– Now you can bury me with a smile on my face.
He says flashing me his new dentures.
Every morning, Dad walks by my bedroom window with the Shih Tzus to pick up the paper from the bottom of the hill. He taps his walking stick on my window as he comes and goes. It is our signal so that I know to go looking for him if too much time goes by.
Particularly chatty in the morning, he usually comes into my room afterward to sit in the chair by my bed and tell me any stories that might be rattling around in his head.
It’s hard to believe this is the same man I knew as a child.
Growing up with divorced parents, my Dad would be waiting in his car outside the school every second Friday. On the way home, we would stop by the Ingy Pub and I’d wait in the car while he had a beer with his workers before heading to the Coachman Inn, a motel he co-owned, for dinner. I could order anything I wanted but I always felt embarrassed ordering my milkshake and burger by myself and hearing his laugh echoing down from the bar.
My siblings being so much older meant that I spent most of my time alone at the farm watching TV, swinging on the rope swing and when I was big enough to reach the pedals and see over the dashboard – driving my Dad’s car up and down the driveway. The keys awaiting me in the ignition.
Every second weekend, I was an unsupervised child with no bedtime, no toys, no change of clothes or any memory of a toothbrush.
When not alone, I spent my time dancing to Dad’s friend/roommate Boogie play Could-she-coo on acoustic guitar, stealing cash from Dad’s wallet while he slept so teen mothers my sister had move in could drive me without a license to buy milkshake supplies at the all night gas station by the highway and spiking the punch with an ex-con on parole at a 16th birthday party when I was 13.
– Would you like to be cremated?
– The burning may come later.
A friend asked me recently why I’m not angry with my Dad for his blatant but ignorant neglect of me as a child. I’m not exactly sure though I do confess a hurt deep in the underbelly of my heart which often triggers tear ducks when talking of the past.
Truth be told, this time with my father is helpful for him and healing for me. The man I didn’t know as a child, I am getting to know now as an adult. The more he trusts and relies on me, the closer we become.
If I have my way, when he is buried with his dentures, his dark George Straith suit and the ashes of our old dogs in his plot at St Stephen’s, there will be a love and peace between us worthy of a smile.