Resting in Peace

R

My dad was always wanting us to visit our mother.  After church on Sundays, he would suggest we stop by and see Mom, to pay our respects.  My brother, dad and I would stand at my mother’s grave and silently stare at it.  Sometimes we would bend down to clear the grass or pick a weed so the marble headstone would stay pristine.   What a sight we must have been to other mourners; a grieving widower and two small children.

 

As a young child, I was never quite sure what I was supposed to do or say while we were standing there. I just knew Daddy needed it and he wanted us to have whatever closeness or comfort the visit could provide.  As strange as it may sound, for us, this was a perfectly normal thing to do.

 

As I grew up, the visits became less frequent, being relegated to holidays or important milestones.  In high school, I went even less often, partly because I was ‘too busy’ and partly because I was a little embarrassed to show that un-cool side of myself; that side that was still hurting.

 

When my brother or I would come home from college, my dad would always ask,  “Would you like to go by and see your mother?”  Sometimes we would ask him first and I could tell he was pleased, his answer always yes.  Often, as we stood there, he would tell us a story or share a memory about her.  He so wanted us to find solace there, just as he did.  I could tell he never wanted to leave, hating for her to be alone.

 

Through the years my desire to visit the cemetery changed.  It may have been because I had moved away and we were no longer just a short drive apart.  I especially wanted to visit her when I first married and became a mother myself.  I knew she really wasn’t in that grave, but I also had no other place to go where I knew her spirit would be.  I had no memories of our time together, no past heart-to-heart chats to recall.  I only had this place, where somehow I knew I could find her and she would be waiting there for me.

 

A few years ago, I went back home for a high school reunion and visited the cemetery, perhaps for the last time.  As I got out of the car, I slowly walked up the familiar hill to my mother’s grave.  The only difference this time was that my daddy laid next to her.  Strangely, as I stood there, I knew they both were at peace.  They were finally together again and I was satisfied with that realization.

 

I don’t know if I will ever visit that cemetery again.  My whole family resides there except my brother and me.  Grandparents, parents and an aunt all underneath the Panhandle sky.

 

I am grateful for the effort my father made to keep us all connected.  He did the best he could; I wholeheartedly believe that now.  My peace has come with time and work.

 

I may feel the need to return there again.  But, for now,  I know that their home is in my heart, not in that grounded space, and with that, I do find comfort.  The comfort I was searching for was inside of me all along.  

 

Daddy

Daddy

My Daddy was a “saver”.  A procurer of particulars…a frugal forager.  It was probably because he was a product of the Depression, but for whatever reason, if you needed ‘it’, he had it, at least one and perhaps an alternative.

However, when he died, I saw this tendency to save and how far reaching its depth.  When Daddy passed away we found many souvenirs, balls of twine, ink pens, jars of nails and business cards.  We found his report cards, measuring tapes, hundreds of bank statements and thousands of photographs labeled neatly into chronological albums.  There were boxes, bags and myriad other containers full of mementos of his life.   

My brother and I waded through his things sometimes laughing …sometimes crying.  Towards the end of our sorting, we bantered across to each other, “You take it!”  “No, YOU take it!”  Still, we filled large, black Hefty bags with things to give away or dispose of.  His obsessive ‘saving’ wore us out.  Sometimes, as we discarded, I whispered a prayer, “I’m sorry Daddy, we just have to let this go,” in hopes that he understood.

Last year I was going through a box of Daddy’s things that I had ‘saved’ seven years ago.  When I brought it home, I thought these were all things I would go through right away and look at often.  But, seven years had gone by and I had just found the strength to open the box.

Inside of this box were our report cards, Baptism announcements, college essay’s, school pictures and more.  I found an old, faded manila envelope, 8 ½ by 11, sealed with a piece of tape.  Enclosed, were letters and cards my brother and I had sent Daddy through the years; Father’s Day cards, poems, and notes we had written him and behind those were a clump of letters tied with a string….our letters to Santa Claus.

As I unfolded this one pristine piece of notebook paper, I was transported, as I read my childish handwriting proclaiming my goodness all year and a love for a certain red cowgirl outfit.  Not all of our letters to Santa were saved, but a few were obviously chosen to be put away and remembered.

My Dad wasn’t always good at saying he loved us.  He wasn’t the sentimental, huggy, mushy type.  But, after he was gone, I saw his tender side amongst the 14 retractable measuring tapes and boxes of Navy war memorabilia.

There were cards and notes his children had sent and precious letters to Santa that must have touched his heart.  Suddenly, all of this stuff he had ‘saved’, became a piece of him…a bridge to the other side, where he was standing, arms open wide, saying, “See?  I love you.  I always loved you.”  And my heart sang back, “I know.  Happy Father’s Day, daddy.   I love you, too.”

Good Girls

Good Girls

 

For most of my life, my only parent was my Dad.  My whole viewpoint came from a male perspective and yet, instinctively I knew there was undoubtedly another way.

My dad, although his male view was domineering, tried to teach me what being a woman meant, particularly as he thought my mother might have wanted.

Mostly he guided me with a firm hand and lots of rules, some spoken…some unspoken.  On one hand, his rules protected me and on the other hand, they stifled me.  I was always led by what “good girls” did or didn’t do and by what my mother would have wanted, according to my dad.

Did he really know what she would have wanted for me?  Did he even want to know what she would have thought?  He always assumed he knew best, but would she have thought so, too?  I wonder.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, girls were given fewer choices or options for their lives.  It was always an unspoken rule that I would go to college.  It was acceptable to be a teacher or a nurse or a stay-at-home mother.  My dad always said two things about college:  1. You need to go to college so you can find an intelligent, hardworking husband.  2.  You need to go to college in case your husband dies and you have to work someday.

Marriage was the main goal for all “good girls” because of course, we could not be expected to take care of ourselves.  We needed a man.

Good girls wore a white wedding dress and meant it.

Good girls went to Church,

Cooked dinner every night,

Were well read,

Could dance,

Play tennis,

Played a musical instrument,

Held intelligent conversations,

Always looked attractive,

Were frugal with money,

Sewed,

Were good mothers,

And had some outside activity ie.  bridge, church groups or volunteering

 

Some of these rules have served me well.  In fact, all of these rules, in and of themselves, are wholesome and commendable.  But, what about life outside of the rules?  What about the un rules?

Follow your heart.

Dare to dream big.

Take a risk.

Think for yourself.

Say yes.

Try something new.

 

I know my dad did the best he knew how.  I know that now.   I didn’t think so for many years; in fact, my anger at him would sometimes squelch all attempts to understand him.  My anger believed he was stubborn, selfish and unyielding.

I’ve come full circle.  I can live by my own rules now and yet still be appreciative of his.  I can be compassionate instead of angry and see that his rules were just his way of showing me love and structure.  I realize he might have been frightened beyond measure to raise a daughter without my mother.  I can finally let him be himself and I can be me.  I can dare to dream big, take a risk or follow my heart.  After all, I know the rules…all of the rules and I am peaceful in that knowledge.  Once a good girl always a good girl?  Maybe.