I was going through more of my father’s belongings today in my garage. It took me a while to build up the strength to do it but I figured I had dawdled long enough.
Even 3 months later, it was harder than I thought; a few times, a particular item would make me remember a small detail. Sometimes it is a curse that I remember small details so well. I found the wire cutters that he used to ask me to use to cut his nails. The stencils he once used to draw perfect triangles on his reports. The voltmeter I bought for him on Amazon The pill box that I was the last one to fill; I recognize every pill in there.
I’m not going to lie – after I was done, I needed a little bourbon to calm my nerves. Widow Jane, the good stuff.
One piece though was beautiful. Among the items I unearthed was a single postcard that my father sent from Miami to my mother during extended business trip in the mid 1980’s. Knowing him like I do now, I suspect he had organized a way to spend an extra day or two down there. It was Miami, after all, a more glamorous spot than Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Plus he enjoyed being away from home. Dealing with clients – where issues are finite – likely was more natural to him than dealing with family issues where they seemingly are not. The finite is always easier.
I have boxes now in my house of letters he wrote her, or similar postcards, or emails he wrote about her and then printed out. Their relationship was complicated. That’s how relationships are, it turns out. During that week in Miami, though, he really missed her and told her so. Simple.
Missing someone hurts. It is also a gift. It means that they are inside you, that you try to carry a piece of them with you but it’s not quite the real thing. You let them in, and you love them, however imperfectly. I can read the words he wrote more than 30 years ago, when my mother was about the age that I am now, and see how much he missed her that week.
Their relationship now is down to 2 boxes: the legacy of their imperfect love for one another, in about 6 cubic feet, in the form of postcards, letters and photographs in varying states of decay. Somehow I’d missed before the idea that I could get at the essence of their relationship from looking through it and not missing the small details.
Now that I am 48 (I know, I don’t look a day over 46), I see things differently than I did when they were alive, and when I was younger. I overlooked a lot then, lost in the hurry of being a Sandwich Generation father and son. That hurry is over – and now I can look again.