Dad in the 60’s

 

I’ve been working on a memory book of my childhood over the past few months. The more I write, the more I remember. Writing my memories down has been like finding a hidden door in a wall, and I have loved slipping through it from time to time.

Today is Fathers’ Day. Here are a few of my “Dad” recollections….These are just the beginnings, and there are many more in my mind, yet to find their way onto paper…

My father says the Lord’s Prayer at supper time. When he is finished, the kids take turns saying, “Lord-bless-this-food-and-drink-amen.” The little prayer comes streaming from our mouths like a line of music, starting with a high note and going down the scale to the amen. My mother holds the baby’s hand in her rusty high chair and helps her with the words. She says a few and the baby repeats them back. After the meal, Dad takes out the black bible with its pages rimmed in red, and he reads to the family in his quiet, careful voice. The kids are quiet, but squirming. Sometimes, we giggle. Dad gets annoyed some times and flips the bible shut. Other times, he smiles a little and then just ends the whole thing with a prayer. He says the same prayer after every supper, one of his own composition, talking to God about “coming to him at the end of this day,” asking him to “be with us through the coming night” and comforting entreaties to “be with our loved ones, wherever they may be.” This is my favourite part of the praying, these humble words he has put together himself. Sometimes, he will add a few different carefully chosen phrases, depending on things that are happening in our lives. My forehead bends of its own accord when my father folds his hands at the table and bows his head.

My father’s hands are rough and wide, the fingers thick. His nails are rimmed with black oil stains, and his fingers often bear inky pockets of blood blisters or slashes where he’s been cut. He works with machinery, fixing things. He comes into the house smelling of oil, his blue work clothes blackened and grimy. When my mother hugs him, he holds his hands out in front of her hug, so as not to get her dirty. Even on weekends, the oil smell comes out of him, permeated into every pore of his skin.

Dad plays with us after work, if he isn’t too tired. When he comes home, he’s often wiped out. Sometimes, he rough-houses with us. My mother hates it and doesn’t hesitate to say so, but we do it any way. He lies on the floor and we pile on, while he grunts and hollers and pretends that it hurts. Or he gets on all fours and we climb on his back. He crawls slowly around and then suddenly takes off like a horse with a burr under his saddle, while we spill off, shrieking. If we’re outside, he takes our hands and spins around, and we fly in circles with our feet off the ground. Or he’ll launch us into the air and catch us on the way down. When he’s too tired, he lies on the couch and I fetch the brush and brush his hair. We talk quietly about things.

 

There is a creek further up the road from where we live–one of those winding, crooked country creeks with cement bridges rising over them along the gravel roads. It freezes over solid in the winter. One winter Sunday, after church, my parents take us kids to the creek. All the cousins and aunts and uncles are there, out on the ice, skating. My father puts skates on me and my brother’s feet…where did the skates come from? I have never seen them before. He must have bought them, rounded them up somewhere, planned for this. Now, here they are on my feet–laced up tight. My father holds my hands and helps me onto the ice. He skates backwards–such a good skater–and keeps my hands tight in his, and he teaches me to skate on the frozen creek. The uncles skate with shovels, moving snow off the ice. Some of the younger kids ride on sleds, the uncles and aunts pulling them across the ice, spinning them around. Some of the uncles have hockey sticks and pucks and they take shots at each other. Everyone is laughing and having fun. After awhile, I am able to skate a bit by myself, even though I tumble down every few strokes. My father takes my hands again, and off we go, faster and faster. I almost lose my breath with terror and excitement. The hours pass, and I can’t feel my toes any more. But I don’t want to let go of my father’s hands. I feel like I could skate all the way up the creek with him and never stop. Finally, my father takes me back to the car and pries my cold feet out of the skates, and we go to Oma and Opa’s for supper.

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