“I want to be buried in my Hunting Stewart tie. It’s worn by the Royal Scots. They are oldest regiment in the British army,” says Dad, “I hung it here so you wouldn’t forget.”
A dark green tie hangs between us from the standing lamp beside his living room chair.
“Ack man, it’s the Sabbath,” he quotes his favourite film, Whiskey Gallore.
“I’m taking you to church tomorrow for your birthday,” I say.
“Are you sure the roof won’t fall in?” he asks.
Dad turns 86 on February first.
“Thank you,” he says looking at me. His eyes are clear and focused.
I cry six times on Sunday.
At church, we sit in his favourite spot: the farthest back corner. We stay sitting as the rest of the congregation stands up and down following the service’s procession. We sing songs and I cringe silently in the places where my non-Christian beliefs get triggered, like how God gets mad at us when we don’t do his bidding.
The passing of the peace, where the lovely people shake hands and offer each other kindness, is followed by communion.
Holding my hand with his left and his cane with his right, Dad slowly makes his way down the aisle towards the minister. The congregation sings. I kneel beside Dad as he opens his hands and accepts the blood and flesh of his saviour.
On our way back to the pew, the rest of the congregation now seated before him, Dad bursts into the hymn and begins his weekly ritual of gushing love over the people he passes.
“Thank you father,” he sings out, receiving love in equal doses to the love he is sending out.
And I burst into tears.
“Your tears are infectious,” my Godmother tells me afterwards.
I cry again.
We leave coffee time early to attend the funeral of an old friend of Dad’s.
I drop him at the door and park the car. I’m nervous of leaving him for even a few minutes as I worry he’ll fall.
Inside, Dad sees his friend and launches into his memory cycle of how he was once the largest masonry contractor on Vancouver Island. I interrupt him by asking what he remembers about Allyson, the woman who the funeral is for. His eyes clear and he tells a story he remembers about her. He always liked her.
Dad falls asleep during the service. It’s his nap time and his heavy eyelids are hard to fight. I let him sleep with an elbow ready in case he starts to snore. He wakes on his own and looks over at me, embarrassed.
After the post-service treats, I help Dad up to leave, but he almost falls.
“I just about fell on my ass,” says Dad looking at his friend apologetically.
He points at his wrist.
“I wear a memory patch,” he says, and again I sense an apology.
More tears come as we walk out the door.
“You’re going to have to shoot me,” says Dad as we hold hands to the house.
“My father wanted me to be a pall bearer at Uncle Joe’s funeral,” says Dad over a cup of tea, “He was bloody mad when I told him it was time Tom and Dick did something.”
Tom and Dick were Dad’s brothers. And yes, my Dad’s real name is Harry.
What my grandfather didn’t know is that Dad was too busy making arrangements to be a pall bearer.
“Wee Andy MacGeorge was a piper in the Scottish and he came and volunteered to do it for me,” says Dad, “At the end of the service, Wee Andy, in his kilt, marched down to the pall bearers carrying the casket and led them out to the hearse.”
The piper played The Barren Rocks of Aiden by Lady Rutherford of Ormiston.
Dad saw tears rolling down his father’s cheeks.
“He was a sentimental old bugger, tough as hell,” says Dad as he segues into another story where grandpa stops a knife fight in the men’s mess with a stool.
“I love you, dear,” Dad says when I kiss him goodbye and head to the ferry.