O, the red rose may be fair,
And the lily statelier;
But my shamrock, one in three
Takes the very heart of me!
Today is the ninth anniversary of my father’s death. Quite simply, I believe he was the greatest father imaginable. He left a legacy of love, laughter and life lessons embedded in my heart. In tribute, I have re-blogged a story I wrote in his honor.
“In The Company of Women”
I was one of four daughters, attended all girl catholic schools my entire life, never knew what a jock strap looked like, have no idea how to change a tire and never experienced the bright stadium lights at a night-time football game. My father did put up a basketball hoop once in our driveway, short-lived when the ball sailed through the glass pane of the garage door. There it stood neglected for years a sad testament to the son my mother never had.
My Scottish reared father never once expressed regret at not having a son. Rather, he reveled in his four daughters and life among them. He loved his girls. Though there were times we tried his patience. A flashback of his screams from the shower after being cut by a worn down razor blade used on too many female teenage legs. Or his aversion to the smell of nail polish remover. He hated the smell of nail polish remover. He was equally content watching a rugby match as he was a cooking show.
During his daughter’s bridal showers, all four of them, rather than fleeing for the afternoon as most men might, my father would delight in being part of the celebration. There he would sit center stage, in his recliner, newspaper in hand (a ploy to feign disinterest) among the squeals and chaos of thirty females. Every now and again as a new gift was unveiled he would lift his head up casually and remark “Ah what’s this one? Hold it up a little closer Kath…”
My sister Sheila, too experienced this sometimes disadvantage of not having grown up with or been schooled among boys. When she and my mother visited Lord and Taylor to buy her first boyfriend a birthday gift, the saleswoman paused in puzzlement as she inquired as to where she might find the men’s “blouses.”
In addition to my father there was in fact one other male in our family. A big, beautiful Irish wolfhound, brought back from a holiday in Ireland. I recall listening in on a now famous conversation in our family between my mother and the vet. “I need to bring Connell in to be spayed,” The vet’s patient reply: “You mean neutered Mrs. Dickinson.” My mother’s reply “Oh, yes that is when they fix his vagina?” My sister and I stared at each other, and then burst into laughter. We thought that something must have gotten lost in translation as my mother, Irish-born, often had her own interpretation of words. Looking back however, I think she simply believed Connell like the rest of us, female, at least in theory.
I married and ironically, have two sons. My eldest is named William in honor of my father. My husband has taught them the things his own father taught him; how to throw a ball, using common tools for simple jobs, being kind and respectful. My sons are equally in touch with their feminine side and have as many female friends as male. They have five female cousins whom they see frequently further adding to their comfort level with girls, not to mention the added bonus of always have a date for the prom.
But I guess in at least one aspect boys will be boys. Despite my pleas, they still on occasion leave the seat up. I have one small consolation. Our family’s toy fox terrier Anabel is female. My father would have loved that….
“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”
I am a slave to hot water. It began in my childhood, at what age I cannot say for certain. I can envision myself and my two sisters bobbing around in our bathtub, a simple no frills fixture unlike the whirlpool spas of today. My mother, who instilled this love of baths in us, laid peacefully center. It was those calming waters which somehow righted every wrong and made life at the end of the day oh so much more delightful. “Can you start the tub?” we would call to my mother nightly and upon hearing the rumble of the water racing through the faucet, would immediately feel comforted.
As I grew into older childhood my nightly baths and love of, continued. I remember bringing into the tub different props for amusement. My fondest memory involve the Barbie dolls which I would plunge into the water, their perfect bodies and pointed toes gracefully leaping from the soap holder which I would use as a makeshift diving board.
When I left for college I realized with some dismay, that my nightly baths ritual would become a thing no more. Bathing in a dorm bathroom shared by who knows how many others was something I did not find appealing – not to mention the cleanliness factor. Yes sadly, my nightly baths ceased upon entering freshman year in college and were promptly replaced by a shower.
Yet one night, the old urge struck. Returning from a night out and perhaps one Tequila Sunrise too many, I made my way to the dorm bathroom. Perfect! At 3AM on a weekday there was not a soul in sight. I undressed and proceeded to the sink, my towel tightly wrapped around me. As I began to brush my teeth I felt the towel slipping. As it fell to the floor I was faced with two choices: pick it up immediately or finish brushing and then retrieve the towel. Given the late hour and the desolateness of the dorm, I opted for the latter – my fatal mistake. As if in a dream I watched the bathroom door swing open to reveal a tall sleepy male, no doubt someone’s boyfriend as my dorm was all women. His eyes, which only moments before were half slits were now golf balls as he gaped at me standing before him, stark nude, tooth-brush still in hand. I shrieked, tore past him and jumped on my roommate’s bed. Babbling and breathless I attempted to explain to her what still rates as one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Oh bath, how could you have forsaken me?
When I became engaged and began staying overnight at my fiance’s apartment I learned the meaning of true love. Craving my bath one night, I mentioned that his tub did not seem well, completely clean. I asked where I could find his cleaning supplies. “Do you have to have a bath every night?” he asked with some annoyance as he disappeared into the kitchen. Returning with a can of Comet and scrub brush he for the next 15 minutes, painstakingly cleaned the tub for me. And with that gesture, I knew I was marrying the right man.
I have two sons who have inherited their mother and grandmother’s love of baths. I can hear the water running nightly and I have caught them filling up the tub to play their own Barbie doll type of diving game but instead they use pencils. They catapult the pencils off the side of the tub in their own game of acrobatics. At any hour, morning or night, at the slightest hint of a stomach ache or joint discomfort from sports, a tub is running. Aqua therapy of sort. I realize this is a luxury in our society and lecture them on the number and length of time spent in the bath. But it often falls on deaf ears as my son races in from school, drops his back pack in the corner and heads up to the bathroom to turn on the bath. He too understands the healing of the waters.
My adult bath ritual has changed only slightly since childhood. I still take one every single night, but instead of the Barbies I bring one guilty pleasure which I lay on the side of the tub; four Hershey Chocolate kisses. My second favorite comfort in life.
ROCHESTER, September 26 — Eastman Kodak Company today announced its intent to stop making and selling slide projectors by June 2004.
“The Kodak slide projector has been a hallmark for quality and ubiquity, used for decades to produce the best in audio visual shows throughout the world,” the company said. “However, in recent years, slide projectors have declined in usage, replaced by alternative projection technologies.”
One of my happiest and most comforting memories of childhood was our family slide shows. These coveted movie nights which generally took place once a year, consisted of nothing more than three simple ingredients: a blank wall in our living room, a Kodak carousel slide projector with my father at the mast and myself and three sisters, huddled on the sofa, pressed together in anticipation like peas in a pod. My mother, who had seen the slide shows too many times to mention, usually busied herself with other things, occasionally stopping in to comment on a particularly beloved picture. Prior to turning off the lights, my father would announce in a deep theatrical voice “Who wants a magic drink?”
They were always different in taste and made from whatever struck his fancy that night; orange juice with a splash of pineapple juice and Grenadine or perhaps apple juice and ginger ale with a jigger of seltzer. The ingredients were unimportant. It was the anticipation of what was to be and the lovely ritual of our movie night routine that we cherished. Those magic drinks were just part of the show.
There was always one slide, without fail, that was turned upside down. This would halt the show momentarily, as my father with a slightly frustrated “tsk” would right the renegade slide. And we were ready to go once again.
I loved that Kodak carousel projector and the faded yellow boxes of slides stacked beside it. They were never labeled so each reel was a surprise in itself. Who might appear on the screen that night was anyone’s guess — my six or sixteen year old self? Our first family pet Bubbles the beagle, or our gentle giant of a Great Dane we called Jenny? My mother posing on the beach in her youth, or proudly cradling her first grandchild? The lack of chronology only added to the experience.
Some days, in the quiet of my mind, I can still hear the slow deliberate click of the projector, advancing slowly, telling without words the story of our life. Slide to slide, toddler to teenager, mother to grandmother, youth to twilight. An entire lifetime displayed on the wall of the darkened living room.
When my parents died, I cared about no other of their possessions albeit that time warped machine that could somehow transform me back to family vacations, birthday parties and people and places no more. With my sister’s blessings, I brought it to my own home with the promise to bring it to family gatherings, a carousal reunion of sort. Though it is yet to be. It sits up on a shelf in an unused room. I have taken it down one or two times in a half -hearted attempt to have my own family slide show but then, as it spits and jams due to age, return it in frustration to the lone closet. Surely there is somewhere that can restore the Kodak carousal to the beauty of its youth so we may once again enjoy those magical images.
And I will mix for my own sons, those magic drinks..
My mother was a minimalist who disliked clutter of any sort. Our home was beautiful, warm, open and airy but devoid of any type of knickknack, or paraphernalia she deemed unattractive or cumbersome. A snapshot of our living room: simple sheer white linen curtains, a silky cherry baby grand piano adorned with one family photo and a small Belleek Scotty dog atop its finely polished finish. Two or three tasteful paintings and a crystal Waterford bowl which sat center on the coffee table. If there was a word to describe the opposite of hoarder it would characterize my mother.
We all learned quite early on not to leave anything within her reach or it would simply disappear, forever. We had a theory, my sisters and I, that all those belongings, mostly certain items of clothing, were shipped off to her beloved homeland Ireland. We imagined our relatives or their friends or friends of their friends were the delighted recipients of the new American fashions which arrived in a package stamped “overseas.”
I don’t know how this idea was formulated among us. Had we heard my father in anger accusing her of this rather underhanded deed when he could not find his adored sweater? Had we seen a large UPS box tucked away in a hall closet? Had we heard my mother speaking to a distant relative in hushed tones, promising a shipment would soon arrive? No I do not believe we ever had absolute evidence, it was just a truth we knew existed, though one we could never quite prove.
My best friend once left her prized jean jacket at my house. I swallowed hard three days later when she came to my door ready to reclaim it. Ransacking the house together I finally shook my head in defeat and told her she must have left it elsewhere. But deep down I knew, it was no doubt en route that very moment, via Aer Lingus, to greener pastures.
Another time, my college roommate came home with me for the weekend and left her favorite sweatshirt in my room. She too would never see it again. I imagined another teenage girl, but this one Irish by birth, clad contentedly in the Manhattan College sweatshirt, perhaps strolling the banks of the Liffey on one of those chilled and damp Irish morns or sipping a Guiness in a local pub hugging the sweatshirt close.
My sisters and I were swimmers and divers and over the years accumulated many trophies as a result of our efforts. Years later as young adults, we noticed their absence and asked my mother where the trophies had gone. Silence. Our school yearbooks too had a short shelf life as did report cards, photographs and artwork. And at Christmas, our annual tree trimming, generally a happy and festive time, on more than one occasion ended in angry words and confrontations as ornaments usually of the bulky or unattractive variety, evaporated into thin air. “Check another box,” my mother would suggest.
I think it was my father who bore the brunt most deeply. He would sit in his recliner on Sunday mornings, peacefully reading the papers. Leaving for a short time to drive me to a friend’s house, he returned to find the papers he had left at the foot of his chair, not fifteen minutes before, gone. He would later find them stacked neatly in the garage, whisked away before he even had the chance to get through the sports page.
Was there a method to her madness? I think she simply disliked excess and when she felt we had too many items of clothing we had not worn in a while, decided it was time for them to be on their way.
You might think that this habit of my mother’s caused anger, frustration and hurt within our family. Sometimes true, but it only lasted a day or two being that we could never really prove it was her doing. Though while looking at a Christmas card one year of my four beaming Irish cousins, I could swear the youngest was clad in my old rolling Stones tee-shirt.
As an adult, I too dislike over accumulation and clutter. I am of the school that less is more. I understand my mother’s obsession with less more clearly now. I don’t agree with donating others belongings without permission though have been tempted on more than one occasion, to “whisk away” a number of my husband’s KU sweatshirts. I refrain.
And on those days I long to look at an old high school yearbook, I return to my old friend’s house. The one whose jean jacket went missing.