any of it. I spent a great trip alone with him at the North end of the Grand Canyon. We went there because no one else did. He didn’t like people. He even had me hide behind some trees once on a hike so we wouldn’t have to make small talk with passersby. There was a great moon on that trip and I have pictures somewhere. I suppose I’ll have to look for those too.

Skipping over a lot of bad, there was the time he took us hiking through his creek not long after he had major heart surgery. And he was always taking us shooting- he thought it important that we knew how to handle firearms. And he’d drive his mule (a golf-cart-like thing) at reckless speeds though his actual driving had turned tortoise slow. Gone were the days when we sped along listening to Enya and he made up English words for her Gaelic songs. “Hard soup bones, hurt feetsies” was my favorite. But I swear I have no idea how he never dumped me out of that mule or turned the whole damn thing on it’s side. And then he’d skid to a stop to make sure he didn’t hit the snake sunning itself. That was the dad I choose to remember. The on that learned FaceTime so he could see his daughters. The one who admitted he wasn’t always good at things but he still tried.  The one that made sure to always tell us he loved us just in case. The one that made an effort to be better than his mother. The one that could barely move from his hospital bed but kept raising his arms to try to hug us even though he couldn’t. The one hat nodded furiously that he loved us because he couldn’t talk with the tube in his throat. 

I wish I could have shown him the beauty of Ireland and Scotland. I wish so many things. But right now, most of all, I wish I could wish him Happy Birthday and look forward to the next one. I wish I could be making plans to see him. I wish I could tell him about my new job he wouldn’t understand. So Happy Birthday, Papa. I miss you every day. But especially today. I love you.

Papa. Part two. On what would have been his 74th birthday.

My mom and dad in the 60sAfter my parents split up, they both turned weird. I blame a lot of this on he fact that it was the 80s. A decade that encouraged adults to be incredibly selfish. Who knows if they would have even split up if the times were different? But they weren’t. So they did. 

My dad particularly turned into an asshat. He got himself some young girlfriend only 10 yrs older than me and actually brought her to our house. I was so disgusted. I still remember the pink spaghetti-strap tank top she was wearing with no bra. I was in a long blue shirt reminiscent of the 20s with matching long tied pearls. They were in the garage. I left.  

His behavior was unchecked without my mother around and he began letting his anger run free. He yelled at people out of the car window. I told him I didn’t want to be around him anymore until he behaved like an adult. He tried to blame my mother, but I told him she had nothing to do with it- that it was his own behavior I found unacceptable. He seemed to take me seriously and settled down for a bit and I started visiting him again, though not very often.

But a very positive thing from this time was that he learned to make stained glass. And he was excellent at it. 

He made many beautiful pieces, but I only have a couple of them. He made me pink roses because he knew I loved them. And he made me Hedwig because we both loved Harry Potter. Though he was cheap and would always wait for the paperbacks to come out which drove me crazy as I always consumed the hardbacks within 48 hours of release and then couldn’t say anything. But I digress. 

He made my sister many more pieces, but that was because he also made me small wooden replicas of vehicles from the old west because as a young adult I spent 11 years doing a Nevada history show that took place in the old west. 

We also spent a lot of quality time in Virginia City. It’s a wonderful ghost town. It’s almost like walking straight into the past. The old west is still very alive there. We took pictures and toured and walked and took the train and drank at The Bucket of Blood Saloon. We had a great trip to one of the old cemeteries looking at the old markers. We found a lizard that he played with for a while. I think I filmed it and have it in a box somewhere. I’m sure I’ll look for it someday. Everyone interested in history should go to Virginia City.

My dad was a soil scientist and spent a lot of time digging in the desert and writing reports. But he hated that job so quit and drifted around through meaningless jobs for years. He used to bring back treasures from the desert. At one time he found a cache of discarded hotel trash that included monogrammed silverware from hotels that no longer existed. He flattened the silverware and attached the pieces to driftwood and made my sister and me wind chimes. They’re beautiful. Like everything he made.

Papa made a lot of bad choices in his life. But that can be said of most of us. I could focus on that, or I can remember what he got right. I choose that one.

Papa. Part one. On what would have been his 74th birthday.

When I was a little girl of six, we moved into a bigger house in a newer neighborhood. In the backyard was this beautiful Weeping Willow. I’d never seen one before and I found it’s natural ability to be a secret hiding place irresistible. But my parents wanted a pool so they pulled out my tree. It wasn’t all bad. My sister and I got an awful lot of use out of that pool over the years. My dad built a slide for the pool out of lava rock and poured cement. Not quite sure why it didn’t occur to him that those weren’t necessarily slippery, and therefore slide-worthy, but he went ahead with his plan. When it didn’t work, I remember him placing plastic over the cement slide so that it would be slippery, and I think he had a hose feeding water down it. But there was no sliding on that thing. The lava mountain he had built interspersed with plants was pretty enough, and the poured concrete steps up to the slide were great, but there was no salvaging that mess of a slide. So he buckled and bought a real one. One of those blue fiberglass numbers with its own running water to aid in sliding. We used the heck out of that thing too. It was Las Vegas in the late 70s and early 80s and it was HOT. So from the first of May until September we were out there pretty much daily. Sometimes dad would play with us and let us jump off his shoulders or chase us pretending to be a shark and we had to go to the oven if we were caught. (Which was the loveseat.) For some reason my dad also decided to cover the ground with some weird flowering ground cover instead of grass, which just brought wasps that would sting your feet, although once I even got stung between my fingers. But as a little kid you don’t mind that stuff so much. Jaime, my sister-younger by three years-and I had impressive tan lines every year and baked ourselves into very brown little children. Jaime was blond and blue-eyed, but still soaked up the rays. And I had long dark hair with eyes just as dark. My tanning added an ethnicity to my look that was completely undeserved, but there it was. 

Dad was great with his hands despite the previously mentioned escapade.  He was always making something. And at our previous house he built a tall, beautiful wooden fence that still stands elegantly today despite the house falling to shit due to lazy owners. He loved to build radio controlled airplanes and radio controlled cars. The planes he just flew around the neighborhood, but he actually raced the cars. I would act as his pit crew and run out into the course and flip the car back right side up, quickly running back again not to disturb the ongoing race. I loved that. 

Sometimes he took us to real racetracks where it was thunderously loud and the smell of gasoline and oil was overpowering. But somehow he made it feel special that we got to be there. I don’t really remember much else about the experience besides the noise, smell, and feeling special. Yet I grew up to like British TopGear, hate American Top Gear, and have no love for NASCAR. Blech. 

We also spent a lot of time with my dad’s brother and his family a lot when my sister and I were little. They lived hours away in the mountains of Southern California but we went most weekends. My mom and my aunt would play cribbage and drink wine. My dad and uncle would play pasture golf and drink beer. Pasture golf was made up by my uncle. There were holes in the ground filled with coffee cans with long pvc pipes poking out to mark them. The balls were tennis balls and mainly you had to avoid the poison oak and the lake. I have no idea if anyone ever won. 

But by the time I was twelve, everything changed.