Sunday, June 21
In one week, on June 28th, it will be two years since my father was suddenly weak and went to the hospital.
In eight days, on June 29th, shortly after noon, west coast time, it will be two years since my father died.
I don't know if I called him that Father's Day--in 2007, it was June 17. I sometimes did, I sometimes didn't--my family was never big on such things. But maybe I did. He was fine then. Hell, he was fine (at least as far as I knew) on June 27th, when I chatted with him on the phone.
When I cleaned up his desk after his death, still not sure of his diagnosis (we didn't get test results until a week later), I found all of the profiles of doctors that he had printed out, all the specialists that he had researched. And a scribbled note in his writing, that said "Lymphoma?" "Leukemia?". He was right, on both counts. He hadn't wanted to bother anyone until he knew for sure. That was typical. I had no idea.
He was an atheist. He believed definitively that when you go, that's it, it's over. And it wasn't an idle belief, either. When I feel myself reaching out to speak with him--in whatever form such a thing is possible--I have to do it through a thick curtain of "What a lot of nonsense". I've learned to deal with it. Do I have a choice?
There was no funeral. No memorial service. No grave. No obituary. These were his wishes. In the days foll0wing his funeral, people would say "Did you tell him that [these rituals] were not for him?", probably because they couldn't imagine not having those tethering points themselves. As for me, I'd want my wishes honored. I'm like him, I guess.
So, in the absence of funeral, service, grave, obituary, I am left with....well, Everything.
I am left with the memory of reading the play of Fiddler on the Roof to him in the living room when I was ten or eleven, complete with all voices and songs, as he listened attentively.
I am left with the memory of the "jobs" he gave me, like cutting out marked articles in the newspapers (he was an "x", and my mom was a "check") with the enormous pointy scissors or checking the change from his pockets to see if there were any old silver coins.
I am left with that hat that he's wearing in the picture. I wear it for warmth. I wear it for remembrance. It looked better on him.
I am left with the memory of playing Bookshelf games with him as a child, most notably "Stocks and Bonds", a game I chose because I knew he'd like that. And Probe, which was a great word game. And cards. Lots of cards--gin rummy, blackjack (which we called "21"), War.
I am left with the sound of his shoes coming down the hallway as I ran into my room, slamming the door behind me, in trouble again. I am left with the sound of his voice, singing lullabies in Hungarian and French. I am left with the whirring sound of the juicer, every single morning in recent years, as he made fresh orange juice for breakfast. I am left with the sound of his skipping rope--he could skip rope like a boxer, fast and smooth. I could never jump rope like that, I had to do that double jump little-girl rope-jumping thing. I was amazed.
I am left with the memory of picking him up at the train station on the day I got my driver's license.
I am left with the sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter memory of his laughter, which was hearty and wonderful and welcome, except when it wasn't.
I am left with the memory of how he loved sailing, how he bought two sailboats and named them both after me, something that never really sunk in. Of pulling the El Toro out of the boat rack, putting on the orange lifejacket and bobbing around in the Redwood City harbor by the huge salt pile. Of sitting on the bigger boat that he barely ever took out of its berth, but loved and was so proud of anyway.
I am left with the memory of someone shouting "Daddy's on TV!" (maybe it was me) and running and sliding in my stocking feet into the TV room to see him there, on the black and white TV, talking about something I couldn't understand (economics) on a show I didn't even know existed (probably something like Wall Street Week). It wasn't Father Knows Best. Though I guess it kinda was.
I am left with the vivid memory of the two houses that he thought about buying (not both of them, just one or the other) when I was in my early teens--I remember everything about them, even where they are. I could drive to either one now, almost 40 years later. I am left with the memory of his memory of the houses, and his shaking his head and remarking, even in recent years, "I shoulda bought that house".
I am left with his watch, which I have worn every day since shortly after he died. I am left with a few of his drawing supplies, which he hadn't used in years but loved dearly. "Your father used to doodle on everything" she says. Me too. Even just looking at the colorful old boxes of pencil lead makes me smile.
I am left with the acute perception of his presence in Paris 10 months after his death. How I could suddenly speak French far better than I expected, though nowhere near the fluency that made someone argue with him at least once that he could not be, in fact, an American.
I am left with the legacy of disdain for religion, for stupidity, for lots of things.
I am left with memory of an amazing meal in the French countryside when I was thirteen, where there was a waiter stationed behind each person's chair. I don't even remember the food (I probably didn't like it), other than the sorbet that was served between courses (ice cream in the middle of a meal? O-Kay!!!). I was focused on the fact that every time I took a sip of water, the man standing behind me stepped forward and filled my glass. Or so I recall.
I am left with the memory of him telling me that he loved me a lot when he was in the hospital recovering from bypass surgery, and how I attributed his softness to pain medication, but I didn't care.
I am left with the memory of food. He loved chocolate, goat cheese, bananas and sour cream, cholent, Hungarian food. He picked all of the chestnuts out of the chestnut stuffing at Thanksgiving. He made a mean oatmeal in later years.
I am left with photos, from the red plaid photo box in the high cabinet in the TV room, the one that he was always the only one tall enough to retrieve, the one that I can now take down with ease. Photos that I admired of him as a young man, goofing around with his friends, or just so suave.
Photos from the Army.
Photos from the liberation of Nordhausen concentration camp, stuffed into a small manila envelope that mysteriously was whisked away out of my hand every time I came upon it and asked "What is this?", until, of course, I was old enough to find it on my own. Photos of my parents, gorgeous in their happiness and youth (dig those saddle shoes).
I am left with memories of my father with my daughter--walking with her in the back yard when she was a baby,
playing card games, especially War (he'd say "you stinker!" when she won, just like he did to me),
the two of them gazing at each other in admiration.
He always seemed surprised when I did well.
He told other people he was proud of me, but could never tell me.
He wasn't perfect. But he was a good man. And he was my dad.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
And no, this doesn't mean that I think you can hear me. Feel better?