Monday, December 21, 2009

Snapshots and Memories

My dad passed away on December 17, 2009. I’m 43 years old, and we had been estranged for almost all of those years, with brief and infrequent interludes of acquaintance.

I’d actually been wondering for years if he was still alive. The last time I saw him was about 10 years ago (maybe even more), when his daughter Jessica, from his second wife Sherry, dragged him on a road trip so she could meet her brother and sister from his previous marriage. I think we tried to make peace with each other, but we were strangers, and broad stretches of awkwardness were filled only briefly by shared memories…. I think we all wanted more, but we just weren’t sure how to make it happen. How do you wash away that awkwardness? We tried scotch, but it really didn’t work all that well. I still feel guilty about that, since my father was an alcoholic (something he admitted, so I’m not really sharing secrets out of school here).

I think I started this post wanting to lecture people about holding on, about not letting things, or people get away from them. It’s too late now; I can never have that relationship with my father. But we’re all adults now. We make choices and we live with the consequences, whether they be regret or relief. There are large chunks of my father’s life of which I know nothing at all. I don’t know the man that Jessica and Elizabeth knew, we aren’t really grieving the same father. I forgave him a long time ago for being gone, I know it wasn’t just him, it was them. Neither of them could make it work. But it remains a fact that I have very little to remember my father by.

But these are my memories, and I hold them dear, and I cherish them.

I remember us driving around the world (okay, it was really just the Southeast) when I was a little kid in our big old tricked out bus. The bus was tricked out like an RV, with bunk beds, a kitchen and even a working bathroom. We stopped at a spring for some spring water, I think it was really early in the morning because Dad woke us up to look out the window at two little bear-cubs playing in the woods near the spring.

I remember Dad laughing, because I turned my sandwich upside down to eat it, just like Mom did. I remember him getting very mad and threatening to spank us because Michael and I were running around while he was working on the bus and almost tipped over the bus battery. And I remember him feeling bad about it, and explaining how dangerous it was to play there, and that he was afraid we’d get hurt. I remember him cooking cabbage soup, which I refused to try because it smelled so bad.

I remember a Christmas; I couldn’t have been more than 3….maybe 4. I remember Mom waking us up and Dad was drinking coffee, and we came into the living room and the tree was so huge, and so fat, and so sparkling with lights and shininess. It was a shimmering tower of golden fairy lights surrounded by a lake of presents. I don’t even remember what the presents were, but of all the Christmases, that’s the one that really means Christmas to me. In that same apartment I remember that Mom had this lovely old rocking chair with woven rattan in the seat, and that I watched Dad re-weaving the seat for her.

I remember when we lived with him for several months at Toad Hall and he had to come home from work to take me to the hospital because I’d stepped on a rusty nail. I remember going to work with him one day, and finding a possum out in a ditch. I remember him coming home drunk one night, and I didn’t understand, I thought he was sick. I suggested he drink some water so he would feel better. He looked sad when he said he didn’t think water would make him feel better. I remember him building a rocking horse without using any nails at all. He used straw for the tail and the mane.

I remember when we lived on Lischey Avenue and he came to visit. He brought Michael a remote controlled airplane and we played with it out in the field. I think he brought me a camera and a watch. I was really sad when I lost that watch. That was the visit when he said he wanted us to come live with him. I packed my stuff in a pillow case and was ready to go, but Mom wouldn’t let me. I think I was 10 that year.

I remember when we lived in that big old Victorian house near Centennial Park and he came for a visit and put new breaks on my bike. I think that might have been the year Mom and Dad officially got divorced.

I remember when we got a letter from him with pictures of him, Sherry, Jessica and Elizabeth.

And I remember the visit with him and Jessica. I remember that we all cooked dinner together, that we laughed, and he told me that yes, despite my mother’s insistence that it did not happen, I actually rode a giant tortoise at the zoo when I was a very (very) small child.

I remember crying with him on the phone when Grandpa died. And we promised each other we’d be better at keeping in touch.

Every now and then we’d write each other, or call. But what do you say? What do you say when you’re so far apart in both space and time? When you feel conversation with an absolute and total stranger might be less awkward because at least there are no expectations on either side. What do you say…?

My advice, and yeah, I can preach a little, I think I’m allowed to right now….my advice…say anything, but just say it. And when the phone rings…..answer it, and say ‘hello, I’m glad to hear your voice’.

Every life, and the passing thereof, deserves a remembrance. I know that Jessica and Elizabeth have other memories, and I hope they share them, because I would really like to hear them. It would make me feel better about everything to think that my father achieved some measure of happiness or joy in life. And I sincerely hope that none of this makes anyone feel bad, I really only wrote this for a little bit of healing for myself.

If anyone has any memories of my father, I sure would love to hear them.

Jim Custer
July 22, 1943 - December 17, 2009
Rest In Peace, Daddy

1 comment:

  1. {{{{{Kathy}}} You have touched all of us who didn't know our fathers today.