Of course, I woke up thinking of my dad this morning. He would have been 90 at the end of this month. But he went on to other adventures 28 years ago. My memories of him always make me smile – his crooked grin, his purposeful walk, our shared love of Mother Earth, and all the funny little mental movie clips I have of events over the years. They would mean very little to you – they are the types of events that we talk about at family gatherings. The ones where someone might say,”remember that Christmas when Dad did the thing?” and every family member understands and they laugh and nod their heads. Really, if I said to you, “Dad used to take our desserts,” you would think my dad was a horrible man. But it wasn’t like that – really. And the story would lose something if it actually became a story. So I’ll leave you to chew over that one. Snort.
For my Lovely Blog Award today, I am going to a site with which I am already familiar. Ron Doyle is one of my favorite bloggers (anyone who uses a word like “transmogrification” in a blog gets extra points from me) and is a young father himself. His Father’s Day is bittersweet: He will probably enjoy breakfast in bed from his sweet little girls, and probably will call his own father to wish him a happy day. But yesterday Ron set to work writing his mother’s obituary as she passed away on Thursday of last week. Since Ron is in the age range of my own two sons, I will send him a virtual “mom hug” today – go to his site, Blog Salad, and enjoy his unique humor.
I’ve decided to share a story I wrote about Dad many years ago. It was first published in Oblates – which, had he been around to read it, would have amused Dad as he was a non-practicing Protestant. It has since been published as a reprint in several other magazines. I’m happy to share a bit of my dad with you today on Father’s Day:
When we were children, my father often brought out his trusty old movie camera and followed us as we went about the important business of growing. The soft whirring of the Bell and Howell was a familiar sound, and he documented our growth from birth to adolescence, at which time we became more self-conscious and less agreeable to his hobby.
After my father died, we found his stash of round metal cans, loaded carefully into cardboard boxes and labeled with vague titles, such as “Kathy” or “Disneyland” or “The Picnic”. The projector was stored next to them, as was the long metal tube that held the “movie screen.” Its fold-up legs creaked in protest as we set it up, and we hurriedly popped popcorn while my brother carefully threaded the old gray projector with a roll of film chosen at random.
The projector rattled and whirred. Images of our childhood lit up on the screen. My sister and I, posing in new Easter outfits and crisp white Bibles in gloved hands. The skips of the projector and the age of the film caused the semblance of a silent movie, with those being filmed walking in stilted fashion and flashing posed smiles at the camera. Another roll produced the rosy face of my brother, then ten, just after winning a Little League game. My brother’s children squealed with glee. “Was that you, Daddy?” His laugh was deep, like my father’s, when he answered their questions.
The films continued. My mother, so full of youth, holding a baby. My youngest sister, dressed as Mrs. Claus, presenting a skit for our parents in front of the Christmas tree. My brother, swimming in his underwear, in a pool somewhere in New Mexico. We teased him about acquiring the nickname “Bubbles” from that episode. One very old roll of film yielded shots of our grandparents, passed long ago. Each bit of film brought laughter and exclamations, and between rolls we all recounted family stories.
The projector took us back to a family barbeque, with aunts and uncles and cousins pinching children’s cheeks and draping arms around each other. Some I could recognize, others had been gone long before any of us were even born. All bore some resemblance to the other – the same crooked smile, or the shape of the eyes, or the way they walked.
One roll had been double-exposed. A trip to Europe in the 70s captured images of Paris and the French countryside, over a faded picture of my uncle. It was an eerie match – my uncle had come to the United States after escaping the war-torn areas of the same country that was filmed over his face.
The years swelled and crashed, like powerful waves against the rocks of time. They wore away, little by little, until all that was left in the images, in the faces laughing around me, was the very center of creation; the core of what it really meant to give, to love – to be.
Suddenly, I was not just viewing my own childhood. I was seeing, through my father’s eyes, the things that had mattered most to him. He had charted the paths of his children, and looked back on the lives of himself and his own siblings. In doing so, he had created a masterpiece of compassion and comraderie, of legacies and love. I realized then, that even though my father was the filmmaker, I could see his face in every film, through the smiles and the love that looked back at the man behind the movie camera.
When my family gets together, we share memories, and laugh over old times. We watch the shaky old movies on the ancient projector. There are new faces watching now, carbon copies of the little girls in the Easter bonnets and the dusty young baseball players. We still miss my father, but we no longer mourn. His spirit is our spirit, split like cells and scattered into separate bodies, but connected always with fragile threads of love.